Has Britain made a mistake allowing so many of its great companies to be sold to foreigners? Alex Brummer, the City Editor of the Daily Mail, argues that it has in a fascinating new book: Britain for Sale: British Companies in Foreign Hands.
Take public services: we tend to believe that energy companies and the like, though mostly privatised, still put the public interest first. Yet, says Brummer, roughly half of all our essential services, from water to bridges and ports, now have overseas owners. These owners are not "as concerned as a British company would be about public opinion". They owe no particular allegiance to Britain; they just want to make fat profits for their shareholders.
Scottish Power is a good example. Now owned by the Spanish firm Iberdrola, it is continually infuriating its customers with price increases. Yet it has piled up such vast profits that it has just made an £800m loan to a sister company in America. Its situation in America, however, where Iberdrola also supplies gas and electricity, is very different.
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There it has been unable to introduce dramatic price hikes for energy consumers. Why? Firstly, because in America different states and cities retain strict controls on gas and electricity prices, and secondly, the US states demand full financial disclosure such as details of salaries paid to company executives making it much harder to run up huge profits.
So while energy companies can milk British consumers, they can't milk American ones. "No wonder," says Brummer, "foreign companies flock to Britain and generally give the US a wide berth."
Public services are only part of the picture. In total, foreign companies (exploiting lax regulation and liberal takeover rules) acquired £30bn-worth of British enterprises in 2009; in 2010 that rose to a value of £54.5bn. "At this rate, it's been said, it won't be long before we're all working for foreign companies." But when anyone dares question "the great British sell-off", says Brummer, he or she is "instantly labelled a xenophobe".
Ironically, though, we seem to be unique in our "supine" attitude to selling off our crown jewels. France has always fought to stop key technologies falling into foreign hands; Spain works hard to hold on to its energy companies; and while India has bought British companies such as Jaguar Land Rover, it won't allow British firms to take full control of Indian companies. As for America, the supposed champion of free trade, it won't permit foreigners to buy airlines or TV companies and jealously guards its oil companies.
No one is arguing that foreign takeovers should be blocked, says Brummer, but surely we should try to limit further damage introducing a "vetting process" for foreign deals, for example. Instead we carry on cheerfully auctioning off everything, while continuing our "love affair" with banking and financial services.
Meanwhile, "the tragedy is that tens of thousands of jobs have gone". "Crucial skills have been lost probably for good. And the strategic heart of British manufacturing has been ripped out" But never mind: "bankers and foreign shareholders are doing just fine".
Tabloid money It's Labour that's The Really Nasty Party
"I know other women aren't meant' to like Jennifer Thompson, the good-time girl who is to Premier League what Red Adair was to oil fires," says Julie Burchill in The Sun. "But I can't help having a soft spot for her. Anyone who can make all those dumb WAGs who delight in surrendering their ability to do a regular day's work in order to be kept in designer handbags by some half-witted ball-kicker sleep less soundly at night is fine by me. Jennifer is a sort of litmus test for relationships based more on money than sense or sex if there's a weak link, she's going to find it, fiddle with it and flog the story afterwards."
A new survey reveals American women spend £4.4bn on cosmetics every year, says the Daily Express. That's "the equivalent of every human being on Earth donating one US dollar to the beauty needs of our sisters across the Atlantic".
"I have long argued that Labour, not the Tories, are The Really Nasty Party spiteful, envious, divisive, deceitful," says Trevor Kavanagh in The Sun. "Now I am delighted to hear it from a credible Labour voice." Phil Collins, Tony Blair's former speech-writer, has "blasted his own comrades as poisonous' bullies He portrays them as fundamentalist zealots who denounce any deviation from socialism as heresy punishable by political death By contrast, he adds: For all that they are known as the Nasty Party, the Tories actually behave rather nicely'."
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