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Comment: Fact Check – would banning zero-hours contracts harm more people than it would help? By Prof Jason Heyes

Wednesday, July 19th, 2017

“So while Matthew’s report is clear that many workers value the flexibility that zero-hours contracts offer them, and that banning such contracts altogether would harm more people than it would help, it is important that we continue to ensure that employers do not use these contracts to exploit people.”
– Theresa May, speaking at the launch of a report by Matthew Taylor on working practices in the UK on July 11.

Zero-hours contracts allow employers to hire workers ad hoc without guaranteeing them a minimum number of hours a week. There were 905,000 people on zero-hours contract between October to December 2016, but they remain controversial. The Labour Party has promised to ban them, but the government remains committed to keeping the rules that allow this kind of casual employment.

In her comments, the prime minister was referring to a section in the Taylor Report on zero-hours contracts, which states: “To ban zero-hours contracts in their totality would negatively impact many more people than it helped.”

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy confirmed to The Conversation that this statement was based on a Labour Force Survey published in March 2017 – also mentioned in the Taylor Report – which found that “68% of those on zero-hours contracts do not want more hours”.

Scant evidence

Apart from this 68% figure, the Taylor Report provides few other clues to the assumptions underpinning the claim. Yet how many would prefer to work the same number of hours but with contracts that offered them greater certainty? If employers were required to provide a guaranteed minimum number of hours, what impact would that have on overall employment and the employment opportunities open to workers with different circumstances? These questions have received insufficient attention.

One in seven care workers were employed on zero-hours contracts in 2016. via shutterstock.com

The Taylor Report mentions that almost a fifth of people on zero-hours contracts are in full-time education. A ban on zero-hours contracts might make it more difficult for some of these individuals to combine paid work and studying, but we do not know what percentage would simply seek a more regular part-time job.

A similar issue arises in relation to those with caring responsibilities: for some, zero-hours contracts might provide a good means of fitting work around care commitments, but what percentage would prefer a contract that offered greater certainty? Evidence relating to these issues is lacking.

How to measure cost and benefits

The lack of detailed, regularly collected and nationally representative data about the consequences of zero-hours contracts for workers, and employers, limits our ability to debate the pros and cons of a complete ban. Respondents to the Labour Force Survey are asked whether they are employed on a zero-hours contract, but are not asked about the consequences for their well-being, job satisfaction and quality of life. The Understanding Society Survey, which does examine issues such as well-being and quality of life, does not explicitly ask respondents whether they are employed on a zero-hours contract.

The costs and benefits associated with zero-hours contracts potentially extend beyond those who are employed under such contracts. For workers with families, the uncertainty associated with zero-hours contracts may have implications for the well-being and standard of living of all household members. These wider consequences would presumably need to be taken into account in any assessment of whether a ban would harm more people than it would benefit.

To fully assess the claim we would also need to define what we mean by negative and positive impacts. And to consider whether the nature and scale of harmful and beneficial effects resulting from a ban might vary between different groups. For example, might the potential “harm” to a student resulting from a loss of flexibility be outweighed by the potential benefit – in terms of increased financial security and reduced anxiety – to an older individual from having a more reliable income? And might that potential benefit be considered even greater if that individual has children?

Even if it were true that a ban on zero-hours contracts would hurt more people than it would help, that would not necessarily be sufficient grounds for retaining zero-hours contracts. We would also need to consider the nature and consequences of the gains and losses in order to assess the overall impact on society.

Verdict

In the absence of evidence that would enable us to more accurately assess the potential positive and negative impacts of a ban on zero-hours contracts, the claim that a ban would hurt many more people than it would help surely amounts to speculation rather than hard fact.

Review

Keith Bender, SIRE chair in economics, University of Aberdeen

Overall, I agree with the verdict. There is little data in the Taylor Report to support the government’s claim. The key question when looking at costs and benefits is “compared to what?” The 68% figure mentioned in the report can be contrasted with further data from the March 2017 report from the Office for National Statistics showing that over 90% of those not on zero-hours contracts do not want more hours – a sizeable difference.

