Mark Leftly: Beer, honours, resignations – a wishlist for 2012


Click to follow
The Independent Online

British business seems to be leaving 2011 even more battered than it came into the year: there's been the eurozone crisis, protesters highlighting corporate greed, unemployment on the march, and the threat of another recession.

Even though this is the last Independent on Sunday of the year, I'd rather not dwell on what has been a quite unpleasant 2011 but instead focus on 10 hopes for the new year.

In no particular order:

1 Hector Sants should be blocked from being the head of the new Prudential Regulation Authority. He has made some disastrous decisions as boss of the Financial Services Authority, failing to block Royal Bank of Scotland's ridiculous £45.5bn takeover of ABN Amro when the credit crunch was already under way. This year he refused to stand up for British pensioners who faced losing their savings when Bank of Ireland tried to give them pennies in the pounds for their bonds.

2 Michael Woodford should be put on the honours list. Most chief executives panic and hide when they spot problems at their company. Woodford did the right thing and blew the whistle on shady dealings at Japanese camera maker Olympus.

3 Miner BHP Billiton should finally put away a megadeal. Although he failed to get his hands on Rio Tinto and Canada's Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan, there is little more entertaining than seeing chewing gum-chomping BHP boss Marius Kloppers close in on his prey.

4 BP boss Bob Dudley should resign. This isn't to do with the American's performance, though he has made some quite strange decisions in less than a year and a half in charge. Rather the way he was treated by his Russian partners when he previously headed up TNK-BP was so appalling he should make a stand and refuse to work with them again. Unfortunately, BP has to – Dudley doesn't, he can just quit.

5 Tim Cook should get a change of clothing. He might have succeeded the late Steve Jobs at Apple, but he doesn't have to replicate the great man's style. Be your own man, Tim.

6 The Olympic Delivery Partner team of Mace, CH2M Hill and Laing O'Rourke should be rewarded for their impressive cost control on London 2012 by winning a string of similar project management contracts.

7 EADS should hurry up and confirm what we all know anyway: that Tom Enders will succeed Louis Gallois as head of the European defence group.

8 Mitt Romney must win the Republican presidential nomination. The best of a bad bunch of candidates who have even less of a chance of beating President Obama than Bob Dole had of defeating incumbent Bill Clinton in 1996. Romney at least has the business brain to challenge Obama on Wall Street and economic issues.

9 Rupert Murdoch should do the decent thing and sell The News of the World name. The newspaper was around for 158 years and has a rich history of scoop-getting. The individuals and teams accused of phone hacking should not be made to seem bigger than the title by causing the newspaper to be permanently closed – and there are willing buyers out there.

10 The duty on beer should be slashed so that rising costs do not mean that pubs keep closing at the rate of two a day. The reason why this makes the list? I really like pubs and will find a particularly good one to raise a glass to all of our readers as we see in 2012.

Trading screen: Demi helps humanise demon bankers

There has been little sympathy for bankers during this crisis. Margin Call, surely the first thriller to centre on the statistical modelling behind a bank's trading activities, won't change that. However, when the ensemble piece is released in the UK next month, perhaps it will humanise them.

Set over 24 hours during which a Lehman-like bank discovers that its overleveraged securities could destroy it, the film dissects their avaricious motives and finger-pointing reactions.

From the old-boys'-club attitude that slowly builds against Demi Moore's head of risk to the tears of Kevin Spacey's company veteran over his dying dog, the characters are every bit as dislikeable as we have been led to believe bankers are in real life – yet easier to empathise with.

Blank cigarette packets will prove a multi-billion drag on the Treasury

If a picture of a bloody lung prodded around by doctors isn't enough to put off a smoker buying 20 Marlboro Gold, there's no way that standardising cigarette packaging is going to work.

Yet, the Health Secretary Andrew Lansley confirmed on Thursday that the Government intends to press ahead with its plans to remove all cigarette packet branding. Australia is trying something similar, making all packets a uniform olive green. Olive growers protested at the description – the proposed packaging is now termed "drab green" – while big tobacco companies, including Philip Morris and BAT, are taking the Aussie government to court.

Lansley said that a consultation into the proposal would go ahead in spring, though this was supposed to get going by the end of this year.

Interestingly, Lansley added that the Department of Health is "working with colleagues across government to explore the implications and likely impact of options for tobacco packaging". Word has it that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills wanted more involvement in developing this policy, and this seems to have caused the delay.

Business officials realise that throwing a sop to public health groups on cigarettes would set a precedent that could lead to similar packaging standardisation of other products that are looked on with disapproval. Obviously, there's alcohol but, taken to a logical end, this could even include fatty and processed foods.

Tobacco companies argue that standardisation, coupled with the cigarette display limitations that will start in major retailers in April, will actually encourage teenage smoking. Smoking would be an even more illicit, daring and defiant pastime.

I doubt this really worries big tobacco, though the companies have a point. What really concerns them is lost revenue – and not just from lower sales. Standardised packaging will make cigarettes even easier to counterfeit. About 16 per cent of cigarettes sold in the UK are fakes, costing the Treasury £3.1bn a year in revenue.

That money would cover 60 per cent of the cost of treating smoking-related illnesses. Smokers know the risks, the Government shouldn't compound their error by making it easier for counterfeiters to sell them illegal products.