Anthony Hilton's Week: Reasons for Scots to stay in the UK are the same for keeping Britain in the EU
It might be some time before I get invited to No 11 again
Saturday 15 June 2013
Back in 11 Downing Street for the first time in ages on Monday night for a drinks party to launch the latest in a series of Treasury prepared papers on the implications of Scottish independence. We used to go there a lot in the early days of New Labour but then Gordon Brown moved most of the receptions to the then newly refurbished Treasury building. They have changed the pictures and there is a kid's play slide in the garden but otherwise it looked much the same.
Sajid Javid, Economic Secretary to the Treasury and Conservative MP for Bromsgrove, said a few words, stressing the importance of the series of papers. It was vital that the Scottish public were properly informed before they were asked to vote in the referendum, he said.
The document itself was full of telling phrases like: "If Scotland became independent new barriers to business could have a direct impact on individual personal finances"; and how "confidence in Scotland was significantly enhanced and risks reduced because it was part of a bigger economic zone". Most of these arguments in favour of Scotland staying within the UK could apply equally to the UK staying within the EU – as indeed you would expect. So I asked the minister if, as a leading right-wing Conservative, we might shortly expect him to speak out with similar passion and belief in favour of Britain's continued membership of the EU, and if it does come to a referendum whether he would similarly campaign for a "no" vote.
Cinema deal is not such a blockbuster
Vue Cinemas was sold on Tuesday to a couple of Canadian pension funds, with its private-equity owner, Doughty Hanson, letting it be known it has more than doubled its money in under three years.
It bought Vue Cinemas for £450m in December 2010 and sold this week for £935m.
Private-equity houses just cannot resist over-egging it. They have done well, but they bought cheaply because the 2010 purchase was a distressed sale by Lloyds Bank, who found the cinemas among the assets they had picked up with HBOS.
Since then the business has grown largely by acquisition. Not far short of £140m was spent buying a chain in Germany and Denmark, plus a month ago it bought a chain in Poland, and there were a lot of smaller deals too, all of which add up. At the same time it has spent on upgrading the estate to establish itself as the upmarket venue, and installing the latest digital technology.
Today the business has 1,321 screens. In 2010 it had just 68 cinemas, which I would guess had probably an average 10 screens each, to make a total of 680. So it has roughly doubled in size.
This is all good stuff, but given that Vue is now twice as large, you would expect the sale price to be double the purchase price.
However, when you think what the costs must have been in achieving this transformation in the last couple of years, I would be very surprised if that means the private-equity house and its investors have actually doubled their money.
Positive mood blossoms away from the City
Thursday in Swaffham, Norfolk, for the public launch to the local business community of New Anglia, a local enterprise partnership (LEP) of business and councils chaired by Andy Bond, the chief executive of Adnams the brewer.
The LEP's purpose is to stimulate growth by providing seed finance and support to get small businesses over their initial hurdles and move them faster to the point where they can attract conventional bank finance.
Though it belies its public image, East Anglia has a lot of modern business. Felixstowe, our largest port, is a major hub for logistics expertise, Great Yarmouth is second only to Aberdeen in offshore oil technologies, the BT research centre at Martlesham is where they invented the hyperlink which allows users to jump from one page to another on the internet, Newmarket has leading equine and animal sciences, and there is a considerable nuclear expertise lodged in Sizewell. And that is before all the hi-tech stuff in the Cambridge science park.
But the most striking thing about this meeting and similar ones in other parts of the country is how much more positive the mood is the further you get from finance and the City.
Insurance worries also haunt the experts
In Brighton on Tuesday for the annual conference of Airmic, which represents the people within companies who buy all the insurances that the enterprise needs – a task which has become fiendishly complicated as companies have gone global, regulations have multiplied, supply chains have become much longer and more complex and new risks like cybercrime have emerged.
But amid all this expertise there was a curious comfort to be had in that the number one worry of these specialist insurance buyers was the same as that of the humble householder. If the worst does happen, will the insurance company pay out, or will it be the cue for years of argument?
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