All posts by trevor sturgess

Tough call for employers in social media minefield

by The Business Blog, with Trevor Sturgess Friday, April 12 2013
The offensive tweets that cost 17-year old Paris Brown her job as Kent’s youth police and crime commissioner, and the far more disgusting comments about Baroness Thatcher, underline the dangers of social media.

People who tweet seem to forget that this is a public forum, not a private chat in a pub or restaurant. They seem to think it’s a tiny chatroom involving a handful of friends. But it’s a global place where it’s important to respect libel laws and decency.

Those who defended Paris Brown by saying the tweets were merely silly youthful comments when she was younger miss the point. Her words could never have been used in a publication and revealed an unattractive side to character whatever the age. They fatally undermined her credibility and once revealed, would have affected her ability to do the job as well as she might.

Tweets reveal character. There are many young people in Kent who have never tweeted such offensive words.

Equally, the teachers and others who glory in the death of one of Britain’s greatest Prime Ministers, however divisive and controversial she might have been, show depths of unpleasant character and attitude.

How can teachers teach our children responsibly with such opinions? They above all should be fair minded to anyone is public life. I suppose exceptions could be made for Hitler, Pol Pot and their evil like - but not an historically significant British figure.

Teachers are role models to the young and should set the finest example of tolerance, fair-mindedness and balance. To jump on anyone’s grave or celebrate a death leaves a nasty taste.

The consequences of what is written on social media are potentially serious. The young may have an excuse because they are not old enough to be aware of them. There is no excuse for the more mature who know that their comments will last forever in cyberspace.

Many employers now search social media when vetting candidates for a job. The discovery of Paris-type comments or those delighting in Lady Thatcher’s death will undoubtedly harm job prospects.

An employer choosing between two candidates with similar talent and personal attributes, will surely hire the person who has not posted offensive comments on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook, or left incriminating photos on Facebook.

Kent employers who do not routinely check social media in the recruitment process - as the recruiters of Paris Brown naively failed to do - will certainly do so now.

But they must also beware of making a decision based on any social media revelations of other personal information such as age, religious faith, ethnic background, disability or sexual orientation. Rejecting a candidate may be challenged as unfair discrimination.

Social media are fraught with danger. Rumours are often presented as damaging fact.

Recent cases underline the need for businesses to adopt a social media policy covering existing employees and potential recruits. And that will mean making judgements on the scale of offence. Do they fire employees for offensive social media comments? What one boss condemns as offensive may be deemed reasonable by another. Do they forgive with a warning that it should not happen again?

Do they hire people who have made offensive comments in younger days? Again, it could be a matter of opinion. Lines in the sand will have to be drawn.

It’s a tough call in the new social media minefield.

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Categories: Business

From boring to rock 'n' roll in 20 years

by The Business Blog, with Trevor Sturgess Friday, March 1 2013
Anniversaries are a good excuse to look back at a past that has shaped our present and places the future in context.

March 1993 seems like yesterday, the month the first issue of Kent Business appeared.

This week, inside most KM Group paid-for titles, you will find a 36-page issue, with a 12-page birthday pullout looking back over 20 momentous years.

In the early 90s, it was a bold move by the KM Group to add a dedicated business title - soon dubbed the pink ‘un after the colour of its newsprint - to its stable of daily, weekly and niche publications.

Just as now, we were in recession. Advertising was a challenge. Business journalism was regarded by colleagues as rather boring, certainly not as exciting as the world of hard news, crime, animals, family and sport.

But thanks to the enthusiasm for business of my talented late colleague Brian Paine, who edited specialist publications at the time and with whom I had worked in the Middle East, Kent Business came out on time, with good luck tributes from Robin Leigh-Pemberton, governor of the Bank of England, Michael Howard, then MP for Folkestone and Hythe, Sir Alastair Morton, then chief executive of Eurotunnel, Sir Michael Angus, Kent-based CBI president, and Alex King, deputy KCC leader.

