Numbers

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The Independent Online
IT HAS been a week of large numbers with pound signs before them. The pounds 1.04bn profit made by Barclays just beating the pounds 1.03bn trade gap, though both falling well behind the pounds 2.5bn reduction in profits that Professor Stephen Littlechild intends to impose on the electricity industry over the next five years. Pound for pound, however, the figure that caused most noise was the pounds 75,000 annual income earned by a Manweb director for a two-day week.

Why the fuss? Someone in the electricity industry has clearly been taking decisions that earn him vast profits. If you can make your company pounds 100 an hour for eight hours a day, two days a week, you will be earning your pounds 75,000 salary. It's all a question of how much decisions, and decision-makers, are worth.

There are two classic instances of million-pound decisions in the folklore of marketing: the man who told the toothpaste company to widen their nozzles (on the grounds that everyone squeezes out one brush-length of paste anyway), and the man who demonstrated to the match manufacturer that his matchbox needed only one emery surface to strike all the matches. Each of those ideas is said to have earned its inventor pounds 1m while making 10 times that amount each year for the company concerned.

The question is: how much is Prof Littlechild getting paid, and wouldn't we do better to employ the Manweb man for his spare three days to work on cutting our electricity prices? pounds 112,500 would not be too much to pay for a saving of half a billion a year.

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