Latest from Birmingham Post business...
I must come clean at the start: I appear to have got out of bed on the wrong side this morning. In any event, I'm cross. A bit peeved even. Indeed, sufficiently put out to abuse the online hospitality of the Birmingham Post and have a moan. Don't say you weren't warned.
So, who has upset my otherwise even equilibrium? The perhaps-a-bit worryingly-for-my-sanity-but-nonetheless-true answer is three posters to our own business blog and a food reviewer from the Times. First up we have Andrew, Graham and Alister, all of whom responded to Muhammad M-Hasan's recent blog encouraging Birmingham's business community to stand up and be counted when it comes to Birmingham Airport's plans for a new runway. Next we have Alex Renton, who was sent to Brum on behalf of the national paper following the announcement that Simpson's, Turners (given the recent brouhaha over Brum and its possessives, I should stress that the lack of apostrophe is the restaurant's decision and not mine) and Purnell's had all been awarded a Michelin star.
What's got me cross? It was probably the collective effect of reading them one after the other that got me narked, but all do seem to make unjustified criticisms of our fair city. Andrew suggests that the many (and rival) business organisations in the city are too busy feathering their own nests to respond as one. Graham (who has unfortunately been made redundant) laments the lack of any business community, suggesting that the only people left in Brum are lawyers and accountants who simply don't care. Alister, a lawyer from Manchester who has also unfortunately lost his job, believes that Manchester (both in terms of its business community's ability to compete with London and the quality of its airport) leaves Brum trailing in its wake.
Which brings me onto Alex Renton. In what is on the whole a positive piece on Brum's foodie revolution, he still manages a somewhat stereotyped comparison of the "neither posh nor charming...poem in concrete" that is our city with the supposed food nirvana that is Scotland's capital. He also produces the truly bizarre comment that "coming from Edinburgh like me, you feel pretty alien in the Bull Ring" and suggests that locally-sourced food is an anathema to Birmingham diets.
So let's knock these criticisms on the head, starting with Andrew. Since graduating, I have lived and worked in three cities: London, Cambridge and Brum and, whilst I accept Andrew's point that Brum appears to have a number of lobbying agencies, they strike me as far more vocal, persuasive and successful than anything my two previous homes had to offer. I would give a special mention to both Birmingham Future and Birmingham Forward as impressive voices for our city. As for Graham, the suggestion that lawyers and accountants don't care about the city is bonkers. We live and work here too; as do our clients. And as Alister's own experience testifies, professionals in the city aren't exactly immune from the economic downturn.
Which brings me onto the negative comparison with Manchester. I've never flown from Manchester Airport, so can't comment (save to say that since moving to Birmingham I've never needed to). However, the suggestion that Manchester or London are somehow protected from the recession in a way that Brum isn't seems at odds with the daily news reports. And if you are just looking at legal jobs, then one trade magazine reckons that over 2,100 jobs have been lost, with job cuts happening in Manchester and the Big Smoke as well as in Brum and elsewhere.
Finally to Edinburgh, which remains one of my favourite cities in the world and whose centre is undoubtedly an architectural joy. But it's not all perfect - Irvine Welsh wasn't making things up when he set Trainspotting there and Ian Rankin didn't get all of those gloomy ideas for Inspector Rebus novels because life in Edinburgh is uniformly beer and skittles. Edinburgh also has its fair share of ugly concrete. As for the comment that people from Edinburgh can't cope with the Bull Ring...this invites a number of responses from the (admittedly catty) suggestion that people from small provincial cities (which is what Scotland's capital is compared to Brum) shouldn't throw stones (no doubt, locally-sourced stones in Mr Renton's case) when they come to a proper conurbation to the more prosaic observation that had he looked about a bit he would have discovered the market and all of its local produce.
So come on folks. Brum's not perfect (where, apart from the front row of a Bruce Springsteen concert, is?); but if you're going to have a go at our city, at least have an accurate one.
My husband Bob is 65 on 2nd June 2009 and I had been vaguely wondering recently about what we should be doing to about his state pension.
Imagine my delight therefore when, last week a letter arrived from the Pensions Service, which is part of the Dept of Work and Pensions (DWP). The letter was all about how to claim your state pension.
Deal done, you might have thought. The letter gave a list of information that would be needed in order to claim the pension by telephone, indeed they recommended this was the best way to deal with the issue. Easy!