The graph below shows that zero-hours workers are much more likely to want an additional job, a replacement job with more hours or more hours on the current job. It may be that a zero-hours jobs are better than no job, but in terms of hours, these ONS statistics suggest that they do not compare favourably with other types of contracts.

I agree with the author that more research needs to be done in this area to draw any conclusions. Key to that will be understanding the “voluntariness” of zero-hours contracts – understanding who wants them because of desired flexibility and who are forced into them because of a lack of other types of contracts.

The ConversationThe Conversation is is checking claims made by public figures and prominent in public debates. Statements are checked by an academic with expertise in the area. A second academic expert then reviews an anonymous copy of the article. Please get in touch if you spot a claim you would like us to check by emailing us at uk-factcheck@theconversation.com. Please include the statement you would like us to check, the date it was made, and a link if possible.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Comment: From Westminster to Stormont – forty years of failed housing policies, by Dr Stewart Smyth

Wednesday, July 19th, 2017

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Public housing has always been financially sustainable – it is political choices over the past forty years that have sought to undermine social tenure, writes Stewart Smyth. He explains how housing policy has evolved in Northern Ireland and makes the case for a new approach. First published on the LSE British Politics and Policy Blog.

It was a tragic and unwelcome co-incidence to launch a report about public housing in the same week of the horrific fire in west London’s Grenfell Tower. We will need to wait for the investigations to establish the exact causes of the fire but one conclusion is immediately evident. This tragedy arose from an environment of cuts in funding, de-regulation, outsourcing and privatisation policies that have been applied to all public services over the past forty years. Even before the austerity policies of the Coalition government, council tenants suffered from what was known as the Moonlight Robbery.

In 2008/09, council tenants in England paid £1.4 billion more in rent than the management and maintenance allowances spent on their homes. In the following year, according to the government’s own calculations, it was estimated that Kensington and Chelsea needed an increase of nearly £5 million in that year alone, in repairs allowances.

Each news report brings more allegations and evidence of building and fire regulations and inspections being out of date and not fit for purpose. And then there are the privatisation policies – based on the neoliberal view that the public sector is inefficient and bureaucratic and the private sector is innovative and provides good value for money. In other words, public sector badprivate sector good.

This is the ideology that gave rise to the privatisation of council homes through the Right to Buy, introduced in the Housing Act 1980, and a range of partial-privatisation arrangements. One such arrangement is the Tenant Management Organisation (TMO) that managed the Grenfell Tower.

When New Labour came to power they refused to fund council housing directly, forcing local authorities into PFI schemes or arm’s-length management organisations (like the TMO in Kensington and Chelsea) or large-scale voluntary transfers (also known as stock transfers). It is the last of these schemes that is now being introduced into Northern Ireland.

Public housing in Northern Ireland

Sectarian discrimination in local authority housing allocations up to the late 1960s was one of the key issues taken-up by the NI Civil Rights Association. Before the start of the Troubles, Bloody Sunday, and the subsequent armed campaigns by both Republican and Loyalist paramilitaries, housing was the cause of rioting in 1969 in Belfast and across NI. The Westminster government’s report into these disturbances identified the inadequacy of housing provision, unfair means of allocating new build homes, and mis-use of discretionary powers to ensure Unionist control of local government.

One of the final acts of the Labour government in 1970 was to set in motion the establishment of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and transfer all local authority housing to this new body. Over the intervening decades the Executive has been one of the success stories in NI to such an extent that a PwC report in 2011 stated:

Since its introduction nearly 40 years ago it has delivered significant social benefits throughout Northern Ireland with the quality of the housing stock having moved from one of the worst in Western Europe to what is now regarded as best quality stock. It is rightly regarded nationally and internationally as a leading authority on ‘best practice’ on both housing management and community building.

However, not all political parties in NI share this view of the legacy or the performance of the Housing Executive. For the past five years, successive DUP ministers in the Department for Communities (and its predecessor) have sought to break-up the Housing Executive through internal re-organisations and a policy of stock transfers.

Stock transfers are privatisation

Stock transfers are aimed at moving public housing ‘off-balance sheet’ for the government, by giving the housing to a housing association. Housing associations are private limited companies, which have a not-for-profit basis often with a charitable status. Historically, for government accounting rules, they are considered to be in the private sector and so can borrow without hitting the government’s debt numbers. [In practice this position has continued despite the recent ONS decisions to classify housing associations as quasi-public corporations]. This private finance is then used to fund the maintenance and improvements of the homes transferred.

There are two major problems with this policy, as the initial stock transfers in NI have highlighted. First, housing associations have to charge higher rents. This is because they have a higher cost structure than the NI Housing Executive (NIHE), partly due to the private finance they use. It is more expensive for housing associations (as medium-sized private companies) to borrow than it is for the Housing Executive (as a large public corporation).

For example, in the proposed transfer on the Grange estate, Ballyclare rents are to increase by 18 per cent. In this estate over 70% of NIHE tenants are on full or partial housing benefits; resulting in public money going straight to a private landlord so that they can pay interest to financial institutions, and tenants not on housing benefit having to find that money themselves.

Second, housing associations do not perform as well as the NIHE when it comes to responding to repairs. For example, if the repair needs to be completed within four days, the NIHE achieve the target in 97.5 per cent of cases. The same number of housing associations is just 82.4%. What we get with stock transfer is the old story of privatisation – higher prices and worsening services.

Political Choices

It is estimated that the NIHE needs £300 million a year for the next five years to start the maintenance and upgrade programme caused by years of underfunding. At the end of 2016 the then NI Finance Minister estimated the cut in Corporation Tax would cost £270 million a year off the block grant. If that money was redirected, a prudent estimate is of 4,200 new jobs in housing alone with increased economic activity of £900 million per year. These are real and achievable economic outcomes that are within the control of the Assembly; rather than gambling on potential investment decisions, made in boardrooms of multinational corporations.

For a radical housing policy:

The NI Executive government are in a fortunate position of having a major body, the NIHE, with an outstanding track record of improving the living conditions for tens of thousands of people over the past forty years. However, recent years have seen a concerted effort by some politicians to break-up the Housing Executive, and, in the process, this legacy of improving living conditions has been lost. It does not have to be like this. The new NIPSA report, Our Homes, Our Future, sets out a number of recommendations for both the NIHE and housing more generally. Another housing policy is possible – one that is based on putting the basic human need for shelter before money and profit.

Comment: Reflecting on a workshop on Post-Brexit Industrial and Regional Policy. By Professor Sumon Bhaumik

Friday, June 9th, 2017

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In March, Professors from the University of Sheffield (Sumon Bhaumik (pictured above), Heather Campbell and Philip McCann) sat around the table with peers from Aston (David Bailey) and Warwick (Nigel Driffield) Business School to discuss post-Brexit industrial and regional policy. They were joined by representatives from regional bodies, trade bodies, and the private sector including representatives of Oxford Economics, Performance Engineered Solutions Ltd, Sheffield City Region, South and East Yorkshire Federation of Small Businesses, South Yorkshire International Trade Centre, The Company of Cutlers in Hallamshire, and West Yorkshire Combined Authority.

The view about the likely impact of Brexit on trade, investment and corporate performance was mixed. The private sector view emphasized the positive economic news in the immediate aftermath of the referendum, and the ability of the private sector companies to strategize better for Brexit, which is expected at this stage, than for the financial crisis of 2008, which was unexpected. There was general consensus that the significant depreciation of the pound sterling could spur exports and firm performance, at least in the short term. The impact of Brexit on onshoring was also viewed as a potential opportunity, especially for SMEs. There was some optimism about UK’s ability to strike trade deals relatively quickly with countries from the Middle East and Latin America.