And, 240 issues later, it’s still standing, thanks to support from our advertisers, contributors and readers of what I hope is a stimulating editorial offering. Three senior figures who wished us well have kindly contributed to the 20th birthday issue, along with Lord Digby Jones, Allan Willett, former Lord Lieutenant of Kent, Amanda Cottrell, chairman of VisitKent, and several business leaders. I am grateful for their generous words.

Over the years, business - often written off by newsroom colleagues as "boring" - became more exciting, transformed by the credit crunch, Robert Peston, bailouts of Northern Rock, RBS and Lloyds TSB, whopping banker bonuses, and the collapse of the likes of Lehman Brothers. Suddenly, business writing became the new rock ‘n’ roll.

Like sports reporting, a patch I enjoyed before setting up the KM Group business desk, it has similar elements of drama, triumph and disaster, victory and defeat, hubris and nemesis, greed and altruism, hire and fire.

TV woke up to its dramatic potential. Millions engaged in the troubleshooting of avuncular Sir John Harvey-Jones, the verbal brutality of Lord Sugar in The Apprentice, and entrepreneurs in Dragons’ Den.

Fly-on-the wall documentaries made the internal workings of business endlessly fascinating.

Kent is generally in a better place than in 1993, at the heart of a European region with rapid links to the Continent. No longer on the wrong side of the tracks, high-speed rail is changing living patterns and economic trends. The rest of the world has yet to properly wake-up to this transport revolution.

Manufacturing has reduced but still contributes significantly to Kent’s GDP. Councils now generally better understand the important contribution of business to a thriving community.

The high street also looks different, with many familiar names disappearing and new ones - especially restaurants, fast food outlets and coffee shops - filling the vacated spaces.

And of course the digital revolution has transformed the media landscape, with the internet, Facebook, Twitter, iPads, 24-hour news, blogs and citizen journalism competing with newsprint in a multimedia world.

Culturally, there is now Turner Contemporary which is contributing to the gradual economic progress of Thanet.

No doubt we shall see a new Thames Crossing, new roads, business parks, an expanded Manston and a new Manston Parkway, east Kent growth, and rising demand for what our farmers and fruit growers produce so well. 

More troubling for those who love our Garden of England will be the spread of houses on green fields - but an expanding population has to live somewhere.

There will almost certainly be a Paramount Park on Swanscombe Peninsula. Perhaps an Amazon warehouse in Ashford. Whether there is a hub airport in the Thames Estuary or on the Goodwin Sands is very doubtful.

Young people have not been well served by recent economic trends. A wider choice of jobs in the 90s has given way to a tougher market for the young - with and without skills.

But there is no denying Kent and Medway are in a brilliant location, although it  has taken a long time for outsiders to wake up to that fact.

Kent Business has reported on outstanding civic and business leaders such as the late Lord Sandy Bruce Lockhart and Sir Alastair Morton, changing aspiration and perception through their vision and achievements.

Our entrepreneurs and leaders of businesses of all sizes have driven jobs and wealth creation. 

Kent Business, now on white newsprint, has had talented people on its team over 20 years. Some have been honoured by another long-established organisation Shepherd Neame, the 300-year old brewery that has done so much for the county, as well as supporting the annual Kent Media Awards for 25 years.

Columnists such as Professor Richard Scase, the late Martin Jackson - a perceptive media observer - and others have provided wisdom and authority, while our late cartoonist Alan Ralph injected laughter.

Above all, I thank KM Group for continued support, and Brian Paine for his commitment to business. Sadly, no longer with us, I am sure he looks down with a creative eye and words of encouragement to keep us “doing the business” for this great county of ours.

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The day the music died...

by The Business Blog, with Trevor Sturgess Tuesday, January 15 2013

We are all guilty.

All of us who bought a CD or DVD from Amazon or the supermarket.

We have killed HMV, just as we killed Comet and Jessops.

There’s no point blaming Amazon or the others. It was up to us to choose where to spend our money, and we chose to spend it online. It became ever easier to do so, and, of course, cheaper.

We all looked for the cheapest deal, and that meant Amazon or Tesco.

HMV’s 92-year history, its emotional and nostalgic attachment to millions, its brilliance for browsing and serendipity, counted for nothing when price was all.

And of course it faced the new era of digital downloads, many totally free. Fewer people wanted to buy a whole physical album when they only wanted one or two standout tracks.

HMV’s sad collapse into administration has provoked an outpouring of emotion hardly ever matched by a retailer.

I don’t recall the same sympathy for Comet, Jessops, Zavvi, Woolworths and the lengthening  roll call of high street dodos.

So many remember queueing in HMV for the latest album, the excitement of hearing the Beatles or Stones for the first time.

Those queues returned before Christmas - but the festive rush was not enough to save HMV. All its industry support - desperate to retain a high street shop window for its product - was not enough to delay the inevitable.

I feel so sorry for the thousands of people, mainly young, who will lose their job. If 4,000 go at HMV, added to the 2,500 at Jessops and 6,000 at Comet, that some 12,000 gone at a stroke.

Where will those young people find work in an already difficult jobs market for the young? And for the next generation, there will be even fewer jobs around - except possibly in an Amazon warehouse. But that's hardly the same experience for those with product knowledge and who love feeling, hearing and seeing their music and films.

Millions of people who have not spent money in HMV for years - as well as the shrinking number who kept faith with Nipper - His Master's Voice - will be desperately hoping for white knight to buy the chain. But it is unlikely. A few stores may remain. We need a high street presence for a CD and DVD retailer.

But January 15 looks very much like the bleak day the music died.

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Categories: Business

Olympic struggle to buy Games Makers CD

by The Business Blog, with Trevor Sturgess Friday, January 4 2013

Keen to support the choral efforts of my fellow London 2012 Games Makers, I visited HMV to ask for a copy of their Christmas single “I Wish for You the World.”
But after some scrabbling around, I was told it was a download only.
As one of the few ancients who prefer physical CDs - and even vinyl - to MP3 downloads, I left unimpressed and empty-handed.
No doubt it was cheaper for the choir to do it this way, although the Hillsborough disaster single that topped the charts was released in physical form. 
A few days later, we heard from the BPI that downloads have risen by more than 20% as sales of physical CDs, games etc  slumped by nearly 13%.
No wonder HMV is struggling on the High Street, even if queues stretched around the shop in the run-up to Christmas.
But how sad it this last man standing of big-name record shops finally succombs to the market. It suffered huge losses in 2012 and, after the demise of Comet, can it be far behind? It is important for the industry to prop it up as long as possible because where else will it have a shop window for back catalogue? Supermarkets are only good for the latest pop-boilers. I also worry about Waterstone’s after the Christmas rush has subsided.
For much of my life, it has been a delight to browse in record and book shops. Even electrical shops like Comet.
Browsing uncovers all sorts of hidden treasures and broadens understanding by touch and physical presence.
While great for a specific item, the internet is hopeless for browsing. I have never visited Amazon’s vast warehouse the size of umpteen football pitches, but can only be impressed by its rapid service facilitated by an efficient hi-tech factory-style operation, and good prices.
But it’s useless at serendipity.
Part of my reason for asking HMV for the Games Maker single was to show by support for this wounded retail animal. I wanted to buy something. I even asked for a CD reviewed as the best pop album of the year. But it was out of stock.
Amazon told me it was available and could be sent to me for next to nothing in a couple of days. How can HMV compete with that?
I sought a book in Waterstone’s - they had it but it was the last copy and torn. I was offered 10% off,  but it was still £18. I turned down the offer.
On Amazon, it was £8.86.
This is all worrying. Thankfully, a few independent booksellers and record shops remain, with the social interaction and helpful service they provide. But hundreds have sadly disappeared.
I fear my browsing days are numbered. The high street faces up to huge change, with the loss of record shops where customers once entered a booth, donned headphones and listened with mounting excitement to the latest Beatles or Stones’ album.
Amazon cannot match the thrill of a bookshop. A download or online order is just not the same.
I only hope that HMV, Waterstone’s and those valiant independents make it through to New Year’s Day 2014.

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Categories: parish council

Investing in local... with a London agency!

by The Business Blog, with Trevor Sturgess Tuesday, December 11 2012

Looking at the online debate among Kent’s creative agency bosses, they are clearly miffed about the loss of another big contract to a big-name London agency.
For the second time in three years, Kent County Council decided that an agency with a top sounding name and no doubt an impressive, expensive pitch was a better bet than a firm based in Kent.
First, there was M&C Saatchi, which won the Kent Contemporary contract to inject fresh dynamism into Kent tourism.
Local firms pitched but were outclassed by a global big-hitter which won the £400,000 deal.
It was a controversial decision - but the results speak for themselves. An impressive series of innovative - iconic even - photographs showing Kent in ways never seen before. Using clever slogans, they were shown in a variety of settings, with a resulting boost in visitor numbers and revenue. 
Kent’s finest creatives might argue that they could have matched Saatchi performance but it would be a hard argument to win.
The same cannot be said for the Seven Hills contract which has resulted in the Grow for It in East Kent campaign.
Seven Hills founder Michael Hayman is a smooth articulate operator used to moving in high places. Leading political figures and ex-Dragon  Doug Richard are on his books.
But a lot of the £250,000 being paid to Seven Hills over time has gone on market research. For  anyone with a good knowledge of East Kent, the findings were akin to teaching granny to suck eggs.
He told us what many of us already knew. He made it seem as though he was the first person to discover the gems of East Kent. the lower cost of living and housing, high-speed trains, and the quality of life.
These facts would have been fully understood by Kent agencies without the need for much research.
Seven Hills has used the data to create slogans aimed primarily at Londoners - Swap your Oyster for Oysters for example. They have come up with some good stuff.
But Kent creative eyebrows rose at the decision to use posters on the sides of London buses and alongside Underground station escalators. “Old-fashioned” said one. Others questioned the choice of typography, saying it was too busy for a bus.
Another key question - rightly posed by Desmond High, a judge in the creative category for the 2011 Kent Excellence in Business Awards (KEiBA) - is whether or not KCC insists on the involvement, partnership even, of local agencies when it awards a creative contract. It says Seven Hills has given work worth £30,000 to Kent businesses but one suspects that is a token gesture rather than an obligation.
I’m not aware of any agency being asked to do the PR. I have heard nothing directly from Seven Hills - M&C Saatchi was better in that respect - and KCC did the PR for the recent Dover Cruise Terminal campaign launch event. 
Kent creatives have every right to be upset by this latest contract, watching frustrated on the sidelines while kudos goes to those with it already.
I am confident they could have done as good a job as Seven Hills - with the deep local knowledge that the London agency initially lacked - brought more money into the county, and shown that we have the creative skills and talent in the county to match the London big guns.
A high-profile contract win would have done wonders for Kent's creative sector, generating more revenue and underlining to the outside world  that it has what it takes to be a national player. 

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Categories: KCC

Heseltine's prescription a shot in the arm for business

by The Business Blog, with Trevor Sturgess Thursday, November 1 2012

I thought the South East England Development Agency (SEEDA) was dead.

But along comes Lord Heseltine saying in his hard-hitting growth report that Local Enterprise Partnerships - the successor to RDAs which were hated by the Coalition - at least the Tory side - and scrapped - should be given more powers.

Surprise, surprise, they should develop local economic plans and compete for funding from a national funding pot.

This is very much a case of the King is Dead, Long live the King.

Ex-SEEDA employees and bosses who spent hundreds of hours creating economic plans and bidding for cash from the Government will have a rueful smile.

It has always been a concern that LEPs, including the south east version covering Kent, Essex and East Sussex, would have little resource.

But chairman John Spence - from Essex - and Kent colleagues on the SELEP board have always insisted that they can punch above their weight, even with miserly resource.

To some extent, that’s true. They played a role in winning £35m of Regional Growth Fund cash for East Kent in the wake of the Pfizer pullout. Lord Heseltine also played a part because after a visit to the area in 2011, he was convinced by the strength of the local argument.

