Archive for November, 2012

Leveson: journalist conscience clause could be Inquiry’s lasting legacy!

Posted in Media with tags , , , on November 30, 2012 by Tom Leatherbarrow

Leveson InquiryThe biggest irony of yesterday’s publication of the report from the Leveson Inquiry into the standards, ethics and abuses of the UK press, is that in recent years our press in this country has been incredibly well-behaved.

With Sir Brian’s Sword of Damocles hanging over their collective heads the press has, in effect, reformed itself.

I offer this as evidence.  Firstly, not one single national newspaper published the photos of the Duchess of Cambridge topless on holiday.  In fact only one newspaper, in what was a deliberate two fingers to Sir Brian, published the photos of Harry in Vegas.

Is this some Damascene Conversion to the right of privacy?  Almost certainly not and one suspects that once the haggling over self-regulation “underpinned by statue” is out of the way, normal service will be resumed.

However, buried in Sir Brian’s mammoth publication is one recommendation which could have very far-reaching consequences for how our press behaves, namely the conscience clause in journalist employment contracts, which would allow individual journalists to opt out of working on any story which they believe to be unethical.

When I heard the Labour MP Tom Watson speak in Birmingham earlier this year, he offered the view that the abuses at the News of the World could never have happened if Wapping had been unionised and there had been a counterbalance to employer abuse of power.

There are many in the trade union movement who agree with him and it would seem that Leveson does too.  Some of the most interesting sections of the report in fact, detail the culture of abuse and bullying at Wapping which fed the (alleged) criminal behaviour of journalists.

There are numerous positives that have come out of the Leveson Inquiry and its resulting report, but the conscience clause, and the increasing recognition of the positive effects that workplace unionisation can have in curbing employee abuse, could be Sir Brian’s most lasting legacy.


Do trade magazines have a future?

Posted in Uncategorized on November 27, 2012 by Tom Leatherbarrow

In the week when Lord Justice Leveson is due to report our national newspapers will once again take centre stage in the debate over the future of print media.

Most media commentators and those who work in print regard the future with some trepidation.  Almost exactly a year ago I travelled up to Lancashire to talk to a manufacturer and repairer of printing presses, whose clients include News International.  In the course of a fascinating discussion the works manager told me that it was accepted wisdom there would be no daily print run of a national newspaper in five years’ time.

I still find that a little pessimistic, but it is fascinating how national newspapers, to the exclusion of almost all others, frame the debate.  All too often trade magazines, in particular, are forgotten.  The reasoning appears to be, “if the nationals can’t make it, what hope is there for the trades?”

I have disputed this for some time.  As one trade editor, whom I regularly deal with, puts it, “B2B trade magazines seem to exist in their own micro-climate” in which readers still want a print copy and, crucially, advertising revenues appear to be a little more resilient.

We recently conducted some research of trade editors which can be found HERE and amongst a lot of valuable information, two nuggets sprang out.  Firstly, the vast majority say that their magazine will never go totally online.  Too many readers spend their days on the factory floor or pick up a copy at the trade counter for an online version to be the mainstay of their magazine’s readership.

Secondly, it was striking how optimistic many trade editors are.  In fact, 97% believe that trade magazines have a strong future, particularly when compared to national newspapers.

Of course there is a cloud on the horizon.  As my trade editor friend puts it, “I do believe that this current generation could well be the last of a species.  There are an awful lot of middle aged trade magazine readers and it does beg the question, once we’re all put out to graze, what will be behind us in terms of how media is consumed?”

A fair point, but for the time being, let’s remember that there is more to print than just the nationals.

Starbucks will get a hot reception if it ever plans to open in Bromsgrove!

Posted in business, Politics with tags , , on November 14, 2012 by Tom Leatherbarrow

I attended last night’s Labour Finance & Industry Group (LFIG) Annual Lecture by Chuka Umunna, shadow business secretary, an account of which has been expertly placed with the Guardian’s chief political editor and can be read HERE.

Umunna spoke well without going into real detail which demonstrated how far Labour has yet to travel in formulating specific policies.  However, it is always the Q&A session after the main address which is the most fun and this time was no different.

After a variety of topics were covered, from social enterprise through to LEPs and skills, a councillor from Bromsgrove District Council asked for Umunna’s opinion on Starbucks’ tax avoidance techniques.

As the councillor pointed out, one major coffee chain in his High Street, namely Costa Coffee, last year paid £64 million to the Exchequer in Corporation Tax.  Starbucks paid the princely sum of well er… nothing!

Apparently, Starbucks claim that it has never made a profit in the UK (all losses can be written off against Corporation Tax) and that it imports all its coffee from Switzerland.  As my local councillor questioned, “Since when has coffee been grown in the Swiss Alps?”

Presumably this is another form of tax dodge which the Select Committee appearance by the Starbucks executive, along with representatives from Amazon and Google, may have shed some light on if he had been able to answer even seemingly simple questions.

Anyway, there are two points to make.  Firstly, I am very impressed by my local councillor’s forensic examination of the financial statements of major coffee chains.  Woe betides Starbucks if they ever try to open in Bromsgrove!

Secondly, surely this sort of deliberate tax avoidance brings the day of in-country financial reporting by multi-nationals a step closer.

We can only hope.

UK Business must have a voice in the debate over EU membership

Posted in business with tags , , , , on November 7, 2012 by Tom Leatherbarrow

I was up in Scotland recently and had a wide-ranging conversation with a client about the Scottish political situation.  One interesting little fact he came up with was that by his estimations 95 per cent of Scottish businessmen are against Scottish independence, rightly fearing the potential impact on their companies.

I couldn’t help but wonder whether the prospect of the UK’s complete exit from the EU would garner the same response from UK business?

Yesterday, I was given an answer of sorts.  I attended the CBI’s Annual Economic Lunch which included a talk from Director General John Cridland.  During the Q&A session I was fortunate to be able to ask the following question, “Given the fact that so many commentators, including Bob Peston on the BBC, are now talking about the UK’s inexorable exit from Europe” what are the potential implications for business?”

Cridland’s answer was impressive and pointed to a potential third way which, I suspect, would be very attractive to many business leaders.

He rightly pointed that Europe was moving in a Federalist direction (“ever greater union” enshrined within the Treaty of Rome) which made many people, including apparently himself, deeply uncomfortable.  The prospect, he said, of a Brussels bureaucrat making decisions on UK finances without recourse to the UK electorate was simply not acceptable.

However, he urged us all to remember that Continental Europe remains a vast market vital to the UK’s business interests and we need to remain within the metaphorical tent.

Cridland’s view is that the UK’s goal should be to return the original structure to which we signed up to during the referendum of 1974, namely the Common Market, whereby we remain within the gigantic free trade area but retain control of our finances.  In effect a two-speed Europe.

Is this feasible?  I’m no expert on international law, but my gut feeling is that it has to be even if many of our European neighbours won’t particularly like it.  I also suspect that many other countries in Northern Europe, in particular the Danes, would also be much happier with this prospect than Federalism.

The danger however is that the Eurosceptics in the UK want to frame the debate as a simple in or out.  The reality is that the debate needs to be much more complex and take into account the fact that Continental Europe is our biggest market. At the moment, the voice of business on this issue is all too often drowned out.  That has to change!