James Moore: Let’s think about OUR national interest as Pfizer guns for Astra

Outlook: It’s disturbing that the impact of a deal on the UK is barely being discussed in the corridors of power

Hunting season is officially open for America’s gun-totin’ multinationals.

General Electric is looking to land the trophy of Alstom in France, while Pfizer’s now officially come to Britain in the hopes of hauling AstraZeneca’s carcass back to hang above the doors of its corporate headquarters.

Care to guess who’s having an easier time of it? France is the nation that decided yoghurt was a strategic national asset, to keep Danone out of the cross-hairs of the likes of Pepsi and Kraft, both of which have at various times been linked to possible bids for the company.

True to form, the French government has warned GE that it will block any bid for Alstom that it doesn’t like. That might just mean any bid at all from GE, whatever its chief executive Jeff Immelt had to say when he met with French president Francois Hollande, given France’s preference for a European solution involving Siemens.

By contrast the question Pfizer has raised about Astra’s future as an independent company here is being brushed off as a “commercial matter between two companies”. Even though it concerns a sector – pharmaceuticals – deemed strategically vital to Britain’s future economic prosperity.

Let’s make one thing clear from the outset. I’m not about to argue for importing France’s approach to takeovers into Britain, not least because granting companies a pass when it comes to bids grants their managers a pass when it comes to doing their jobs.

UK plc needs the complacency in the boardroom that this leads to like teenaged boys need Pfizer’s Viagra.

The banking crisis is a graphic demonstration of the damage that can be caused by the self-regard and hubris of a corporate elite, in a sector deemed vital to the UK’s economic future, when it is coddled and cosseted.

Astra, which hasn’t been immune from the practice of handing over outsized packages for undersized performance, has been trying the patience of its shareholders for some time now.

It’s perked up a bit of late, and has some very interesting potential treatments in development. But investors could still be forgiven for questioning whether the company’s senior figures are capable of delivering on the promise these may offer.

It’s even debatable as to whether Astra should be considered a British company. Its operations are global and it’s run by a Frenchman. Pfizer is no different when it comes to America. It’s run by a Brit and such is its loyalty to Uncle Sam it prefers to spend the billions it has overseas on an expensive and potentially value-destructive deal with its rival rather than bring overseas profits home and pay tax on them.

All the same, it’s disturbing that the impact of a deal on the UK (and thousands of its citizens work at these two companies) is barely being discussed in the corridors of power. The interests of these two companies’ shareholders and executives take priority over those of the rest of the country. Perhaps we should think about changing that.

Can you spot the difference with Royal London?

“Recognisably Different” is the bold assertion splashed across the the front of Royal London’s annual report. But is it?

RL believes it can say that because it is one of the last remaining policyholder-owned mutuals in the life assurance sector. There is a widespread view that businesses owned by customers like this ought to do a better job for them.

But that has been challenged by recent events at the Co-op, which paid like a plc for performance that would embarrass even the most dysfunctional local authority, spent its members’ money on a succession of duff deals, and then wasted more on crazy corporate projects.

Is Royal London recognisably different from that? Take the issue of pay. Despite cutting the “mutual dividend” paid to its members by £7m last year, its chief executive Phil Loney saw his package rising by a staggering 51 per cent to £2.6m.

There’s also a questionable, if not crazy, corporate project on the boil in the form of a rebrand that the company admits will be expensive plus a cricket sponsorship whose benefit to members is debatable at best.

In reality, RL is a world away from the Co-op. Its failings are actually more in tune with the common or garden failings found among British plcs. Mr Loney is right when he says the freedom RL has from the demands of shareholders for short-term profits presents the insurer with an opportunity. But to capitalise on that it needs to be recognisably different in terms of its practice, not just its talk.

Standard Life keeps up its standards to blast Barclays

Standard Life proved last week that it isn’t necessary for a savings company to be mutually owned to act in its customers’ interests. In fact, Standard has become noticeably more active in discharging its duty on behalf of those whose money it invests since it surrendered its mutual status. A case in point comes in the form of its unprecedented public criticism last week of Barclays’ indefensible decision to pay more to its investment bankers for producing less.

And the goodwill it has generated by defying City protocol to air its grievances in public should be more than enough to sustain it through any sulkiness from Barclays.

Arts and Entertainment
books
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
peopleAlice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
The Digicub app, for young fans
advertisingNSPCC 'extremely concerned'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
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.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Law Costs

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF, BGP, Multicast, WAN)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF,...

DevOps Engineer (Systems Administration, Linux, Shell, Bash)

£50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: DevOps Engineer (Systems Administration, L...

Data Scientist (SQL, PHP, RSPSS, CPLEX, SARS, AI) - London

£60000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A prestigious leading professiona...

Day In a Page

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution