UK government wants to compete with San Francisco to rule the new 'sharing economy'

Following the widely publicised successes of some "sharing economy" companies such as Airbnb, the British government has commissioned an independent report with the idea of making the UK a "global centre" for sharing start-ups.
Written by Jack Schofield, Contributor on

Following the success of businesses such as Airbnb, Rentmyitems and Zipcar, the British government has commissioned a report into the "sharing economy", with the optimistic idea of turning the UK into a "global centre".

The announcement was made by Matthew Hancock MP, the Minister for Business and Enterprise, at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham. He said: "There’s huge economic potential for the sharing economy and I want to make sure that the UK is front and centre of that, competing with San Francisco to be the home of these young tech start-ups.

"This is all part of our long-term economic plan to build a brighter future for Britain."

The government wants to be seen as "backing the innovators, the competitors and the agitators" rather than, for example, for its infamous "bedroom tax".

Debbie Wosskow
Debbie Wosskow will lead the government's review of the sharing economy.

Hancock said the sharing economy could reach 50 percent market share in key sectors such as holiday accommodation and car-sharing/car rental by 2025, with global business worth around £230 billion ($335 billion) a year — a number taken from PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers). It could therefore have a significant impact on the UK's struggling economy.

The report will look into the risks and benefits of the sharing economy, including "the barriers to digital trust," "the regulatory burdens" and potential insurance problems. Strangely, considering the high levels of unemployment in the UK, the list doesn't include the impact on jobs.

The research will be led by Debbie Wosskow, who is CEO of a sharing-economy company, Love Home Swap. Since she has a vested interest in the field, it's hard to see how this can be the promised Independent Review, but perhaps that just means "independent of government".

The government has issued a "call for evidence" so that citizens and businesses can contribute. Possible topics include property sharing (obviously), time and skill sharing, and the sharing of transport, fashion, food and personal items.

There's also an online survey.

The government investigation follows on from other research. This includes recent papers from PwC (Five key sharing economy sectors could generate £9 billion of UK revenues by 2025) and Nesta (National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts), which published Making Sense of the UK Collaborative Economy earlier this month. Nesta has also published a paper on the European sharing economy.

It will be interesting to see whether Wosskow tackles some of the trickier issues and their legal implications, such as: Who is responsible when something goes badly wrong?

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