SELEP has also been involved behind the scenes in winning £20m for the so-called TIGER regeneration scheme for North Kent.

It is doubtful whether Chancellor George Osborne and Business Secretary Vince Cable will accept this recommendation. For Osborne at least, it was good riddance to SEEDA, and he would hate more layers of regional influence.

The British Retail Consortium appears to agree. Director-general Stephen Robertson said that moving spending powers from Whitehall to other tiers of government wasn’t the answer. “We’ve seen regional policies come and go. What we really need is more certainty and stability, with the Government giving a clear lead in investing in critical infrastructure, and in removing fiscal and regulatory burdens which inhibit investment.”

Government “should be addressing the very real challenges retailers see on high streets and in shopping centres up and down the country. You only need to look at the one in five shops that are closed in some areas to understand how some towns and cities are struggling. Freezing Business Rates next year would be a good start.”

Lord Heseltine played a key role in the development of the Thames Gateway and the high-speed rail link. He has some good ideas and is not afraid to voice criticism, even to the Cabinet members who asked him to report on growth.

The man who was bold enough to quit and storm out of a Cabinet meeting has gravitas and widespread respect. The Coalition cannot afford to shunt his review into a cupboard and lock the door.

You may not see a Son of SEEDA, but look out for Heseltine’s growth proposals and a new emphasis on growth, something that has woefully absent from the Government’s agenda.

George Osborne has been prolific in slash and burn tactics, but without the necessary growth counterbalance, has made Britain, its economy and businesses - gloomier than they need have been.

Categories: Business

Inside track on rail debacle

by The Business Blog, with Trevor Sturgess Friday, October 5 2012

An imagined scene from a Department of Transport office a few weeks ago...

“Well Sir Humphrey, we’ve finally got that blighter Branson off the tracks thanks to this nice American-sounding chap in a suit who runs First Group.

“That lovely Canadian-sounding fellow has offered zillions of pounds more than that rather unkempt, hippyish Richard cove with that rather naff island called Necker or whatever.

“That’s just what George, our beloved Chancellor, wants us to do - get more bang for our railway buck because - ourselves apart - we are all cash-strapped. And only posh people like us use the railways and we can afford those soaring fares.

“Of course, Sir Humphrey, it goes without saying that our sums are robust. We’ve done the maths, pressed the right buttons, and it’s all perfectly accurate.

“Naturally Sir Humphrey we haven’t taken passenger opinion into account. Why should we? It’s pound signs that count, isn’t it. And anyway Justine told us that it doesn’t matter that Virgin trains are more popular with passengers than the lovely First Group.

“And yes, of course - whatever the beastly Branson says - we’ve correctly priced the risk in the unlikely event that the wonderful Tim O’Toole will not find tall that lovely money he has promised. We know what we are doing. We have done this lots of times before.

“It was not our fault that Sir Branson came second so often. He was just so mean with his sums. It was just bad luck that our winners who offered bags of cash had a little trouble finding enough to pay Number 11 and had to shut down.

“That’s no excuse for Richard Virgin to criticise us and the process. Typical of his sort to whinge. And whoever would want to choose that nasty red colour for trains. Ugh.

“No, Sir Humphrey, Justine and George have nothing to worry about. We are on the right track. Wonderful First Group have come up with some super eye-watering figures that will make George purr. And, yippee, more fare and crowding misery for those moaning minnies who pay the fares.

"If Branson threatens us, that’s typical of the man. We can take it. Robust is our name and we have Justine to defend the decision. She’s a good Transport Secretary who’s checked the figures and should be with us for years to come. Hooray for FirstGroup. Good riddance to Virgin.”


[The same office a few days ago]


“Shame Justine had to go. But I’m afraid to tell you Sir Humphrey, there has been a teeny weeny mistake in our calculations. After that nasty Branson threatened to take us to court, we went back to the drawing board, and, er, something has gone ever so slightly wrong.

