December 2009 Archives
Two years of international negotiations and great public expectation, but what we finally get at Copenhagen is disappointing and deeply unsatisfactory on several fronts.
The 'Copenhagen Accord' is not a replacement to the Kyoto Protocol. Indeed, far from being a UN agreement, the Accord is a 'behind the scenes' deal cooked up by five countries - the US and China, along with India, Brazil and South Africa. It's hard not to perceive Copenhagen as a low point in international governance.
Companies often write in to newspapers to put their point of view across on an issue that directly concerns them.
But it's very odd that the boss of Nestle UK, Peter Grimwood, felt it necessary to write into the Financial Times this week to stress Nestle's credentials in producing in the UK, in implied contrast to Kraft.
He wrote to stress that Nestle had retained the factory it bought in York in 1988 through its takeover of Rowntree, which produces Kit Kats (although please note that Smarties production was moved abroad). Kraft Foods, on the other hand, had shut down its Terry plant in York.
So what's this all about? The subtext - according to some commentators - is that Nestle is staking its claim to be a responsible corporate U.K. citizen that has preserved UK jobs and has invested in chocolate production in the UK. The implication is that Cadbury would be safe with them.
If you're in the creative business, you can't just send out any old Christmas card.
No, this is the one time of year you're allowed to spam your clients, under the guise of festive cheer, so you need to show-off that award- winning creative team you've been banging on about all year.
You opt for an e-card, claiming the environmental high ground, when really you just didn't want to pay for the print or more likely left it too late.
Of course if you're a digital agency, nothing less than a fully interactive, social media enabled, viral game will do; the more inanely pointless the better, or so it seems.
But which of your Flash designers do you give the job too - who gets the poisoned Xmas card chalice?
I've just read John Clancy's brilliant blog on the mess-up that was the OFT challenge to unfair bank charges. If that wasn't enough for Britain's beleaguered competition authorities, this week BAA won its appeal - on a purely technical point - against the Competition Commission's ruling that BAA should be forced to sell off three airports.
Of course, the key cause of the huge market power that BAA still enjoys in its (alleged) dominance of the airport business in the UK goes right back to a botched privatisation that failed to inject sufficient competition into the market by breaking up the firm in the first place.
That privatisation (stemming from the 1986 Airports Act under Margaret Thatcher) arose because the government wished to maximise the proceeds from the privatisation by selling off a monopoly position intact and/or because it caved in to the demands of incumbent management at the time.
We need to remember that this was a general trend - and critical weakness - in Thatcher's privatisations; incumbent managers didn't want their lives made more difficult by having to get their hands dirty by actually having to compete. A key academic article by Kay and Thompson as far back as 1986 made exactly this point; the opposition of senior, incumbent managers was the real obstacle to promoting competition when sectors were privatised.
I'm not sure that anyone resigns over anything much these days in government (or its quangos or non-ministerial departments), but there can be no better case for resignations than those of the Director General and the Chief Executive of the Office of 'Fair' Trading, following its humiliating throwing in of the towel today over the issue of the fairness of Bank Charges.
This is now apparently because it would take too long for the OFT to take the case back to court and because the Banks would insist that the legal fees of any future test case would be borne by the loser, so this is too big a risk for the non-ministerial department and beyond its remit. As for the consumer - well it's up to you to sort it out yourselves, the government appears to be saying. Not our problem. Perhaps you could gang together and bring a class action against the banks? Costs? Fees? Er...well that's a risk you take! Good luck, though.
As I said at the time of the Supreme Court decision, the OFT has shown itself throughout this case to be utterly toothless as a consumer protector and a total waste of taxpayers' money. It has absolutely no point in existing and should immediately be shut down.
It can't even live up to the actual words in its name, specifically enabling unfairness, assisting it like an alcoholic's drinks assistant, through staggering incompetence. The biggest players in big corporate business, due to the actions and inactions of the OFT, now legally can't even be subject to 'Fairness' rules in their charging policies or business practices. The Office for the Enablement of Unfair Trading is a better new title for this bunch of hopeless legal has-beens.
The OFT was set up to protect the consumer and enforce competition. It has failed on both accounts and has thus been shown to be not fit for purpose.
One of the possible outcomes as a result of the test case was that the OFT would at least still publish its 2-and-a-half-year long enquiry into to the fairness of how retail current accounts are run by the banks. That would at least shame the banks (although I think we have learned this year that they are beyond shame) and be useful to every individual with a bank charges' case in court.
The enquiry has been dropped, binned. It cost, I suspect, many ÃÂ£millions and the OFT has skulked away and shredded the report on advice from their lily-livered, spineless lawyers (who were so rubbish in their legal advice and representation that they bungled up the whole case on behalf of consumers leading to this whole mess in the first place).
I hope that the legal team they took advice from as to whether they should continue with their case (they have been advised that they would definitely lose - whichever point they argued on) was not the original team who advised and represented them in the bank charges case. They should all have been dumped and a fresh team consulted at the very least. Perhaps it was the orginal team, which would obviously mean they would advise not proceeding, because if they did proceed and win then that would show how incompetent the original legal advice, strategy and representation was. I think we should be told whether this was fresh advice from a fresh team of lawyers. I wouldn't trust the first lot with a parking ticket.
