City & Business: We're learning to be confident again

We know the economy has bottomed out and is on course to grow a modest but not unhealthy 1-2 per cent this year. We know where we stand in relation to Europe: the Government says we're not going in for the forseeable future. Referring to the five tests he set for joining the single currency in November 1997, the Chancellor declared on Thursday: "It is clear that at this stage convergence and the tests aren't being met."

What we don't know is the most important thing: how our companies and corporate sector overall are performing in global markets. Measures of national competitiveness remain crude and variable. Stockbrokers compare the performance of UK companies against that of rivals, but only for stock-picking purposes. There is nothing broader - virtually no journalism, say, comparing BP against Exxon or BT against MCI WorldCom.

So we fall back on feelings. It feels as if the corporate community is enjoying a renaissance. Looking back at the quarter century between 1980 and 2005, it feels as if historians will say Britain was blessed with two world-class heads of state and make the link between strong governance and the end to the nation's industrial decline.

Month to month, however, we remain at sea. One day we feel great. The next we plunge into gloom believing nothing has changed from the awful 1970s. Currently, we seem on an upswing - gaining confidence in our performance in global markets.

Item: Craig Barrett, the chief executive of Intel, the Silicon Valley microprocessor maker, said last week that the UK was well positioned to become the European hub for the exploding internet.

Item: BMW announced last week that it was investing pounds 3.3bn over five years in a do-or-die venture to turn Rover around. The Government and Birmingham committed themselves to kicking in pounds 152m. The UK car industry is not dead. Who knows? Maybe Rover's new R75 luxury sedan will prove a hit. Maybe the new 200 and 400 series models that the company will build at Longbridge will prove hits, too.

Item: Last week media company Pearson and merchant bank Lazard announced they were unwinding their 80-year-old relationship. Lazard will sell its stake in Pearson, owners of the FT and Penguin, to the Spanish telecommunications group Telefonica. The Paris and New York arms of the merchant bank will buy out Pearson's 50 per cent stake in Lazard Brothers here.

The Americans would call it a win-win situation. In Telefonica Pearson gains a strategic investor well placed to help it compete in the multimedia world. Forget the rumours about a merger between BSkyB and Canal Plus. Consider the potential for joint venture broadcasting by Pearson and Telefonica via cable and internet.

Freed of conflicting loyalties, the UK arm of Lazard will be better placed to assert its rights. Lazard Brothers chief David Verey could even emerge as the boss of the newly unified bank.

The bank could even emerge as a British institution in spirit - helping Swiss-owned Warburg Dillon Read counterbalance US fire power in the City.

Item: The BBC last week appointed Greg Dyke its new director-general. UK culture is potentially a spectacular export product. The Beeb is the logical candidate to spearhead this business. Under Dyke it may finally carve out a profitable commercial niche by competing against Disney, Turner, and Murdoch abroad, while remaining a public service broadcaster at home. Dyke could even announce a corporate strategy to maximise content and minimise the licence fee by generating profits abroad.

Item: Last week Lloyds TSB agreed to buy life insurance and pension fund provider Scottish Widows for pounds 7bn. It thus secured its place as a resilient financial institution capable of withstanding any challenge from foreign banks eyeing the UK market. We now have two world-class banks - Lloyds and HSBC - capable of standing up to Citigroup, Bank of America, Deutsche, and Swiss Bank Corp.

Speaking to reporters after Lloyds announced its deal with Scottish Widows, chief executive Peter Ellwood offered us all a timely reminder of the name of the game in global markets: set the bar higher day by day, year by year. Aim for continuous improvement in quality and productivity.

It remains a mystery where the globalisation of markets is taking us. Its admirers say to a brave new Nirvana. Critics say to hell in a handbasket. We simply don't know. In our ignorance, however, it seems fitting to take heart from last week's news. Developments at Rover, Pearson, Lazard, the BBC, and Lloyds position us to prosper. The more we prosper, the better placed we will be to shape events rushing at us at warp speed.

Johnny Handle, Northumberland, Ted Relph, President of Lakeland Dialect Society, and Sid Calderbank, Lancashire, founder of the National Dialect Day
newsMeet the enthusiasts determined to stop them dying out
The data shows that the number of “unlawfully” large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone
i100Mike Stuchbery, a teacher in Great Yarmouth, said he received abuse
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
Rio Ferdinand returns for QPR
sportRio Ferdinand returns from his three-game suspension today
The Speaker of the House will takes his turn as guest editor of the Today programme
arts + ents
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
St Peter’s Seminary in Cardross. Argyll, has remained derelict for more than 25 years
arts + ents

Watch the spoof Thanksgiving segment filmed for Live!
Billy Twelvetrees will start for England against Australia tomorrow with Owen Farrell dropping to the bench
rugbyEngland need a victory against Australia today
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of The Guest Cat – expect to see it everywhere
Tyson Fury poses outside the Imperial War Museum in south London ahead of his fight against Dereck Chisora
boxingAll British heavyweight clash gets underway on Saturday night
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Austen Lloyd: Company Secretary

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: EAST ANGLIA - SENIOR SOLICITOR LEVEL ROLE** -...

Citifocus Ltd: German Speaking Client Specialist

£Attractive Package: Citifocus Ltd: Prestigious asset management house seeks a...

Citifocus Ltd: Performance & Risk Oversight

£Negotiable: Citifocus Ltd: This is a varied role focusing on the firm's mutua...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Sales Director - SaaS (SME/Channel) - £140,000 OTE

£90000 - £140000 per annum + benefits: h2 Recruit Ltd: Are you a high achievin...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game