“We seem to have pressed the wrong button on our keyboard. Easy mistake to make. Our computer model seems to have marginally under-estimated the risk posed by the fabulous First Group. Yes, I know that’s what the publicity-seeking Branson has said all along, but how could you believe anyone without a tie?

“I think we’ll just have to tell that lovely Mr O’Toole that he will have to go back to the drawing board. But I’m sure that as long as he comes up with the same perfectly decent offer again, he can still beat off the Virgin.

“I suppose you ought to tell new boy Patrick about this minor error. But he needn’t worry, it’s an honest mistake. We can spin out of it. David Cameron won’t even notice.

“What, you want to suspend us? Surely not, we are fire-proofed civil servants who only wanted to make a few bob for George. What, we’ve got to hand back £40m to Peter O’Toole and crowing Branson?

“And we’ve got to tell Southeastern that they can put their bid on hold until former Eurostar boss Richard Brown sorts things out? But the man who cut Brussels services stopping at Ashford International might tell us that this is no way to run a railway.”


[Outside in the real world]


[Sounds of agreement from Branson and his satisfied passengers]

They shout together: “Common sense at last. We told you so. Maybe it’s time for someone who knows what they are doing to crunch the figures. For once, think of us. Get a grip and take our views into account. And remember, all that glitters is not gold.”

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Categories: Business

Branson is right to be angry

by The Business Blog, with Trevor Sturgess Thursday, August 16 2012

Why do I feel instinctively uneasy about Virgin’s Richard Branson losing the West Coast rail franchise?

Is it because he is a well-known entrepreneurial face, giving personality to any brand he runs?

Is it because First Group have no such personality?

Is it because the Virgin services I have used to Birmingham, Manchester and beyond offered a joie de vivre and style that made the travelling experience exciting and fun?

Is it because Virgin Trains had a 91% customer satisfaction rating, compared to 72% for First Group on the Great Western?

Is it because the Government has ignored customer feedback in its assessment?

Is it because Virgin has twice lost bids for rail franchises that resulted in the winners going bust?

Is it because Virgin seems to have a good track record of assessing what a franchise is worth?

Is it because I worry that First Group has over bid and will be forced to quit before the franchise expires, with the service bailed out by the taxpayer?

Is it because I suspect Virgin would have launched the new services promised by First if it thought they would work - and decided they wouldn’t?

Is it because the experience has so bruised Virgin that - disappointingly for passengers - it will no longer enter further rail franchising bids while the existing flawed system remains?

Is it because the Government seems so obsessed with money that it appears to have fallen over backwards to find reasons to accept the highest bid, irrespective of other major considerations such as service quality and customer experience?

Is it because, linked to this week’s extortionate rise in rail fares and season tickets, this Government is forcing rail travel to be the preserve of the rich and the captive commuter?

is it because rail fares are higher in this country than almost anywhere else, yet is a form of transport that is good for the environment and should be subsidised without guilt?

Is it because public transport should be encouraged by lower, not higher fares, because it contributes to economic growth - the Government’s stated aim - and makes us a more civilised society?

And finally, will there be as much customer loyalty and regret if Southeastern loses its own franchise battle?  The lesson for our operator from the unsatisfactory Virgin decision is that under this government to the highest bidder goes the spoils, and that past performance counts for nothing.


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Categories: Business

Opening ceremony will be a stunning show

by The Business Blog, with Trevor Sturgess Friday, July 27 2012

After 84 months of waiting and planning, it’s Olympic bonanza time.

At least it’s a bonanza for most. Sponsors, athletes, spectators, Danny Boyle, outlets selling fish and chips for £8.50 and a 175ml glass of wine for £5.20, a pint of lager at £4.60 and a bag of Cadbury’s (the official Treat supplier) chocolate sweets for £1 - £3.

It’s been good too for the University of Kent, which expects to make £1.3m from Olympic-related hospitality. Eurostar will be bringing thousands of spectators from the continent to make up for the dip in business travel.