This optimism was tempered by the uncertainty about the new trade deal between the UK and the EU. In particular, there was concern among some workshop participants about the impact of the loss of single market access to the organisation of supply chains, and the implications of imposition of tariffs on industries such as automobiles whose components crossed UK’s international borders a number of times before they are used in the final product. The discussion, however, suggested that divergence between EU and UK regulations, especially about rules of origin and product standards, could pose a greater challenge to businesses than tariff barriers. The difficulties of contract enforcement in an environment of diverging regulations was also highlighted, and there was some concern about the general impact of Brexit on bureaucracy about all matters related to cross-border transactions. It was also felt that while any dip in the UK’s ability to attract FDI in the short run would recover, it might not recover to the pre-Brexit trend.

There was general consensus around the table that if the Brexit deal restricts free movement of labour, skill shortage – indeed labour shortage for some sectors such as agriculture and hospitality – might prove to be the biggest challenge facing UK businesses, in particular, those in the Midlands and Northern England. It was argued that, to begin with, there should be closer cooperation between the universities and the private sector to ensure that the labour force of the future not only has high levels of skills but can also adapt quickly to the rapid changes in technology that are manifested through increased use of AI and robotics. The panel was also mindful of the need to shape labour market policies in a way that facilitates inclusive growth in the future, such that post-Brexit policies and private sector performance have the necessary democratic legitimacy. Further, some on the panel felt that policies regarding skill development should be devolved to the regions that have greater understanding of the skill requirements of the local companies.

Many on the panel felt devolution of the power to the regions would enable policies better suited to local economies in post-Brexit UK. In particular, it was felt that, given the heterogeneity in the industrial composition of the regions that make up the UK, it is imperative to seek their views before any new trade deal or industrial strategy is finalised. Some on the panel voiced concerns about lack of engagement with central government to date to discuss the regions’ trade and industrial policy needs. Some felt that elected mayors might be able to better negotiate with the central government, and that they would also be helped by access to greater financial resources. However, it was also felt that regions would have to cooperate – for example, within the framework for the Northern Powerhouse – rather than compete for resources within a zero-sum bidding framework.

Paucity of time left some issues undiscussed. In particular, future discussions would have to reflect on whether effective devolution of economic power to the regions requires that they be given the power to borrow to invest in physical and human capital. This, in turn, would require a discussion about the financial infrastructure, such as a “muni” bond market, to facilitate such borrowing. Issues such as these, as well as discussion of policies formulated by the individual regions, are expected to be part of ongoing discussions involving the stakeholders represented at the workshop.

 

This workshop has been supported through The University of Sheffield’s ESRC Impact Accelerator Account

#12daysofthinking – the Management School’s contribution

Friday, December 23rd, 2016

In December 2016, the University of Sheffield ran a campaign sharing academic reflections on the most pressing issues facing our society, via Twitter and shef.ac.uk.

Here we share the Management School’s contributions. You can see all of the activity by searching the #12daysofthinking hashtag.

Prof Jim Haslam on The State of our Planet:

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Dr Christine Sprigg, Prof Pauline Dibben, Dr Chris Stride and Prof Jason Heyes on The World of Work:

12-days-Sprigg

12-days-Pibben

12-days-Stride

12-days-Heyes

Dr Geoff Nichols on Our Health:

12-days-Nichols

Expert comment: 10 ways to keep your house warm (and save money) this winter, by Dr Robert Marchand

Monday, November 14th, 2016

In Britain, people typically switch their central heating on in October and use it daily until March or April. This coincides with the clocks going back, the drop in temperature and Winter Fuel Payments – to anyone who receives the state pension.

Heating homes accounts for over 70% of household energy consumption. So reducing this figure – while keeping homes warm enough – not only cuts energy bills, but helps meet the carbon reduction commitments that the UK government is legally required to deliver.

The most recent figures show that 2.38m households in the UK are in fuel poverty – which basically means that almost 11% of British homes cannot afford to keep warm. But while the scale of this problem is significant, not all the solutions need to be complex and costly. So here are 10 simple tips for keeping your home warm for little or no extra cost – just in time for that severe weather warning.

1. Use your curtains

Heat from the sun is free so make the most of it. Open your curtains and let the sunlight in during the day to make use of this free heat. When it gets dark, shut your curtains, which act as another layer of insulation and keep warmth in your rooms. You should also make sure you don’t have any leaks or gaps so that the warm air can stay in and the cold air stays out – this also helps to reduce condensation.

