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A postcard from 30,000 feet

By Mike Loftus on Nov 26, 12 02:32 AM in

Ah, the ineluctable delights of international business travel! Oh, really?

Is it just me or does everyone have the experience, after a few goes at it, that an hour or so into the current flight, you are not really sure if you ever left the plane after the last one. Or even the one before that.

When the government decided to abolish the RDAs back in 2010, they said that a fifth of the RDA's land and property assets, including business parks, development sites and other bits and pieces of infrastructure they had built up, would be sold off - on the open market - with the rest transferred to the Housing and Communities Agency (or HCA) - an unaccountable quango.

Remember that the justification, in so far as there was one at all, for abolishing the RDAs was that they were, well, unaccountable quangos. At the time it wasn't really clear what was going to happen to the remaining assets, and the HCA had to quickly draw up plans with DCLG to take over those RDA assets not sold off and then to hold them on behalf of councils.

The idea, supposedly, was to avoid a 'fire sale' of RDA assets at a low point in the market. But assets were indeed sold off, as an excellent BBC Inside Out West Midlands investigation reveals tomorrow (in the West Midlands' case over £40m worth). How much they were sold for isn't necessarily clear, however, raising some important questions about accountability and transparency, and whether a good deal was really done for taxpayers.

Like most people I don't feel comfortable about expecting young people to take out loans to cover their higher education costs.

The blow has been a little softened through the rise in the salary threshold triggering payback, moving from £15k per annum to £21k in the new system.

Graduate employment is higher than non-graduate employment, at 85.5% compared to 73.3%, over the last six years.

There's a slew of surveys showing that graduates earn more over their working lives than non-graduates. The last one I saw showed people with degrees earned an average of £12k a year more than non-graduates over the past decade.

And once again the influence of Europe re-emerges as being crucial to our economy.

On Tuesday there was a meeting of the Eurozone finance ministers and today (Thursday) there is another critical meeting of Europe's leaders in Brussels to decide on the EU budget.

There is good reason to believe that some members of Government - particularly in the Conservative party - would dearly love to end our membership of the European Union.

This is something that is gaining popularity among votes.

A survey carried out by Opinium/Observer shows that 56% of people would 'probably' or 'definitely' vote leave if given the chance in a referendum.

Increasingly, it seems, there is a view that we would be better off outside the EU.

However, leaving would have consequences and any commitment to hold a referendum should be taken with extreme care as once voters have decided it will make the outcome irrevocable.

Whatever people may think, David Cameron and George Osborne are especially aware of the way in which events in European economies can have an impact on this country.
The fact that Europe still represents a major market for our exporters will not be lost on him.

Yesterday George Osborne received the public accounts for October which will tell have told him the extent of the deficit this country is currently running.

This information will have given him vital information in considering his Autumn statement which will be delivered on 5th December.

It's a good bet that whilst both Cameron and Osborne are fully aware of public opinion on continued membership of Europe but that they also know that a revival in the economies of member countries of the European Union will be good for the UK.

The fortunes of the EU and the UK are inextricable linked.

So, given the poor state of our economy, whatever decisions are taken on our continued role in Europe need to be carefully considered.

The media coverage of the recent National Congress event in Beijing highlighted just how differently the world is viewing China. The BBC prime evening news bulletin over three or four days featured world affairs editor John Simpson and colleagues reporting live from a very chilly looking Tiananmen Square - and all this at local Beijing time of 6.00 am ( which may have accounted just a little for Simpson's slightly grumpy on-air demeanour

This is the Blog version of my Birmingham Post print column from last month.

If you hear or read the word 'leverage' in any investment or economic growth document or policy now, I reckon you should ignore it or throw it in the bin.

The problem is, almost every such policy or document seems to include the L-word.

You will read it in 'Funding for Lending' (FFL) schemes from the government.

You will read it, or something exactly like it, in Enterprise Zone policies, in LEP emerging strategy policies across the land and, especially, here in Birmingham.

If anything, it was Leverage that got us into the mess in the first place. It sure as hell won't get us out of it.

Money follows money, is the theory.

The investment leverage idea is that we start from a base of 'real' investment money; and the very existence of the base will enable other borrowed 'sort-of-real' funding to flood in to 'match' it; then that itself will be built on by further leveraged, undefined money, often massively bigger that the base: a tottering , wildly wobbling, inverted pyramid.

The big danger is that people who think we can go back to funding things through leveraged finance, matching and growing from here, there and everywhere, are showing they didn't understand how the collapse happened last time.

