05 July 2018
Lens on the Week
NHS: Steve Powis, medical director of the NHS, has drawn up a list of seventeen surgical procedures seen as useless or unnecessary, which will be weeded out of the general offering. It has been estimated that unnecessary treatment, sometimes of ailments which would cure themselves with time in any event, cost the NHS some £2 billion a year, and it is hoped that the change will reduce the number of operations by 100,000. Among those to go are injections for back pain and snoring surgery (generally understood to be ineffective); surgery for piles and grommets for glue ear will be restricted to exceptional cases.
CORBYN STAYS FIRM: According to The Sunday Times, 57% of members of Unite are in favour of a second referendum and support for this is growing in Momentum as well. The folly of a second poll, which would probably endorse the verdict of the first, has already been pointed out in Shaw Sheet and there is no reason to think that Mr Corbyn will fall for such nonsense. Still, he – like Mrs May – may find the manoeuvring of his party on Brexit tedious. One can only hope that occasionally they go off for a scotch together to laugh about it.
HILLSBOROUGH: The stay on the prosecution of David Duckenfield, match commander of the South Yorkshire police at Hillsborough, has been lifted so that he can now be prosecuted for manslaughter. Other officers and the then solicitor to the West Yorkshire force are being prosecuted in relation to the cover-up which allegedly occurred after the 1989 disaster. Although the events giving rise to the charges took place some eighteen years ago, and it is hard not to sympathise with men who must be haunted by what occurred, the traducing of the Liverpool fans makes it particularly important that justice is seen to be done.
VIRGIN TRAINS: Virgin has now given up its franchise of the East Coast Line because of its inability to meet franchise payments. The bidding process for franchises inevitably results in companies paying as much as they can possibly afford and, if assumptions go sour, finding themselves in financial trouble and without a cushion to meet unexpected expenses. No wonder it all goes wrong. It cannot be right to set franchise payments so high that only those companies which can, if push comes to shove, rely on support from foreign governments, can undertake to meet them with confidence. It is understood that the lead bidder on HS2 has links with the Chinese Government.
IMMIGRATION: At last week’s summit, EU leaders appeared to reach an agreement on new policies to tackle the immigration crisis. These involve the building of asylum processing centres in Africa and also within EU countries, and the voluntary sharing-out of immigrants between EU countries. It remains to be seen whether the plans can be realised or prove successful, but for the time being it seems to have papered over the cracks between the EU’s hard-line governments and its more liberal governments. Within Germany, Chancellor Merkel has avoided the collapse of her government by agreeing to proposals by Horst Seehofer, the interior minister and leader of her coalition partner the CSU, to build immigration centres on the border with Austria from which immigrants could be sent back to the EU country through which they entered the Schengen zone. In turn, Sebastian Kurtz of Austria declared that he will be strengthening the southern borders of his country against immigration. In Denmark, the government has proposed that immigrant families who do not speak Danish must place their children (aged one or two) into nurseries for at least 25 hours a week to learn the language and integrate into society.
MEXICO: Radical candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador won a landslide victory in last weekend’s elections. The 64 year old former mayor of Mexico city ran on a manifesto of populist socialism, and promises to transform the country by tackling corruption in business and politics. He will become president on December 01. His four year old Morena party also took the lead in the senate and chamber of deputies, in what was one of the biggest elections ever held in Mexico. It was also one of the deadliest, with more than 130 candidates murdered during the campaign.
UNDERGROUND: In Thailand, the twelve boys and their football coach who had been lost for over a week in flooded caves have been found alive by British divers. They remain trapped by the floodwater, however, and getting them out safely will prove problematic. In the Gaza strip, an unknown number of Palestinians remain trapped in a tunnel reportedly used by Hamas to smuggle arms and supplies into Sinai, after the tunnel was bombed by Egyptian forces and subsequently flooded. In the USA, the Pentagon announced that it will be spending $500 million on training soldiers to fight underground. It believes that tunnel systems will be among battlefields of the future. Isis and al-Qaeda militants have built and used extensive tunnel systems in recent years. It’s believed that North Korea has a network of tunnels under the border with the South through which it can move up to 30,000 soldiers per hour, and subterranean nuclear missile and airforce bases.
TROUBLE ON THE ROAD: Anybody who drives on Britain’s motorways will think they know all about the Stobart Group. Its immaculate green trucks were the public face of the largest private road freight mover in the UK, run by its founder and then by his son of the same name from a head office in Carlisle. Sadly, the younger Eddie Stobart died in his fifties, and at a difficult time for the business. Under his brother William, his brother-in-law Andrew Tinkler and an external management team there was a period of major change – which culminating in the group going into energy, aviation (it provides fuel services and owns the expanding Southend Airport) and specialist biomass transport – by rail as well as road. The group was listed on the London Stock Exchange and is now in the FTSE250; the trucking business being split off as a separate company, although Stobart Group owns 12.5% of that (much of the rest remains in Stobart family hands).
Alas, the boardroom does not run as smoothly as the lorries. There has been turmoil there for some time, with the largest investor, Invesco, in combat with Mr Tinkler, who was chief executive until recently, and the second largest shareholder, a Neil Woodford fund. The latter want the current chairman Iain Ferguson dismissed (he is shortly due for re-election), along with Warwick Brady, who replaced Mr Tinkler as chief executive. Various allegations have been flung across the boardroom and relationships have become fraught, to put it mildly. Now, M&G who own 5%, are trying to step in to secure peace and have suggested that Allan Leighton, who had top jobs at ASDA and at the Post Office, might come in as chairman, part time and interim, to try and bring about peace and refocus eyes on the business. It could be a bumpy road for him…
MAKING AN EXHIBITION OF THEMSELVES: Surprisingly for a city that has many exhibition venues, London is about to get another – or at least, the revival of one that has become almost forgotten on the exhibitions circuit. The centre is London Olympia, in West Kensington, built in 1886 and for over a century one of the capital’s leading venues, hosting such varied events as The Horse of The Year Show and the Ideal Home Exhibition. It even has its own (part-time) branch of the Underground to carry attendees. In recent decades the venue has become less used, with competition from the Earl’s Court Centre, almost next door, and the new super-venues, such as Excel, in the Docklands. But with the closure for redevelopment of Earl’s Court, and not-so-easy access to Excel, the owners of Olympia (Deutsche Finance and Yoo Capital, two venture capital funds) see an opportunity for a centrally located best-in-class venue. To achieve that will mean spending a lot of money in bringing facilities up to date, so they have hired trendy designer Thomas Heatherwick, famous in London for the “Boris buses” (and not so famous for the cancelled Garden Bridge). The idea is to make Olympia an all year attraction, with hotels, places to eat, a cinema and theatre, and a large amount of office and design space aimed in particular at creative tenants. The new exhibition space will be suitable for all types of exhibitions – from horse shows to rock concerts, with much enhanced visitor facilities. This is likely to cost around £700m and the owners will be putting in some of their own equity and a package of finance from another range of institutions, including Legal and General, the UK insurance giant.