The increased burden of this system would fall largely on scrap metal dealers, and given the trouble that this industry causes for the rest of society, I would see it as completely justified.
Issuing licences would have multiple economic benefits. First of all, it would trigger a wave of private sector investment in telecoms infrastructure (and Vodafone’s purchase of Cable & Wireless will start to look pretty smart). Second it would increase the productivity of people (such as myself) who use mobile broadband as their main internet connection. Third it would position the country for the next generation of mobile handsets and tablets, which will be powered by 4G technology and be capable of things that will make the iPhone4 look like a 1980s ‘brick.’ Fourth, it would position the country for an explosion in Machine-to-Machine (M2M) communications which could revolutionise our power grids, our roads, our medical devices and much else (much of which has yet to be invented).
At one level, my views on this are guided by personal frustration at going out to shop on a Sunday and having to head home at 6pm when I’m only half done because everything has closed. But I doubt if I am alone in my frustration. There are plenty of people who Monday to Friday at their desks, for whom Saturday and Sunday are the only opportunities for ‘shopping as leisure,’ who would welcome longer hours. I believe that if stores opened longer, people would buy more, and stores would make more income.
The major resistance to longer trading comes from shop workers themselves. The unions believe Sunday evenings should be ‘family time’ and resistance to changing the rules is so strong that even a temporary waiver during the Olympics caused an outcry.
But retail workers who oppose change are being short-sighted. The retail industry is in crisis. High streets up and down the country are becoming increasingly deserted as retailers go bankrupt. Tellingly, new shops are not taking their place. It’s important to remember that by freeing up the rules the government would not be forcing any shops to open longer than they currently do, just giving them the choice whether or not to. And business flexibility is something retailers need more of if they are to increase their contribution to the economy instead of continue in their decline.
A lot of options for stimulating the economy are bigger, bolder and more expensive than the ones I’ve outlined. But the strength of these three is that they require little cost to implement: they simply unlock the potential of the economy that was there all along.
*I realise that accelerating the auctions at this stage may be impossible, in which case the key point is that the auctions must not be delayed again, as they have been many times in the past