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online reviews and endorsements – consultation February 27, 2015

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The UK Competition and Markets Authority is “inviting views from consumers, businesses and other interested parties on the use of online reviews and endorsements.” The Call for Information states that the concern which motivates the review relates to the trustworthiness and impartiality of some information in reviews and endorsements and says:

This is a fact-finding exercise to increase our knowledge and understanding. It will look at a range of online reviews and endorsements that are accessed by UK consumers, including those on web blogs, video blogs, social media, specialist review sites, trusted trader sites, retail platforms, and retailers’ own websites. It will also look at the roles that media companies, online reputation managers and search engine optimisers play in helping businesses to promote their products/services and manage their reputations in relation to these sites.

There are a number of different forms for submission of views. Bloggers are asked to use the blogger form and members of the public are asked to respond via a Respond online link or using the consumer form. I guess bloggers aren’t members of the public.

eu consultation on evaluation November 12, 2013

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The EU Commission seeks input on its consultation on evaluation by February 25, 2014. The document explains that a part of the purpose of evaluation is about transparency:

EU stakeholders and citizens have a right to ask the Commission to give an account of what was done and achieved, not least because tax payers’ money is being used to develop and fund the various interventions. This entitles citizens, stakeholders and parliamentarians to hold the administration to account and to see more clearly whether previous promises have materialised and if not what the likely reasons were and what aspects deserve special attention. Transparency can also help to increase trust, as institutions that are transparent and self-critical tend to be more trusted than institutions which do not produce realistic and objective, detailed and full assessments of the performance of their actions. By publishing evaluation findings, the Commission is publicly taking responsibility for its actions, acknowledging how an intervention is performing and inviting further feedback.

There’s a caution in the document about relying on stakeholder views:

It is important to understand that evaluation should not be based only on stakeholder views. It always implies a careful analysis of stakeholders’ arguments and a double-checking against the arguments of other stakeholder groups and, where possible, against information from independent third parties or official statistics. To capture the “end-user perspective” in an evaluation, it needs to be carefully checked whether to rely on data and arguments by organised stakeholder groups at national or European level is sufficient, or whether it would be better to reach out directly to final beneficiaries or end-users (by interviewing a representative sample of individuals – consumers, farmers, travellers, students, business owners, etc.) which we hoped would benefit from a policy or have had to bear its cost. Likewise, quantitative data should always be complemented with and double-checked against qualitative information from other sources (interviews, etc.). This means for instance that an evaluation should not just present an econometric model, its results and limitations, but should always seek to get further confirmation by asking stakeholders in how far and why the results make sense to them.

more calls for evidence for the balance of competences review October 30, 2013

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After October 21’s mass request for evidence across a range of different areas, today’s call is for evidence about social and employment policy (responses due by January 17, 2014), and last week it was for evidence about energy policy (responses due by January 15, 2014). As Mark Easton wrote the other day, the Government does not always pay much attention to views expressed in response to consultations. But perhaps to the extent that these calls for evidence generate factual examples which confirm the views of the Government these exercises will be a bit different.

sec crowdfunding proposals October 23, 2013

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All 585 pages of them are here. Public comments may be submitted via this page. The SEC notes:

We understand that these proposed rules, if adopted, could significantly affect the viability of crowdfunding as a capital-raising method for startups and small businesses. Rules that are unduly burdensome could discourage participation in crowdfunding. Rules that are too permissive, however, may increase the risks for individual investors, thereby undermining the facilitation of capital raising for startups and small businesses.

improved consultations October 3, 2013

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Two examples of what I would like to see more of in consultations: from the EU’s crowdfunding consultation, and the UK Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) consultation on the regulation of consumer credit. Although comments can currently be submitted to the EU crowdfunding consultation in English only the web page suggests that it will soon be possible to submit comments in German, Spanish, French, Italian, and Polish. The consultation landing page seems to be available only in English French and German, and right now it seems that the consultation document is only available in English. So there is some improvement in terms of openness to comments from people who don’t write English (who presumably will rely on online sources and newspapers for information about the consultation). Increasing the amount of translation would enhance transparency further.

The FCA’s consumer credit consultation explicitly invites comments from regular people:

The majority of adults in the UK are customers, or potential customers, of financial services firms. So anyone may be interested in commenting on how we propose to regulate consumer credit firms.

