- Can't work, must work
- Profits up, wages down
- Cashing in!
- Iraqi gold
- Hands off the US!
Can't work, must work
Andrew Smith, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, has continued to live in the Blackbird Leys, a working-class area of Oxford, despite being a high flyer on a salary of £125,000 a year. Well, good for him. But I wonder how his neighbours feel about his Tory sanctimosity about "eroding the dependency culture", etc, etc. "What people here really believe is that people who need help should get it, but those who can work should work," says Smith. The problem is that Smith also believes that people who really can't work should work!
His department is about to "target" the three million people claiming disability benefits to get them back to work.
Andrew Smith (who is not a trained psychiatrist) has said that returning to work could help some people with stress-related problems: "There is increasing understanding... that work really does have therapeutic benefits, especially for people who have suffered stress and mental illness." I think it might be more accurate to say "some" work.
The average £5-an-hour boss is not going to be sympathetic to people who can't get to work because their limbs don't work that day, or can't get out of the house without feeling sick, or whose drugs are causing some horrible side-effects. Somehow, we don't think the Government will be "targetting" bosses to improve their understanding of disability and mental illness.
Profits up, wages down
HBOS - the group formed from the merger of the Bank of Scotland and Halifax - is the latest banking firm to announce record profits for 2003: its pre-tax profits were £3.77bn, up 29% on a year earlier.
One of the biggest banking sucess stories last year was the Royal Bank of Scotland who have announced underlying profits of £7.15 billion.
That announcement was met with some bemusement by the RBS workers. Although the profits amount to £64,000 per worker, according to the finance union UNIFI, this year's pay offer consists of lower than inflation increases or no increase at all. In other words, RBS's workers are taking a pay-cut. This will be the fourth year in a row that workers have had real-terms pay-cuts. Not all wages are going down though - RBS boss, Fred Goodwin, got a £2 million bonus last year.
The banks have been criticised for their super-profit year, but none more than HSBC, which raked in £7.8 billion in profit in 2003. But that was mostly because of their executive pay policy which was generous even by the standards of international capitalism.
One top executive, in their investment banking division, earned more than £12.6m.
This year may continue to be a good one for British business, especially if plenty of investment opportunities in Iraq come their way. British firms are soon to be told whether they have shared in the first tranche of a $5 billion slug of Iraq reconstruction work. According to the Guardian, a dozen firms have submitted bids alongside US partners. They include BT, Mowlem, Amec and Foster Wheeler, as well as smaller specialist oil services firms.
That will come as some relief to Tony Blair who has apparently been a bit upset by the fact that domestic firms have so far failed to win any sizeable work in Iraq - it was getting to be a bit of a breach in his special friendship.
Hands off the US!
If the contracts come through, no doubt the British government will be stepping up the pressure in the EU against the sanctions being imposed on US imports.
A dispute has arisen over the so-called Foreign Sales Corporation tax, worth about $4bn to major US exporters, that was first ruled illegal at the end of the 1990s. The US Senate is discussing repealing the provisions, but that hasn't happened yet.
In the meantime the EU has slapped a 5 per cent duty on more than $4 billion worth of US exports in retaliation - a measure that little friend Tony is hotly opposed to.