Full of enthusiasm and armed with the necessary information, we telephoned the number given. The immediate pre-recorded response to our call, was to tell us that due to improved efficiencies in the DWP, it was not necessary any longer for an individual to claim their state pension until 2 months before their 65th birthday in the case of a man or 60th birthday in the case of a woman.
The pre-recorded message continued very pointedly to say that if the caller was already within 2 months of their pension date they should press any key to continue and that other people should ring at the later date.
It is a great pity that all these improved efficiencies in the DWP did not extend to stating in the letter that individuals should not make the claim by telephone or indeed any other method until they were 2 months away from their pension date.
Clearly efficient or not, the right hand does not seem to know what the left hand is doing!
I am doing a lot of development at the moment with senior leadership groups and am finding something rather insidious that only seems accessible through the kind of immersive development that braver companies are willing to go after.
The fact that the business leader of today is being pulled and stretched like never before is not a new thing, this has been running directly in tandem with the lives that we are all living, I know my life has got quicker and increasingly full of economic, social and personal pressures in the last 5 years (which may well have something to do with reaching 40 years young).
The hot topic in the newspapers over the past few days has been Jacqui Smith claiming 'second home' expenses for the house she shares with her husband and children. Ms Smith maintains that she is permitted to claim second home expenses on the family home in Redditch on the basis that her main residence is in London with her sister.
The rules for MPs expenses apparently state that "the main residence is where the MP spends more nights than any other". Isn't all this rather missing the point!?
The rules that permit MPs to claim expenses incurred in relation to a second home where it is necessary for them to have both a home in London and a home in their constituency appear entirely reasonable and something we should all support in principle.
Why should MPs have to suffer the costs of running two homes for the electorates benefit?
The point is surely, however, that they should only be able to claim these expenses where they are actually incurring additional costs on behalf of all of us over and above the normal household expenses that every family has to incur.
The government has hinted it is looking at vehicle scrappage schemes to support the ailing automotive sector, following in the footsteps of other European governments who have been quick to introduce similar drives.
Vehicle scrappage schemes offer a cash incentive for drivers of old, polluting bangers to trade them in for new fuel-efficient vehicles and are a solution backed by green groups like Friends of the Earth as well as manufacturers.
We have some of the best engineering resources in the world in the West Midlands who, with a bit of a shake-up, could make the region a world leader in green technology. But instead, small engineering firms are going bust on a daily basis and any demand stimulus is likely to be "too little too late" for many of them.
The scenario around vehicle scrappage schemes, and the government's dithering over embracing them, sounds depressingly familiar to the feed-in tariffs (FIT) legislation that has left the UK on the back foot over green technology.
Many European countries introduced a law getting on to a decade ago which would give small scale producers of renewable energy a viable price for the electricity they sell to the national grid. It kickstarted a renewables technology revolution in places like Germany, which has now become a world leader in the sector.
But as other countries were growing and nurturing their renewables technology sectors the UK government dismissed the measures as too "interventionist" as it forced the electricity companies to buy renewable electricity at a fixed price.
But then last year somebody in government suddenly realised it was ok to become "interventionist" as the failures of the free market had become woefully apparent, combined with the realisation that if UK manufacturing was to survive, it needs to be environmentally-focused.
So we now have a feed-in tariff law nearly ten years after the Germans introduced theirs. But, as always, the UK has done it half-heartedly with no clear timetable for the introduction of a FIT and too low a cap on the amount of energy the projects could produce, meaning the law is at present as good as useless.
Gordon Brown recently had another of his famous parliamentary slips of the tongue - telling us we found ourselves in a depression. I don't want to be accused of adding to the downward spiral that will drag us down from a recession into a depression, but a look at the history of the Great Depression is certainly helpful.
Despite massive public works projects like the Hoover Dam, it was really the advent of the Second World War that jolted the world out of the depression when governments commandeered factories to turn them over to war technology.
The UK government needs to take more of a warlike approach to climate change - and the job saving/creation capacity it brings with it - and address the problem with the scale and urgency of a war effort.
Many green groups and economists have come together to propose something like this - for example the Green New Deal
The UK government needs to engage some clear, bold and fast thinking on stimulating demand for green technology instead of constantly playing catch-up with the rest of Europe, before it is "too little too late" for Midland manufacturing.