And there’s an outline of the proposals in addition to the 193 page consultation document and 429 pages of appendices. But although the FCA seems to be trying to communicate with people and not just with regulated firms, this article in the Guardian which describes some aspects of the proposals does not encourage people to comment on them but rather seems to present the proposed new rules as a done deal. The Independent takes a similar approach, although an article on the Express website states that “a consultation is open until December 3 and the FCA will publish its final rules and guidance in February.” Which? announced that it is collecting consumers’ stories of their experiences with the credit industry to share them with the FCA.

basel committee summer consultations June 28, 2013

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On the revised Basel III leverage ratio framework and disclosure requirements (deadline 20 September); and three consultations with a deadline of 27 September: on the sound management of risks related to money laundering and financing of terrorism; and on derivatives-related reforms to capital adequacy framework: capitalising counterparty credit risk exposures and capital requirements relating to bank exposures to central counterparties.

summer consultations in the uk June 27, 2013

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The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills is consulting (well, issued a “call for views”) on corporate responsibility (responses due by 27 September). Some of the issues raised in the document relate to responsible supply chain management. And the document asks:

Should corporate responsibility be recognised as a profession?

Meanwhile, there is a Call for Evidence on the Integrity and Assurance of Food Supply Networks (responses due by 7 August). Some received a letter inviting evidence with a list of questions, such as:

Do consumers fully understand the way industry describes the composition and quality of the products on sale?..Has the consumer developed unrealistic expectations of the food industry and if so, what role is there for the food industry and government in doing something about it?

Given that “value” products sold in the UK recently turned out to be products made with ingredients (such as horsemeat) different from those listed on the packaging it does seem that consumers didn’t understand the descriptions fully and that their expectations were unrealistic.

And there is a consultation on the draft action plan for open government (comments due 19 September). Here’s a taste:

With regards to our Open Data objectives going forward, our default position is for data to become open where it represents value for money for taxpayers, unless there are robust legal (including Freedom of Information (FoI) Act), security, or financial complexities. We will be enriching this plan with further commitments from the Cabinet Office Transparency Team and from other government departments. Our relentless focus will be on maximising the amount of data released in this way. In the relatively few areas where public open data publication is not possible there can still be benefits to sharing this information under strict conditions, a subject on which the Administrative Data Taskforce has recently reported.

A “relentless focus” on making data “open” where it “represents value for money for taxpayers”? There’s some material in the paper on public participation in policy-making, but it is rather amorphous.

sec asks for information on broker-dealer and investment adviser regulation March 3, 2013

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There’s a long document explaining the background to the notice, which has not yet been published in the Federal Register. The press release states:

Specifically, the SEC is requesting data and other information from the public and interested parties about the benefits and costs of the current standards of conduct for broker-dealers and investment advisers when providing advice to retail customers, as well as alternative approaches to the standards of conduct.
While the SEC is particularly interested in receiving empirical and quantitative data and other information, all interested parties are encouraged to submit comments, including qualitative and descriptive analysis of the benefits and costs of potential approaches and guidance.
The SEC recognizes that retail investors are unlikely to have significant empirical and quantitative information, and welcomes any information they would like to provide. Commenters should only submit information that they wish to make publicly available.

uk defined benefit pensions consultation January 25, 2013

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Concerned about the problems faced by employers with defined benefit pensions schemes which find they are required to make additional contributions to support their promises the UK government is asking for views about adjusting the requirements. The consultation document states (having noted that such pensions give their members “a much valued layer of financial security in later life”)

Some commentators have stated that rising deficits are forcing some employers to make substantial additional contributions to schemes, which is diverting funds away from business investment and ultimately, economic growth.

With respect to the relevant stakeholders, the document states:

Given the technical nature of pension valuations and the potential impacts of smoothing, feedback would be particularly welcome from trustees, sponsoring employers, actuaries and other pensions professionals. Members of the general public are also welcome to respond.

But given that what is going on here is deciding how much less secure the “defined” aspect of defined benefit pension schemes will be allowed to be in order to “promote economic growth,” this isn’t really a technical consultation at all. Elite decision-makers like to present financial consultations in this way to control outcomes. But what about basic fairness? Figuring out an appropriate balance between supporting the entitlement to a defined benefit and allowing businesses to operate without being damaged by pensions involves technical issues, for sure, but it also involves a more fundamental weighing of the different interests involved.

gao on agency rule-making January 23, 2013

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In a report on federal rulemaking, Agencies Could Take Additional Steps to Respond to Public Comments, the GAO writes:

agencies requested comments on 77 of the 123 major rules issued without an NPRM in GAO’s sample. The agencies did not issue a follow-up rule or respond to comments on 26 of these 77 rules. This is a missed opportunity, because GAO found that when agencies did respond to public comments they often made changes to improve the rules. In addition, each of these 26 rules is economically significant and some of these rules have an impact of a billion dollars a year or more. These rules also cover important issues ranging from national health care policies to manufacturing incentive programs. For example, in one of the 26 rules, an agency defined a pre-existing condition to implement the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and sought public comment. The agency received 4,627 comments, but has not published a response to them. When agencies do not respond to comments requested, the public does not know whether the agency considered their comments, or if it intends to change the rule. As the courts have recognized, the opportunity to comment is meaningless unless the agency responds to significant points raised by the public.