Jonathan Russell, Partner at UK200Group member firm Rees Russell, looks at a week of big news stories.
This last week has been very busy and it makes you wonder what is really going on. This is the week that the stock market again headed into negative territory with oil reaching yet another low, there was a doctors strike, the Hatton Garden thieves were found guilty, even more enquiries are made into Corporate Governance, the International Athletics industry had even more bad press, the Regulator told us that the energy companies had been overcharging us because he had been too generous and the merger between BT and EE was approved. So I look at the news and think ‘where is this all going to end?’
In reality I have no idea, but I think to some degree the headline may sum up my feelings.
Let us look at the most emotive and probably the simplest case and the one directly on home ground. The junior doctor dispute. Yes we all know doctors do a great job and we feel they should be rewarded for it. We also know that they have always been overworked but we know that the NHS has somehow got to do something to make delivery more effective to try and help balance the books. The problem is, where do we, the public, stand? We are advised there is just one point still in contention but neither side seem to be able to agree on what that is. Both sides say much is about patient safety but ultimately I suspect it is about money. But who is telling the truth? It is agreed by both sides that junior doctors work too long and Government says it is putting additional controls in but the doctors say they won’t work. The Government says that by increasing doctors’ basic pay but reducing their unsocial/overtime rates, all but the one per cent who are working stupid hours, the ones we all want to stop doing so, will be better off or at least earn as much. The doctors say they don’t believe it. The problem is care at weekends, but we have a problem. Apparently, the pay to junior doctors for weekend/antisocial hours can be as much as four times their basic pay. The result is that junior doctors will actually want to do these hours because they are paid so well but the hospitals don’t want doctors working as such because they can’t afford it. So, use the same amount of money but put more on basic pay and decrease the differential. This means that hospitals will be more inclined to have the doctors on call in these antisocial times but the incentive to work has then been reduced. I don’t know the truth but it would seem we may have many people talking with forked tongues.
The turmoil of the finance world also continues. Goldman Sachs agreed to pay $5 billion for their mis-selling and RBS are told they may still have to pay. Renault is raided by police on what would seem to be an extension of the VW engine scandal. Two Co-op bank directors are banned from working in the sector and other bank executives now being charged over fixing Euro rates.
The whole issue now of banking and indeed business seems to have moved little in the context of ethics and morals since the pioneering west and the sales of cure all elixirs and ointments. We seem to have a culture ever being uncovered of marketing lies, fraud and dishonesty, all aimed at creating corporate and ultimately personal wealth.
Then at the same time we are being told that a merger between BT and EE will not cause any monopoly issues because they operate in different sectors of the same industry. It makes you wonder when at the same time the energy regulator is saying that the energy suppliers, who apparently have been broken up to create a competitive market place, have been collectively and systematically over charging us and not passing on their cost savings – so is this a collective monopoly? The even worse situation of monopoly is the water industry where the regulator here has now admitted he got his sums wrong and allowed the suppliers too much margin for overheads and expenses.
And then we come to politics where not even the most believing of us would ever suggest that the truth was ever there; remember the old adage of how do you tell if a politician is lying? You can see the lips moving.
Ultimately, the public purse has one source of income – you and I – and that is the income which is available to be spent across all areas of public spending. So when Government tells us that local Government is going to be able to keep all of the business rates and can levy more if it wants to for specific initiatives, ask yourself: ‘if local Government keeps more of business rates, surely central Government will have less, so what will get cut?’ You’ve guessed it I suspect; the local authority grant from central Government.
So where does all this leave us, the poor individual? Well, poor is probably a good start but I think not necessarily as regards money or wealth. In a world where it seems everyone is out to get you for their own beliefs or advantage, we are just poorer when it comes to trust. I have always been one to believe first and only question if I have evidence to suggest I should but as I get older, though not necessarily wiser, I feel maybe I should doubt in the first instance unless I have evidence to support. A sad state indeed and certainly a very much poorer one.
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