2. Use timers on your central heating

The Centre for Sustainable Energy advises that programming your boiler to turn the heating on a little earlier – such as 30 minutes before you get up in the morning – but at a lower temperature is cheaper than turning it on just as you need it at a higher temperature. This is because a boiler heats up at a constant speed whether you set your thermostat to 20°C or 30°C. But don’t make the mistake of leaving your heating on low all day – because then you’re just paying for heat when you don’t need it.

3. Move your sofa

It might feel great to have your favourite seat in front of the radiator, but it’s absorbing heat that could be warming your home. By moving it away from the radiator, hot air can circulate freely. The same goes for your curtains or drying clothes – keep them away from the radiator so that you can get the most out of your heat source.


Keeping cosy doesn’t have to cost the earth. Shutterstock

4. Maximise your insulation

When it comes to heat, around 25% is lost through the roof. This can be easily reduced by installing 25cm of insulation throughout your loft. It’s also worth seeing what’s going on in your walls, as around a third of the heat in an uninsulated home is lost this way. Although it’s not as cheap to install as loft insulation, cavity wall insulation could save up to £160 a year in heating bills. It’s also worth checking with your energy supplier to see if they have any insulation schemes running – which can sometimes mean cheap or free installation.

5. Wrap up warm

If you have a hot water tank, make sure it is properly lagged – or insulated. This will keep the water warmer for longer, and reduce heating costs. The Energy Community reckons that insulating an uninsulated water tank could save up to £150 a year – but even just upgrading your tank’s “old jacket” will help to save money.

6. Turn down the dial

This may seem a little counter-intuitive, but bear with me. The World Health Organisation previously recommended a minimum temperature of 21°C in the living room, but Public Health England revised this to 18°C in 2014. And research shows that turning your thermostat down by 1°C could cut your heating bill by up to 10%. So keep the dial at 18°C, save money and avoid the negative impacts of a cold home .


This will do just fine, thank you. Shutterstock

7. Block out the draughts

Even a simple solution such as a making your own sausage dog draught excluder will help keep the warmth in your home. The Energy Saving Trust estimates that DIY draught-proofing your doors, windows and cracks in the floor could save £25 per year. You can do this yourself for very little cost. Self-adhesive rubber seals around doors and windows and door draught excluders are relatively cheap and easy to install. So it’s worth getting those doors and windows sealed before winter properly kicks in.

8. Install thermostatic radiator valves

Research at the University of Salford has shown that installing heating controls and theromostatic radiator valves results in energy savings of 40% compared to a house with no controls. These work by allowing you to programme your heating to come on at predefined times – so you only use energy when you need it. New smart thermostats can also be controlled remotely via your mobile so you can turn on your heating on the way home, ensuring it’s nice and toasty when you arrive.

9. Upgrade your boiler

If your boiler is more than 10 years old, it may be time to replace it with a new, more efficient model. Depending on your old boiler type and house, you could save up to £350 with a new A-rated condensing boiler – which uses less energy to produce the same amount of heat. Plus, if it’s new, you’re less likely to have any issues going into the winter season.

10. Reflect the heat

Radiator panels are relatively cheap, easy to install, and ensure that heat from your radiators warms up your room and not your walls. They work by reflecting the heat back into the room.

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Helping to deliver the vision for science and innovation-led growth in the Sheffield City Region and beyond

Thursday, November 3rd, 2016

Tim-Vorley-Sheffield2 _MG_7373[1]

By Prof Tim Vorley & Prof Andrew Simpson

Announcements today from the Rt Hon Greg Clark MP (Secretary of State for Business, Environment and Industrial Strategy) about a new wave of Science and Innovation Audits (SIAs) as a basis for forging the vision for devolved economic growth in the UK.

He highlighted the importance of ‘locally directed collaborative working’ as critical for economic growth and competitiveness. Undoubtedly the remarks serve to emphasise the continuing importance of the Northern Powerhouse which, if it were a country, would already be the 10th largest in Europe.

The Sheffield City Region (SCR) was one of the UK’s first Science and Innovation Audit sites. Focusing on the Advanced Manufacturing Corridor (AM Corridor), the emphasis on high-value manufacturing is highly likely to prove a cornerstone of the emerging Industrial Strategy. Moreover, with the AM Corridor comprising a consortium of key partners across the SCR LEP and Lancashire LEP, led by the University of Sheffield and Lancaster University, it transects the Northern Powerhouse. In keeping with the comments of the Secretary of State, this means that the local innovation strengths of the SCR will see it strive on a global stage.

The findings of the SIA highlight the comparative strengths of Sheffield as a centre of advanced and high-value manufacturing, a sector that has been emphasised as a priority growth area. Regional strengths in nuclear research will also grow further under the ‘nuclear innovation programme’ announced by the Secretary of State, in which the SCR is already an important part of the national innovation system.

The findings of the SIA and announcement about the nuclear innovation programme are striking, and will have implications for what and how the SCR LEP will deliver to increase productivity and profitability of high-value manufacturers in the region. As a leading research school and provider of management education, Sheffield University Management School has a key role to play in helping deliver the vision set out in the SIA to ensure that the SCR and the UK remains an innovation leader.

For our part, the Management School is already pioneering new courses to support advanced and high-value manufacturing with a new EMBA programme. This is the UK’s first specialist manufacturing EMBA tailored for manufacturers of all sizes and sectors to drive change that translates into prosperity and economic growth. We are also committed to working with the Growth Hub at the SCR LEP to develop higher level management and leadership skills for SMEs in the manufacturing sector and more widely.

Beyond our role in developing skills, as a research-led management school colleagues continue to be engaged in a broad range of research and impact activities. The research and engagement of colleagues has already helped many business grow in an environmentally and socially-responsible way. Building on our strong tradition of working with businesses, we are committed to supporting the productivity and profitability of businesses. While much emphasis in the SIA is about the technological skills and capabilities, this is not to detract from the value of knowledge and insights of our research into business models, supply chains, organisational design, leadership and finance.

At what is a critical time for the SCR and the UK economy more generally, and in keeping with our mission and vision, Sheffield University Management School remains committed to supporting innovation and stimulate growth.

 

Prof Tim Vorley is attending Innovate 2016 (Manchester) with the Innovation Caucus for ESRC and Innovate UK.

Comment: What Africa can learn from Sheffield’s investment deal with China, by Sharif Khalid

Tuesday, August 30th, 2016

Originally posted on The Conversation.

The British press has been devoting acres of coverage to a £1bn foreign direct investment deal into Sheffield, an industrial city in northern England. Branded as an extension of the “golden era” of relations between Britain and China, the contract between Sheffield and Sichuan Guodong Construction Group has been heralded as a remarkable investment. It is easily the largest Chinese investment in Britain outside London. And it comes with a 60-year life span.

The deal elicits useful lessons for Chinese investments across the African continent.

The Sheffield deal came with clearly stipulated terms of engagement. These included the creation of employment opportunities, and an obligation to fill a clearly defined urban development gap. This includes a five star hotel, sport fields, new office and leisure properties and both high-end and affordable housing in the city centre.

Significantly, the developments are to be undertaken using local and not Chinese labour.

These conditions stand in contrast with what deals look like between many African countries and China. Despite a plethora of such deals, leaders on the continent have not shown enough commitment to ensuring equitable partnerships with China. The Sheffield case shows what’s possible if the negotiating partner is firm about insisting on certain conditions for any deal.

Chinese interest in Africa

Trade between China and Africa has risen significantly. It now stands at an estimated $198.5 billion. This has been shaped largely by Chinese hunger for raw materials.

By some estimates there are about 1,673 Chinese-backed projects dotted across 51 African countries. This is obviously significant and surpasses any other region of the globe. By and large the terms of these pacts have been dominated by China’s needs. This is inimical – but it needn’t be the case.

The Chinese probably possess the most malleable foreign and trade strategy on the international landscape. As such it responds to the strategic investment programmes of its partner states. Chinese investors respond to the robust policy of Europe and America just as easily as they meet Africa with what demands it brings to the table.

Current Sino-Africa relations are best understood against the backdrop of the strategic Beijing China-Africa Summit of 2006 and the recent Johannesburg Forum on China-Africa Cooperation. Since then numerous loans, grants and infrastructure contracts have been inked between African governments and Chinese entities.

In addition, Africa plays host to a flourishing “barter” enclave. Under these deals the continent feeds sprawling Chinese industries in exchange for development loans and infrastructure contracts.

This form of barter comes with significant implications for Sino-Africa relations. In most instances the barter promotes an indirect involvement of China’s corporations in the extraction of Africa’s mineral resources. A case in point is the £3 billion loan agreement between China Development Bank and the government of Ghana, as well as other deals with Exim Bank China. These formed part of a $13 billion concessionary agreement for the development of infrastructure in Ghana, including its oil sector.

About 60% of contracts emanating out of this relationship are in the hands of Chinese corporations. Vital ingredients are missing. Issues such as corporate governance, social responsibility, corporate reporting, stakeholder engagement and responsible investment are ignored. These governance factors come to be treated as nonessential.

Many Chinese investors are also not directly involved in the actual mineral extraction. They often work through third parties. This means that the investors themselves cannot be held directly accountable and often evade their responsibilities.

The social and environmental effects across Africa’s resource value chain are massive. And African governments are left to deal with the environmental damage.

Africa has a strong hand to play

Given China’s need for raw materials, there is undoubtedly an opportunity for Africa to redefine power relations in its dealings with the new global giant. The mineral rich continent can set on course a win-win situation within the rubric of this existing relationship. Failure to do so might perpetually limit the continent’s ability to maximise economic value from its mineral resources.

Key factors must include skill transfer initiatives, localisation and fit for purpose infrastructure development.

Since the first Beijing Ministerial Conference in 2000 Africa has made little progress in preparing itself to meet China as an equal partner in economic dealings. The conference set in motion the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation and Programme for China-Africa Cooperation in Economic and Social Development. It could have spurred Africa to develop a more strategic response designed to accelerate development.

Africa needs to assemble the required mettle to change power relations in its dealings with China. The continent’s relations with China must be tailored to yield commensurate benefits.

Sheffield’s City Council seems to have been empowered enough to engage China on a mutual benefit bases. Given that Africa is the epicentre of most Chinese foreign direct investment it has a much stronger hand to play.

Even though the Sheffield case involved a private sector player, Africa must also turn agreements at government level into deals that deliver maximum economic value.

And African countries must use existing safety valves, like constitutional clauses and parliamentary agreements, to their advantage.

The Conversation

Sharif Mahmud Khalid, Lecturer in Accounting, University of Sheffield

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Do you remember the drought of 1976? Memories of the historic dry summer could influence SUMS research

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2016

Researchers want to know what you remember about the 1976 drought for an academic project.

On the 40th anniversary of the country’s most severe water storage in living memory, Dr Tina McGuinness from the Management School is part of a national team urging those who have memories to share their accounts.

How did you cope? Did it bring people together in communities? What sacrifices did you have to make? How did it affect your life in Sheffield? The anecdotes will contribute towards a £3.2million project named Drought Risk and You (DRY) which aims to provide new evidence for managing future droughts, drawing on science and experience.

Dr McGuinness said: “In June 1976, temperatures of 30 degrees-plus were recorded for as many as 16 consecutive days in the UK, and many reservoirs dried up as a result – it gripped the nation, and we want to capture some of the memories that endure 40 years on.

“The stories are a valuable component of our research, and they need to be considered when looking at solutions for future droughts. How did it affect you, your family or your work? We want to hear the positives and the negatives – from enjoying watching kids playing in the sunshine, to struggling to keep the family hydrated. Your account of that summer could have an impact on how we cope with future droughts.”