We, the taxpayers, who have paid for that enquiry will not now see it. The truth about how the banks operated their cartel and how unfair the system is will be denied to us. Mandelson should order its publication by the end of the year, next week. That's what the OFT have promised us for the last 2-and-a-half years. It would be produced by the end of 2009. Make it so, Mandy.
Let's call a spade a spade: the reality is that the big banks and one building society operated a cartel . Due to government policy favouring big business over the consumer leading to deregulation, the cartel itself was put beyond the reach of any determination by a government quango or department, ministerial or otherwise. That is the reality of today's announcement by the OFT.
Peter Mandelson can't deny this - the old legal maxim res ipsa loquitur is wholly applicable here: things speak for themselves. It doesn't matter how much the government says it is on the side of the ordinary person, the ordinary consumer, the facts speak for themselves here. The system built not only fails to prevent unfairness, but promotes it; actually enables the consumer to be royally stuffed by unregulated, unreformed corporate cartels. If the government is on the side of the ordinary person, on the side of the consumer, it would act on this matter, to force justice and fairness to have applied. They should not wring their hands and blame the OFT, they should actually do something. If we can retrospectively tax bank bonuses we can retrospectively enforce fairness. Publishing the report is the first step.
As the Supreme Court Judges made clear, the reason the Court and the OFT could not protect the consumer was because this government deliberately chose not to protect the consumer. Other EU countries went further than the skimpy, fall-back, fail-safe consumer protection measures provided by the EU legislation. They beefed up protection.
The Supreme Court justices specifically pointed out that it was within the power of this government to have put in place legislation some time ago to stop the kinds of cartelised actions of the banks identified by the case. It is not enough to say that Blair, Major and Thatcher could have and didn't. This government could have and did not. The consumer is left naked in the contract chamber. The corporate big boys are dressed in the best tank-resistant, uranium-depleted armour the lack of legislation can buy.
I don't play golf (4 years at St Andrews University and I never lifted a golf club in anger) and, despite being a pretty committed armchair sports fan, I don't particularly follow golf. In fact, I'm in firm agreement with Mark Twain, who memorably described the game as "a good walk ruined". That having been said, I do like playing golf computer games (I hope I'm not disclosing some deep psychological flaw in my make-up here) and I have certainly heard of Mr Woods, and had done so before his private life descended into the (for me at least) unimaginable media hell of recent times.
As the political furore over the Pre-Budget Report dies down (was it an electoral sop to Labour's traditional voters or a genuine attempt to preserve a fragile economic recovery?), the brutal truth remains that our public finances are in pretty dire straits; and our political leaders face some stark choices as to where to spend our tax pounds.
One of the ways economists analyse the benefit of government spending is to calculate a multiplier which shows the additional economic activity stimulated by each pound spent. According to a recent report prepared by LEK, a firm of management consultants, railway transport, health and veterinary services and construction lead the way, each with a multiplier of over 2.
"Oh, divine chocolate!
They grind thee kneeling,
Beat thee with hands praying,
And drink thee with eyes to heaven"
Marco Antonio Orellana (18th century)
Cadbury this morning issued its call to arms to its shareholders, increasing its growth and profitability targets while promising enhanced shareholder returns in an attempt to fend off Kraft's ÃÂ£10 billion hostile takeover bid.
Roger Carr, chairman of Cadbury, said in the defence document that "Kraft is trying to buy Cadbury on the cheap to provide much needed growth to their unattractive low-growth conglomerate business model. Don't let Kraft steal your company with its derisory offer."
As predicted in yesterday's blog, Cadbury is promising organic revenue growth of between 5 and % and profit margins of 16 to 18 % by 2013. It also stated that it was aiming at double-digit growth in dividends from next year onwards. The message to shareholders was clear - stick with us.
Well, I've survived another X Factor season, despite it being the worst ever regurgitation of the same old manufactured pap. I've been held captive by my wife's dominance of the remote control for four excruciating months.
But thanks to social media, I find that I'm not alone.
I hate every nauseating minute of the show. From the insipid voice over to the hackneyed 'old spice' music, through the endless regurgitation of clichÃÂ©s, that make footballers sound intelligent, right up to the gurn inducing, blart infested melodrama that is the vote.
Yes it has been a "journey" for me too Dermot.
British chocolate icon Cadbury will tomorrow launch a robust defence of it independence in its appeal to shareholders to stay loyal and reject a hostile ÃÂ£10 billion takeover bid by US food conglomerate Kraft.
Cadbury has steadfastly rejected Kraft's hostile cash and shares offer, which values Cadbury shares at around 720p, claiming that the offer does not properly value Cadbury's strong growth potential. And it is thought that unless Kraft increases its offer to more than 800p a share, Cadbury won't enter takeover talks.
In so doing, Cadbury can point to rapid earnings growth ahead of stock market expectations, a strong presence in emerging markets such as India, great brand value and its ethical and environmental credentials.
Analysts believe that Cadbury will tomorrow release a trading update and will also increase its target profit margin in percentage terms from the mid-teens by 2011 to the high-teens by 2014-15.