Soldiers drafted in to cover for the G4S fiasco (will they ever win any more government contracts?) may not be so happy. And motorists held up by Zil lane BMWs (they have sensors that automatically change traffic lights from red to green) will be fuming.

But tonight’s opening ceremony will be a great advert for Britain. I saw it in rehearsal earlier in the week and it’s stunning. For all the cynicism and allegations of left-wing bias, it’s a great show, an amazing blend of rural idyll, with cricket as well as sheep on show, and some amazing images depicting the Industrial Revolution.

And, of course, there’s the customary modern dance sequence that aims to show off Cool Britannia. A complex show involving thousands shows that it’s not only the Chinese that can do great opening sequences.

It’s easy to be critical of Locog political correctness and decisions that seem taken straight from a Twenty Twelve script. But let’s face it, the “deliverance” body (ODA), the architects, construction companies and suppliers that make it possible have done a fantastic job.

What a shame that all those Kent firms that won Olympic contracts have not been allowed to promote the fact. Hugh Robertson, Olympic minister and Kent MP, estimates that the Games have been worth more than £30m to our county’s businesses. They should be allowed to talk about it without fear of the brand police.

It’s been a great feat of organisation and leadership, especially by Sebastian Coe. What a Boys Own Hero. What a case study for business inspiration.

Despite the G4S debacle and the odd glitch over the wrong North Korean flag - didn’t the Twenty Twelve scriptwriters think of that one? - it looks as though it’s going to be alright on the night.

The security at the Olympic Park was just like Heathrow, but with plenty of military people and volunteer Games Makers around, it was reasonably quick. Let’s hope there are no incidents over the next few weeks.

The park complex is a fine transformation of derelict land - a great example of regeneration.

But let’s hear it for the volunteers. They were all smiles and eagerness to help. 70,000 are giving up their time, a lot of expense and annual leave to do it. I spoke to some of them at the rehearsal and they were so keen. They also knew the answers to questions from the public. Along with the remarkable Torchbearers (the relay was a great show too that enthused a nation), they are the real heroes of these Games.

I hope I can live up to their example when I’m a Games Maker at the Paralympic Games.

Let the show begin - and savour the next few weeks of sporting achievement that most of us will never see on our doorstep again. And, if it helps tourism and encourages inward investment, as David Cameron desperately hopes, it’s all good for GB Plc and its dynamic Kent subsidiary.

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Categories: Olympics

Big stores should not be handed more power on a platter

by The Business Blog, with Trevor Sturgess Friday, July 20 2012

I’m amazed that Eurocrats can order a private sector company - albeit partly owned by the taxpayer - to sell a sizeable chunk of its empire.

Why on earth does the European Commission have the right to tell Lloyds TSB to flog 600-odd branches because it’s “too big.”

The Co-op is buying them for £350m, plus a further £400m if a sort of partnership deal is a success.

I’m no defender of banks, which at senior and investment level have behaved without a scintilla of ethical or moral philosophy.

But why should a bank that through its own efforts – and takeover - has built up a large branch network be forced to sell a large slice of its pie. I know it will increase competition and give the Co-op a bigger stake, allowing it a stronger banking position on the high street. It also appears to have sound ethical foundations. That’s a good thing. But a mutually agreed deal without interference from Brussels would have been preferable to an enforced sale.

So why not apply the same principal to Tesco and order the retail behemoth to sell off a fair number of its stores across the country. They are equally dominant in many areas. The same could apply to any successful expanding business.

Tesco would rightly scream foul. So what’s different about banks.

I presume Lloyds TSB has chosen its poorest performing branches to offload, as well as all its Cheltenham andGloucester branches.

Meanwhile, supermarkets are being given another competitive advantage over smaller retailers after the Government allowed them to open virtually all hours – 6am to midnight - for the next eight weeks.

The pretext is growth but the real reason is surely pressure from supermarkets which not only squeeze the livelihood out of milk farmers but also want to drive every other retailer from this land of small shopkeepers.

They already have enough power to do it, and have already used it to kill off small shops in high streets up and down the land. They should not be handed more power and competitive advantage on a Government platter.



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