Blogged by David Bailey and John Clancy
You may have missed it, but while you and I stump up the cash for a taxpayers' bail out of the banks (and whilst their greedy execs still have their snouts in the trough for yet more fat-cat bonuses), the issue that first undermined public trust in the banks has continued to rumble on - namely unlawful, unfair Bank Charges.
Did you know, however, that even as the government places the first priority in getting the nation through the recession as being the test of 'fairness', the banks are using your money and mine (as taxpayers) to try to prove that, actually, they have a right to be unfair? Hmmm, yes it came as surprise to me as well.
The Bankers were rather hoping that the government and the rest of us had forgotten about that one, thank you, what with all the other awful stuff they've had to deal with in the last 6 months in particular (must be tough at the top for a banker, eh?)
As we write, the Banks we have bailed out are collectively spending millions of pounds on a court case fighting the Office of Fair Trading (the OFT) on the other side (also, of course, funded by you and me) to get the courts (also funded by you and me) to say that the bank charges they have been levying for the last 7 years are not subject to the test of 'fairness'.
More specifically they are spending our money to get the courts to rule that they can continue to charge what they like and that fairness need not enter, and need never to have entered, into it. "I'm alright Jack" seems the line as they collectively stick two fingers up at the taxpayer and the government.
Toyota, which overtook GM to become the biggest auto manufacturer in the world last year, shocked the auto world on Friday by announcing that its expected loss for this financial year (to end of March) will be more than double the estimate it gave out just under 2 months ago.
It now says that it expects its first full-year operating loss in its 71 year history to be around ÃÂ¥350 billion yen (ÃÂ£2.6 billion or nearly $4 US billion), with the operating loss on its auto business adding up to some ÃÂ¥450 billion yen, (ÃÂ£ billion or $5 billion).
By way of comparison, in the previous financial year the firm raked in huge profits (around ÃÂ¥1.72 trillion).
It blames the loss on the collapse in sales in key markets (the US, Europe, Japan and China) and the rapid appreciation of the Yen (which rose 23% against the Dollar and 29% against the Euro last year). The latter has the effect of reducing the Yen value of overseas earnings. The firm has been especially hit in the US market (usually its most profitable) where sales fell over 30% in the last quarter of 2008 compared with the same period in 2007.
The credit-crunch induced downturn is hammering the auto industry, but until a few months ago Toyota seemed in good shape and able to ride things out. Not any more...
I've noticed a growing trend recently: an increasing number of business people who feel that they have to apologise for doing well during the downturn.
This is probably due to the fact that the people in question are decent, caring types. They are understandably sensitive to the difficult situation that many companies and individuals are facing as the country slides deeper into recession.
It's likely that most of us will know friends and family who have lost their jobs, and for the time being at least, the situation doesn't show any signs of improving. But should this stop the companies that are bucking the trend from celebrating their success?
HMRC have recently issued the latest rates for interest they charge on overdue tax and for interest they pay on tax overpaid.
For tax underpaid the interest rates generally varies between 2.5% and 3.5% but for tax overpaid the interest rate is now 0% in the vast majority of cases.
In a recent press release from HMRC setting out the new rates - HMRC were careful to ensure that the regulations that lay down the procedures and formulae for calculating interest on overdue tax and overpaid tax, were amended in December 2008 "to clarify that interest rates calculated under the Regulations cannot fall below zero."
Blogged by David Bailey and A.N. Other
For most commercial activities in the UK, we seem to have an over-riding obsession with the role of ownership, as though the only people who really matter are the owners.
Indeed, we usually forget that other stakeholders, namely the employees, suppliers, and the State (from direct and indirect taxes on the activity in question), often appropriate far more 'benefit' from the activity in question than the owner itself. This is especially the case where the supply chain in question is long and many people depend directly or indirectly on the firm, as in the case of Jaguar Land Rover, which employs some 14,000 directly, with another 60,000 indirectly dependent on the firm.
We can, however, do a rough-and-ready estimate of the relative value of the benefits received by the various partners under this 'Community Capitalism'. Indeed, in a manufacturing supply chain with a strong international position such as JLR, the benefits to the State in taxes could be more than 5 times - and up to 10 times - those pertaining to the lead company.
This begs the question: who should take responsibility for its survival? This is especially relevant when the economy is hit by a 'shock' and the firm and supply chain in question have done nothing wrong, are fundamentally viable, yet their future is threatened