The silencing of Whistl doesn't bode well for the Tories' 'northern powerhouse'

Outlook: A large number of staff in the North-west of England are about to discover the downside of working in the flexible economy

Click to follow
The Independent Online

No happy tunes from Whistl today. It’s hard to imagine there’ll be any in the weeks to come, either. The logistics company has announced the suspension of the door-to-door delivery service it has been operating in Liverpool, London and Manchester.

What was once TNT Post isn’t completely shutting up shop. It will still handle the collection and sorting of mail. But in future the so-called “final mile” of its deliveries looks set to be handled by the Royal Mail – the same Royal Mail that has loudly complained that its rivals have an unfair advantage when it comes to setting up services such as this, because those rivals can do so unencumbered by an obligation to deliver to all parts of the UK.

What has happened to Whistl rather calls that line of argument into question.

It was going to take considerable time, effort, and especially money to set up even the limited service Whistl planned to offer (it wouldn’t have achieved even 42 per cent coverage until the end of the decade). The ambition ultimately foundered on a lack of finance after Lloyds Development Capital exited. The so-called unfair advantage wasn’t enough to save the business. Naturally, Royal Mail shares were sprightly performers on the back of the news, but it’s hard to be pleased from the perspective of a long-term investor (which I am).

Monopolies are rarely good for anyone other than those who manage them and Whistl’s end won’t do anything to hasten the modernisation of which Royal Mail is badly in need.

History will show that Ofcom dismissed Royal Mail’s complaints about the supposed unfair advantage Whistl enjoyed but its demise does rather raise the question of whether it has done enough to facilitate competition in this marketplace.

In the meantime, a large number of staff in the North-west of England are about to discover the downside of working in the flexible economy the newly minted Conservative government has set such store by. Community, their union, is doing its best to save as many jobs as it can, but it has its work cut out. The Government has been banging on about what it describes as a “northern powerhouse”, which would encompass cities such as Manchester and Liverpool. This depressing story makes it that bit harder to create something real from that rhetoric.

p58officeblockGETTY.jpg
The field of commercial property services is dominated by two giants; CBRE and JLL.

DTZ’s merger means it’s back on the top floor

 DTZ is one of those companies you may very well have dealings with without even realising it – at least if you work in one of the buildings it looks after.

The chances of your doing so are set to increase: DTZ has pulled off a $2bn (£1.3bn) merger with rival property services group Cushman & Wakefield, under whose name it will trade when the deal is done.

The firm’s involvement in a transaction of this size represents quite a turnaround from where the then London listed company was a few years ago. In 2011, with its share price having evaporated, it had to be rescued by an Australian company, UGL, which subsequently sold it on to a private equity consortium after combining it with its own property operation.

That consortium appears to have secured the business’s future with this deal. The field of commercial property services is dominated by two giants; CBRE and JLL. In its former incarnation, DTZ ran into the sort of the difficulties common to those operating in markets ruled by giants. It was too small to compete effectively, too big to survive as a niche player. It also lacked the clout to contemplate the type of deal it has just announced. 

The success of which is still open to question. The new DTZ, Cushman & Wakefield, call it what you will, still has to establish itself as a force against the big two. But the owners have given themselves a fighting chance; it can’t hurt that the group will be run by a former boss of CBRE, Brett White. If he and they can pull it off, the benefits of this deal will accrue widely, not least to the advocates of private equity who may be able to point to the resurrection of DTZ in defence of a trade whose detractors are by no means short of material.

GarrettCox.joeg.jpg
Katherine Garrett-Cox , CEO of Alliance Trust and winner of the Veuve Clicquot Business Woman Award

Where are all the award-worthy women?

 It appears that there is a word missing from the press release announcing this year’s Veuve Clicquot Business Woman of the Year Award: “Ooops”.

When you see that the winner is Alliance Trust chief executive Katherine Garrett-Cox you might understand why I say that.

Alliance has only just had to admit defeat to a US hedge fund which made some rather sharp, and largely justified, criticisms about the Trust’s performance and its management costs under Ms Garrett-Cox.  But it’s hard not to feel some sympathy for the organisers. If not Ms Garrett-Cox, then who?

Britain is not blessed with a over-supply of prominent businesswomen. There is plenty of talent on display on the more junior rungs of the corporate ladder. It just goes unrecognised by the largely white, male, upper middle-class corps of directors and senior managers which makes the hiring decisions. 

The New Generation award was handed to one Emily Brooke, the founder of Blaze. Its flagship product helps cyclists be to seen at night. One would hope that the competition for the top award is rather stiffer if she’s shortlisted for it in future. But sadly, the pace of change is glacial.

Comments