They are also showing they do not understand the consequent, cruel financial realities of today.

What does China think ?' With 1.2 billion of them that's an awful a lot of thoughts for a start. The full frenzy of the US Presidential election exposed the views of its citizens which have been extracted and analysed in awesome detail. China largely retains a stereotypical inscrutability. The preoccupations of the nation are a book still unwritten ( but nonetheless kept securely under lock and key against the day someone might want to peek inside it.)

A couple of clichés come to mind when writing this blog; be careful what you wish for and the paradox of unintended consequences.

With respect to the getting what you want, I am referring to the BBC which was, rightly, criticised for its bungling and, some would argue, lack of courage with respect to the Jimmy Savile story.

For those whose names have become embroiled with the allegations of paedophilia the argument that Newsnight was trying to make amends simply won't wash. The fact that George Entwistle, someone widely regarded as a good person has lost his job after only 54 days will be of little consolation.

Some are going so far as to say that the BBC has lost its way and questioning whether it has a future as a public service broadcaster.

For its detractors, those that claim the BBC is a nest of left-wing bleeding heart liberals the current crisis is a gift and, at the very least we can expect them to call for funding through fee to be reviewed.

Any talk of an existential crisis at the BBC is surely premature. It is a widely admired and respected 'brand' and, recent events notwithstanding, is trusted in its reporting acroos the globe.

What does seem to be needed, though, is a review of the structure of the BBC and that its stewardship through effective leadership is given serious consideration.

Additionally, the bureaucracy at the BBC would make even the most hard-hearted weep!

This is something that needs tackling because it sure didn't help in avoiding the current disaster; something that 'national treasure' David Dimbleby suggested on Radio Four this morning.

So that's the BBC fixed?


Have we reached a turning point in the Bank of England's decision making after the MPC voted for no changes to either interest rates or, its asset purchase programme at its latest meeting.

Significant events are taking place elsewhere world which, potentially, will have a great impact on the world economy and, therefore, our own prospects.

In the American Presidential election there is the usual binary choice between Democrats and Republicans. However, this campaign has been notable for the increasingly bitter vitriol issued by each candidate about how each believes they can better manage the economy.

America has suffered economically because of the global downturn caused by the financial crisis that caused by the sub-prime market and the apparently 'domino effect' of banks collapsing.

Whatever the outcome of the election, Barak Obama can reflect that he inherited the presidency at pretty dreadful time. His problem was that there was so much expectation that he was always going to disappoint.

Many argued that Obama had the potential to be a new Franklin D. Roosevelt the 32nd American President who was elected in the midst of the Great Depression and who introduced legislation to create what was known as the 'New Deal' which invested in initiatives to create economic recovery and jobs for the unemployed who were literally starving.

Like Roosevelt, Obama believed that things could be improved by increased public investment.

Business authors

David Bailey

David Bailey - Professor of Industrial Strategy at the Aston Business School, Birmingham
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Stuart Pemble

Stuart Pemble - Construction Lawyer, Mills & Reeve
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John Clancy

John Clancy - Birmingham City Councillor and director of and
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John Samuels

John Samuels - Professor of Business Finance, Birmingham Business School
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Chris Tomlinson

Chris Tomlinson - Chris Tomlinson is the founder of social media and online PR agency Friend (
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Andrew Whitehead

Andrew Whitehead - Senior partner at law firm SGH Martineau, leading the firm's Energy & Climate Change practice.
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Keith Gabriel

Keith Gabriel - A Birmingham-based PR Account Manager
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Beverley Nielsen

Beverley Nielsen - Lecturer, Design Management, at the Birmingham Institute of Art & Design, BCU
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Mike Loftus

Mike Loftus - Director of News from the Future Ltd. Writing on the trials of setting up your own business
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Richard Halstead

Richard Halstead - Midlands region director for EEF, the manufacturers organisation.
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Karl Edge

Karl Edge - partner at KPMG in Birmingham, specialising in automotive, manufacturing and house building sectors.
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Peter Owen

Peter Owen - Managing director for construction firm Willmott Dixon Midlands.
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Dr Steven McCabe

Dr Steven McCabe - director of research degrees for Birmingham City Business School.
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Francis Greene

Francis Greene - Professor of Small Business and Entrepreneurship, at the University of Birmingham.
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Alan Gilmour

Alan Gilmour - Director at Cogent Elliott, experienced in marketing, brand development and customer relationship management.
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Paul Noon

Paul Noon - Paul Noon, OBE, West Midlands International Trade Director at UK Trade & Investment.
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