Selling off Britain’s family silver

I can’t say I lost any sleep over the acquisition of Arsenal Football Club, for £731m, by the American billionaire Stan Kroenke. Since nine out of 20 teams in the Premier League are already foreign-owned, with the top ones – Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City – all belonging to wealthy foreigners, it hardly seemed very shocking news. It’s been a long time since English football has really been “English”, even if it is still based in England; does it really matter if the fate of Arsenal is now in the hands of some faceless executives running Kroenke Sports Enterprises?

Well, yes it does, says Stephen Glover in the Daily Mail. When the former Tory prime minister Harold Macmillan described Mrs Thatcher’s policy of privatisation as “selling the family silver”, he was widely ridiculed. Yet 25 years later it can’t be denied that an enormous amount of “family silver” has been “flogged off” – much of it to foreigners.

It’s hard to imagine Spain’s leading football clubs, Real Madrid and Barcelona, being acquired by American billionaires or Middle-Eastern potentates. The same is true of Italy. In both countries some “home-grown” entrepreneur or other would step in to save the clubs.

But it’s not just football. We’ve handed over four of our six biggest energy firms to overseas giants so we no longer have ultimate control of our energy supplies. Heathrow airport is now in the hands of the Spanish group Ferrovial. All our ports are now owned by foreign firms which, one would imagine, put their shareholders’ interests before those of British consumers.

The free market may be the best way of maximising productivity, but, says Glover, it “must be directed and regulated”.Countries such as France and America would never allow foreign firms to control their ports or power supplies; indeed, American politicians recently blocked a proposed foreign take over of some of their ports.

It’s hard to see what can be done. With famous names such as Jaguar, Land Rover and Cadbury now in foreign hands, and the top end of the London housing market increasingly dominated by foreign buyers, we’ve already sold off a great deal of UK plc. What we need, says Glover, is a government that’s more robust in looking after British interests and entrepreneurs who are more imaginative and patriotic. I doubt we’ll get either.

Four council non-jobs

Although most local councils are reducing staff, some are still busy creating what the Daily Mail calls “non-jobs”. Here are four currently on offer: West Sussex wants a Woodfuel Development Officer at £34,430 to operate “as a stimulus for the expansion of the woodland products market”; the Forest of Dean is looking for a Healthy Walks Co-ordinator at £15,444; Rugby wants a Family Lifestyles Officer at £21,519 to “reduce childhood obesity in various ways”; Ryedale wants a Life Skills and Positive Activities Officer at £21,500 to “assist the promotion of positive activities and healthy lifestyles”.