December 2010 Archives
The Kraft takeover of Birmingham-based chocolate firm Cadbury, with its proud history of corporate responsibility record going right back to its Quaker origins, has been a running topic in many of my blogs here at the Birmingham Post this year.
I had anyway been banging on about the need for takeover reform for many years, and the Cadbury case put into sharp focus many the issues I'd been raising.
Of course, let's recognise that going forward we want Cadbury to succeed under Kraft and to employ workers in the UK. That's why I'm still munching away on far more Fruit and Nut than is really good for me.
But there is also a need to recognise that Cadbury should never have been vulnerable to such a takeover in the first place, and to avoid such situations arising again.
Chinese media reported last week that Shanghai Auto is on course to launch the new MG6 in the first quarter of 2011.
It appears that MG plans also to launch a sports version of the MG6 during 2011 and a 'new product' (widely expected to be a small car based on the Zero concept) sometime thereafter.
MG's sales and marketing director Guy Jones recently stated that the MG6 would be sold through the 40 dealers currently handling the MG TF, with another 20 or so "looking to come on board in the next few months".
Last week we had more detail on how MG plans to expand its dealer network. Shanghai's President Chen Hong was quoted as saying that the firm is still in talks with General Motors in an attempt to gain access to the firm's British sales network.
As the sun readies itself to set over the yardarm of yet another traumatic year, it is surely right to note that, despite a raft of unresolved economic woes now about to be shifted into 2011 and having come a very long way over the last year, there really is a lot to be thankful for.
Blogged by David Bailey, Alex de Ruyter and Ian Clark
Last year's BIS Report on the collapse of MG Rover laid bare some of the ways in which Phoenix Consortium engaged in financial engineering and extracted value from the carmaker before it went bust.
At the time of the report's publication many of us called for reforms so as to ensure proper accountability especially in relation to the 'private equity business model' (PEB Model) which Phoenix adopted, and to make a repeat of such a failure more difficult.
We've seen no progress since then, as a new paper by Alex de Ruyter, Ian Clark and myself make clear in the latest issue of the Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society, which has just been published.
This study provides a forensic analysis of the arguments contained in the BIS report and makes recommendations for policy reform and better regulation.
My favourite television moment EVER featured Five Star, a UK pop group the Jackson Five could've been, had they been 75% more rubbish.
They were on kids' entertainment show Going Live, cheerfully answering calls from excitable younger viewers. Amidst the standard 'what's your favourite colour?' style of gentle interrogation, one child got on air to put his query to the popstars du jour. The young viewer paused, readying himself for his moment of broadcast glory. Then, he delivered the bombshell question: "Why are you so f*@!ing crap?"
The reaction of Five Star was, ahem, worthy of five stars, taking the criticism with admirably good grace. The reassured look on their faces said it all: 'say what you like, pre-pubescent airtime abuser, watching at home in your jim-jams - we have fame and fortune. You, child, have school on Monday.'
It was an essay in how to handle criticism. Regrettably, during 2010, some of our city's representatives in and around local government haven't always reacted with such grace under media scrutiny.
So, it comes to that time of year when we review what has happened over the past 12 months and make resolutions for the future. Before we get to New Year Resolutions, I thought I'd take the arrogant step of making some predictions for 2011. I am going to remind myself of the old adage "prediction is difficult - especially about the future". But, I have had the crystal ball out and this is what it is telling me.
I should come clean at the outset; I've been to Sweden. Twice, actually. Although both were school holidays in the dim and distant past - staying with the good friends of my Mum and Dad whose existence I feel I must own up to in the interests of full disclosure - I still have warm memories of the country. Stunning scenery, very friendly locals most of whom spoke great English and I went on my first-ever roller coaster there; that final revelation alone surely being enough to show why I think fondly of the country and its people.
But, and in order to stress my objectivity, not all of my Swedish memories are great. On the first trip, family Pemble got caught in the worst rainstorm of any of our lives. Rain drops were bouncing back above my (admittedly not that tall) 10-year-old head and I was literally soaked to the skin. On the second trip, our home got burgled; something I (illogically I admit) still blame the Swedes for (because that was where we were when our neighbours phoned with the bad news) as opposed to the unfriendly Dundonians who actually committed the crime. And, worst of all, in 1987 IFK Gothenburg beat Dundee United in the final of the UEFA Cup, denying the boys in tangerine our best shot at European glory.
And I imagine most people probably have favourable impressions of the place. It's seen as liberal and tolerant of minority rights, with excellent health and education systems as well as a generous welfare state and a hard-won reputation for neutrality in its foreign policy. The reaction of Fredrik Reinfeldt, Sweden's Prime Minister and leader of the very Swedish-sounding Moderate Party, to the recent car bomb in Stockholm, seems to sum the place up quite well: "We must safeguard the open society where people can live together side by side".
It is also (along with Denmark and New Zealand) ranked as the least corrupt country in the World. To quote from the Heritage Foundation's freedom index report:
"Corruption is perceived as almost nonexistent. Sweden tied with Denmark and New Zealand for 1st place out of 179 countries in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index for 2008. Comprehensive laws on corruption are fully implemented, and Sweden has ratified the 1997 OECD Anti-bribery Convention. The constitution and law provide for public access to government information."
What's more, it has incredibly strong laws protecting press freedoms, which Julian Assange has acknowledged is why WikiLeaks hosts its servers there in the first place (although it does have to be said the main base for the server looks like a Bond villain's lair).
All of which makes me question the conspiracy theories about the attempt to extradite Mr Assange. Mark Stephens, Mr Assange's solicitor (who is, like me, qualified to practise in England and Wales, countries rated as being less transparent and more corrupt than the one he is resisting Mr Assange's extradition to) has said that "It is unlikely that even if convicted Assange will go to jail, so in those circumstances one has to ask oneself why are the Swedish authorities so dead-set that he will spend Christmas in jail? Do they have the genes of Scrooge?" Another supporter, the writer Tariq Ali, has gone further suggesting that "The Swedes are acting on behalf of a bigger power".
Am I the only one who thinks these allegations are somewhat harsh on Sweden and its citizens? All the evidence suggests it's just not that sort of place.
This is the blog version of my Birmingham Post column printed last Thursday December 9th 2010.
The biggest, most powerful financial investors in Britain are probably not who you think they are.
Forget hedge funds, insurance companies or investment houses in the banks.
How about school cleaners, bin men and women, care workers, social workers or local government officers?
I say that because UK local government pension funds administered by local government for its non-teacher and non-firefighter employees are actually the surprise powerhouses of investment.
You might estimate that they have a few million quid up their sleeves eventually to pay out peanuts pensions to low-paid workers. Wrong.
How about assets totalling ÃÂ£160billion?
With the news in recent days and weeks dominated by student demonstrations about university funding and of course the artic weather, it is perhaps no surprise that we have heard so little in the media about this year's final climate change negotiations in Cancun, Mexico, which concluded over the weekend.
Bad news yesterday from the Bank for International Settlement (BIS). Turns out European Banks are in an even bigger mess than was thought: exposure across Europe to Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain (GIPS) is now running into $trillions.
BIS says the total consolidated foreign exposure of BIS-reporting banks to GIPS is $2.281Trillion
And, worryingly, it's the French and German banks who they're mostly in hock to.
The French banks are into Greece to the bouzouki tune of $83.1billion. The German banks have $65billion "invested" in Greece.
BIS shows that the UK banks (mostly owned by taxpayers) have $187.5billion exposure to Ireland. Germany, too, has $186.4Billion committed to the Emerald Isle's economic Irish Stew.