Foreign takeovers are good for UK

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Debate rages over the Pfizer/AstraZeneca tussle and whether ‘beastly’ foreign companies (such as Tata) should be allowed to take over failing British-based businesses (like Jaguar Land Rover) or whether they should be left securely in domestic hands (like British Leyland?).

According to YouGov, 64 per cent of the public believe foreign ownership of UK companies is a bad thing, and that it will lead to jobs and investment being lost in Britain. But, as YouGov’s Peter Kellner reflects, at every point in the day, a typical British worker relies on foreign-owned businesses without complaint (or even awareness).

When he wakes up he brews a cup of tea, courtesy of Thames Water, EDF Energy and Tetley’s. He enjoys Weetabix for breakfast while he reads the Sun, drives a Mini to his job at Heathrow, keeps going with Nescafé and Cadbury’s chocolate, buys his lunchtime sandwich at Boots, and stops off at Asda on his way home to buy Kraft Macaroni & Cheese for dinner, washed down with Strongbow cider.

That is globalisation. Not everyone benefits all the time. But the pattern is clear. Marx, Keynes and Hayek were unlikely bedfellows on most topics, but all believed in free trade. This is globalisation in practice – the gains easily outweigh the losses.

RBS failure was collective

I chaired a discussion with Iain Martin, author of Making it Happen: Fred Goodwin, RBS and the men who blew up the British economy. The audience was animated, furious that no one was punished. But, explained Martin, that is because 99.9 per cent of everything RBS bosses did was entirely legal. The question is: where was the board, one of the most distinguished in UK corporate history? How was it so captured by groupthink that it cheered as the bank reached the brink of financial oblivion? How was succession planned and new members selected? On the golf course? And how narrow an escape for Barclays. If it had taken over ABN-AMRO, Martin’s book could so easily have been about John Varley and the fall of an older and more distinguished bank.

Praise of Songs 

What a remarkable festival the Eurovision Song Contest has become. Those of us old enough to remember Sandie Shaw – or even Matt Monro – marvelled at change. The popular vote country by country contradicted the elites who judged the contest: Britain’s voting public endorsed buxom Polish ‘milkmaids’ whose singing was less noteworthy than their cleavage; our judging panel, like most of Europe’s, rightly backed an Austrian transvestite (with a wonderful voice). Two innocent 17-year-old Russian twins were booed, while there were cheers and votes of solidarity for Ukraine. It was truly a metaphor for Europe’s political institutions. Oh yes, and the BBC-selected British entry saw us reduced to also-ran. Perhaps Nigel Farage should have sung our entry – or a duet with Nick Clegg.

Good porridge

I had lunch at The Clink, a restaurant staffed and managed by convicts at Brixton prison. The food is remarkably good – better than in most West End restaurants. There is, unsurprisingly, no wine list, just orange juice, and the knives and forks are plastic. The Clink chain – it runs in three other jails – tries to teach a vocation to prisoners who would otherwise be released with no qualifications and little prospect of a job. Britain’s recidivism rate is around 80 per cent. Of the Clink’s 500 “graduates” only five per cent have reoffended.

About author

Simon Walker

Simon Walker

Simon Walker served as director general of the IoD from September 2011 until January 2017, having enjoyed a career spanning business, politics and public service. From 2007 to 2011 he was chief executive of the BVCA, the organisation that represents British private equity and venture capital. Walker has previously held senior roles at 10 Downing Street, Buckingham Palace, British Airways and Reuters.

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