The four-year DRY project, which brings together researchers from eight universities and institutes, aims to ensure that the country is better prepared for another extreme water shortage.

Dr McGuinness continued: “Climate change, often leading to extreme weather, is a huge global challenge and we require action from everyone to cope with future crises. This is an opportunity for people to contribute with their narrative of June 1976.”

This study will focus on the impact of drought on seven river catchments, including the River Don which Dr McGuinness is leading on. These are the Cornwall River Fowey; River Frome (Bristol); River Pang (Wiltshire); Bevills Leam (Fenlands); Afon Ebbw (South Wales); and the River Eden (Fife).

The research team is led by UWE Bristol and also includes the University of Sheffield, Loughborough University, NERC’s Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Harper Adams University, University of Warwick, University of Exeter, University of Dundee and Climate Outreach.

Contribute memories via the following routes:

  • Add your story as a comment on this page: http://bit.ly/dry-1976
  • Tweet your images and memories of past and current droughts, and local water-use: @Project_DRY
  • Contact us if you would like to join our workshops: +44 (0)117 32 87024

 

Find out more about the project online at dryproject.co.uk and @Project_DRY on Twitter.

How will the EU referendum result affect university research? Dr Robert Marchand discusses on Sheffield Live

Monday, August 1st, 2016

Dr Robert Marchand has discussed the vote to leave the EU in relation to universities and their research, particularly in the area of funding for work on renewable energy and sustainability projects.

He also discussed how university campuses could become carbon neutral.

On the initial impact on the leave vote, Rob said: “The initial impact has been uncertainty. All sectors in the UK are looking for certainty – if we’re going to Brexit, let’s do it so at least we know what’s happening and we can plan. Researchers on multi-million pound Horizon 2020 bids are already being affected, and these are very important to universities. However, the University of Sheffield isn’t totally reliant on EU funding.

“European partners are concerned about partnering with British universities because it might have an effect on funding during a project. That makes your project unsustainable; you can’t publish, and everything that leads to building reputation disappears.

“The good thing we can take from the referendum is that it will make us more dynamic when it comes to thinking about research funding and perhaps this is an opportunity to work more closely with businesses and local authorities.”

On identifying alternative funding or approaches to research, Rob suggested that there are opportunities on our doorstep: “Engaging with our city and using that as a step forward to being a world-leader and centre of expertise could make a rosy future for us – if we think about it in the right way. There are opportunities to use the knowledge within Sheffield to help the local community and that can also help the university keep doing good research.”

“We want to make sure the north (of England) doesn’t lose out, so as a university we’re going to try and take a leadership in maintaining that level of investment and engagement. That means looking for new sources of funding.”

Click here to listen to a podcast of the programme (Sounzaboutright, Sheffield Live – 28.07.16)

Management School Associate Dean forecasts a positive quarter for the Sheffield City Region

Tuesday, July 19th, 2016

Professor Andrew Simpson

The Sheffield City Region Quarterly Economic Survey – an authoritative private sector business survey, based on nearly 400 responses from firms across the region – suggests that regional economic growth was generally positive in the second quarter of 2016, and that firms held a positive outlook on the regional economy looking forward.

Professor Andrew Simpson, Associate Dean for External Business Advancement at the Management School, analysed the survey results and presented a snapshot of how the region performed to delegates from all four regional chambers of commerce, the LEP and sponsors RBS in Chesterfield on 12 July.

He said: “Overall the results show a confident regional view of the economy. The forward-looking predictions are likely to see some measure of fluctuation in the short term following the referendum, and the next quarter’s survey will be critical in understanding the effects of the vote to leave the EU.

“It’s important that Sheffield University Management School is at the heart of discussion around the regional economy and being involved with the Quarterly Economic Survey has given us great insight into the progress and fluctuations we see locally.

“The next survey will be distributed in August and should reveal any potential impact of the EU referendum result on the business economy.”

The Q3 survey opens on 22 August and runs through 12 September 2016. Everyone who responds will be entered in a prize draw to win free flights to Berlin. Visit www.screconomy.org.uk for further information.