Julian Knight: Katherine 'the Great' needs more discipline

Tired and underperforming are two words that spring to mind when the UK's biggest investment trust, the Alliance trust, is mentioned.

It seems I am not the only one who thinks that way. The Alliance is trying to stop a major shareholder – Laxley Partners – from forcing it to introduce a so-called discount control mechanism, which would force the trust to buy back shares when they trade above a set discount to net asset value. The Alliance's chief, the highly rated Katherine Garrett-Cox (or "Katherine the Great", as she has been dubbed), has railed against Laxley in a non-too-subtle way saying: "We are focused on managing the trust in the best interests of long-term shareholders, not those who are motivated purely to make a short-term gain."

The machinations of boards and activist shareholders are not the normal stuff of this column, but I feel that Laxley is trying to achieve something worthwhile here – whatever the motivation – namely bringing some accountability to the investment trust sector. For far too long, investment trusts have meandered along, paying low dividends and generally allowing their shares to trade at persistent discounts to the actual values of the assets that the trust holds. Alliance, as the biggest of the lot, has been one of the worst offenders. Discipline is called for and perhaps Laxley's proposal will bring this. Next month's Alliance AGM will show whether or not Ms Garrett-Cox deserves her monicker.

Ryanair not guilty shock

There has been an accusation – pardon the pun – flying around the internet that budget airline Ryanair is placing cookies on customer computers to manipulate the price of flights. Here's how it's supposed to work: a customer logs on to the Ryanair website to check a flight's price; their presence is tracked by a cookie, so that when they go back online later to buy the price is miraculously more expensive. Being Ryanair, many of us are willing to believe the worst. But Invisblehand has mystery shopped the Ryanair site and found the claims are nonsense. There were no changes in flights between first and second times a customer logged on any of the 50 or so routes investigated.

Ryanair is exonerated, but what about other operators? I remember booking flights to Australia last year for me and a friend through a major travel website. I logged on, saw the price was £707 a seat, contacted my friend and confirmed we'd go for it, logged back on a few minutes later and, lo and behold, seats were now £860. I called my friend and he logged on and saw the lower price, but one mistaken log-off later the higher price was in situ. Several days later I went back to the site and there again was the original lower price, which again went back up when I logged in and out. This is just one anecdotal account but it seems that it is technically possible for agents and airlines to track your usage of a site and perform what is apparently called in marketing circles "dynamic pricing"' – that's ripping off in plain English. If you've got similar stories I'd like to hear from you.

Credibility bypass

The Treasury Select Committee's report into UK banking last week was the dampest of squibs. We need more openness from the banks and it should be easier to switch accounts they said. Whoopee-do: how long did it take the MPs to come up with the same stuff I've heard from the same committee in the last two parliaments? Now the TSC wants banks to revisit the phasing out of cheques. Why, precisely? Cheques are expensive and anachronistic. As for the argument that the elderly won't be able to cope with eight years' notice of the cheque's demise, it is frankly insulting. The TSC is proving a pale, populist shadow of its previ–ous incarnation. It's in danger of a credibility bypass.

Independent Partners; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Sport
John Terry, Frank Lampard
footballChelsea captain sends signed shirt to fan whose mum had died
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Rita Ora will replace Kylie Minogue as a judge on The Voice 2015
tv
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
life
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    IT Project manager - Web E-commerce

    £65000 Per Annum Benefits + bonus: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: If you are...

    Trainee / Experienced Recruitment Consultants

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 ...

    Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Soho

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40000: SThree: As a Recruitment Consultant, y...

    Trainee Recruitment Consultants - Banking & Finance

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

    Day In a Page

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits