The government is launching an independent review of the "sharing economy", an economic trend fuelled by individuals and startups renting out their skills, time and property via the internet. However, issues over workers' rights in startups go unmentioned.
The review will explore the definition, benefits, policy issues, regulatory burdens of the sharing economy and establish how it can be helped to reach its potential in the UK.
Recommendations will be made to both the government and related industries on how they can nurture the sharing economy, once the review draws to a close in December 2014.
Epitomised by companies such as Airbnb and RentMyItems, the sharing economy is estimated to involve 25 percent of adults in the UK, who are sharing various products and services online.
This new model is believed to generate around £9bn a year, and could reach up to £230bn per year by 2025.
Matthew Hancock, minister for Business and Enterprise, explained that the shared economy is part of a long-term economic plan to "build a brighter future for Britain" and ensure the nation remains competitive with other startups and innovation in other countries.
"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 startups," said Hancock.
Debbie Wosskow, chief executive of Love Home Swap, will lead the review to assess the opportunity the sharing economy has to create a country full of micro-entrepreneurs, and its potential to transform the way people use their assets and resources.
"The focus of the review will be on three well-established areas: personal and commercial space, transport, and time and skill-sharing. It will also look at sectors where there is significant growth potential, including fashion, food and personal items such as power tools," explained Wosskow.
However, given that Wosskow runs a startup based on the benefits of the shared economy, it raises questions as to how neutral and objective the report can be.
A spokesperson from the Cabinet Office told V3 that the review would be carried out in a balanced fashion and that Wosskow was selected due to her experience rather than position as a start up owner.
Furthermore, the guidelines published on how the report will be conducted cite reviewing regulations that burden sharing economy companies, but do not reference how some of those policies might be found to protect both workers and consumers within the economic model.
Workers' rights are notably omitted in the report which prompted V3 to question how potential deregulation of startups can encroach on the safety, job security and voice of people working for companies with diverse and fluid business models.
One such example of this is taxi service Uber, which has its drivers on what are effectively zero-hour contracts, thereby providing them with virtually no job security.
Another includes TaskRabbit, a service that allows users to outsource simple tasks, such as cleaning an oven, to freelance workers known as "Taskers". Competitiveness among Taskers can lead them undercutting each other and accepting low-wages as a consequence, thereby eroding their opportunity for a fair wage and job security.
In reference to modifying regulations to support the services start ups provide, the Cabinet Office spokesperson said: "We need to ensure that they are being used fairly and that customers are being protected."
The spokesperson noted that the government has called for evidence to support any recommendations made during the review process in order to guarantee it is "balanced and informed" and ensure the sharing economy benefits all involved rather than a minority.
For the technology industry, the review is likely to be welcomed, as many startups already cluster around areas such as Tech City in order to work with peers in the industry, and are in a position to propel the sharing economy, particularly if regulations are relaxed.
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