FPS’ Friday Friday

Image credit: Creative Commons/ su-lin

1. Just when we thought Granny tax ruled the “Best _______ tax” name, this week the press (and Twitter) had a field day with the pasty tax saga. The surprise budget announcement sparked a threat of a bakers’ march led by the head of bakery at Greggs. According to the Guardian, an online petition has already been set up on Downing Street’s scheme by bakers’ trade associations. Sign up here.

2. Not content with scoring the own goals that were pasty-gate, grannytax and the donor-row, the Government proceeded to exacerbate their worst week ever and add fuel to the flames of a pending petrol crisis that never materialised, despite Francis Maude’s best efforts.

3. The question on everyone’s lips is “Are we back in recession?” The answer is it depends on who you’re speaking to. Latest OECD figures reveal that the economy has shrunk for the second quarter, but according to predictions from Office for Budget Responsibility, the UK will avoid a recession with the economy growing by just 0.8 per cent over the course of 2012.

4. A giant step for the Eurozone but a small step for the global economy as the European Union confirmed the extension of the European bailout fund. The total funds available has now reached €700bn.

5. And on that note, I leave you with this video from the OECD with its latest Interim Economic Assessment on the global economy

Post contributors: Nick Woods, Edward Jones

The Best of the Budget

posted by Edward Jones

Rather than the usual Friday Fiver, this week we have decided to look at the Budget. Shock horror. Rather than add to the millions of words of analysis already published on that topic, we thought we’d make your lives easier and point you to the most memorable elements of this week’s main event.

Best Analysis

The IFS’ Budget 2012 briefing yesterday cut through the hyperbole to deliver a sober assessment of the red book. Their analysis of the implications of the 50p tax rate, suggested that contrary to the mooted 300,000 extra taxpayers roped into the lower 40p tax rate threshold, this figure could actually be closer to a million by 2014, adding fuel to the flames that were already raging, particularly among the usually supportive right wing media. 

A mention should also go to the Economist’s analysis. Highlighting Britain’s expertise in high-value services and the need to attract the world’s brightest, the Economist applauded Osbourne’s efforts to signal, “about as clearly as a man with no money to spare can, that Britain is open for business”.

Best gag

Sending the Government bench into raptures and consequently, Lindsay Hoyle, the Deputy Speaker, into apoplexy, Osbourne, when announcing tax breaks for the animation and video game industry in reference to this well know cartoon sketch said: “It is this Government’s determined policy that we keep Wallace and Gromit exactly where they are“. BOOM!

Best Headline

The Sun could’ve won this thrice with some absolute beauties including: “HE’S TAKING US FOR FUELS” and “GRAN THEFT OSBO.” The best ones are captured in this image courtesy of Conservative Home’s @TimMontgomerie

Best Post Budget Admission

‘We hid the papers.’ The Prime Minister’s aide unveils to the Times, Number 10’s response to the negative headlines on Thursday.

Best Punch

Miliband’s 50p tax gibe at the Government. With one question – ‘Who on the front bench would benefit personally from the 50p tax cut?’ Ed stunned the Cabinet and made his point effortlessly; we are no longer all in this together. Very clever.  

Best PR

The anti-war protesters – who employed a very, very long handle on their ‘stop the killing in Iraq and Afghanistan’ sign, which meant every interview Jon Sopel gave on College Green featured that banner in the background.

Best ‘_______ tax’ name

Whilst the half-baked pasty tax made a valiant effort, the Granny tax is set to be the classic. As a closing gambit, we quite like this spin on the Granny tax from the daily mash.

Europe’s troubleshooter takes on his latest challenge

THIS POST IS BY SALLIE BALE

Andrew Gowers, former Editor of the FT, is the man who claimed in 2005 that there is no future in print media, wrote a review of intellectual property for Gordon Brown, was once described by The Telegraph’s City Editor as “our man in a disaster”, was the head of media at BP during the Deepwater Horizon Crisis, and was previously Head of Communications at the ill-fated investment bank Lehman Brothers.

With a CV like that, he is surely the best choice to restore the battered reputation of Europe’s banking industry, isn’t he? Well, Reuters reported earlier this month that the Association for Financial Markets in Europe (also known by the slightly snappier acronym AFME) has appointed Gowers as their Director of External Relations in an attempt to reverse the increasingly negative public perception of the banking industry.

Financial industry body, AFME has a new troubleshooter

It would appear that Gowers has the experience to deal with big name players in crisis – but commentators question whether he is actually capable of success. Obviously the difficulty here is that by their very nature successfully-managed crises are not high profile and so we must look at other measures of success for those crises that are played out in the media.  How quickly and cleanly the company or organisation comes out of a crisis and is able to rebuild trust and reputation is perhaps a better measure.

Lehman Brothers is no more and not remembered fondly and BP is still struggling to regain lost ground. That said the crisis communications industry learnt a great deal both from the failures and successes of the BP Deepwater Horizon episode and hopefully for AFME, Gowers did too.

There is much to be learnt from BP’s Deepwater Horizon incident in 2010, and Gowers will be able to apply these learnings to AFME. Many commentators believe that the biggest obstacle facing the BP communications team was the legalities around what they were able to say, resulting in a ‘too little too late’ situation.

There are so many avenues that this journey could take; will Gowers pick a spokesperson to give the intangible concept of “The Bankers” a human face? Will he advise them to express empathy for what has happened in the past five years? Or will he just soldier on with the task of tackling the endemic structural failures of the European banking system? Will he go to where the people are and use social media to re-connect the masses with the banking industry? Would that work?

It will be interesting to follow his progress and see how his strategy will play out in the coming months, or more likely years. He has already spent three months as a consultant for AFME helping edit the AFME book Investing in Change, and so should be able to hit the ground running.

Is this the biggest challenge in Gowers’ career so far? Trying to increase transparency, please many diverse stakeholders and implement meaningful change is going to be a perplexing test for banks across Europe, but the task of communicating those changes to the European public and demonstrating that they have worked is arguably the greatest challenge of all.

Friday Fiver

posted by Edward Jones

1. In a late breaking development, FSA regulatory chief Hector Sants announced his resignation from the soon to be disbanded organisation. It’s an unfortunate end to a week when the FSA successfully stung another trader for insider trading. Where next for Hector? Some are already suggesting a high profile role in industry awaits.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

2. Budget fever grew nicely, with more leaks from Treasury than there are hangers-on at an Only Way is Essex party. In no particular order, scrapping pensions tax relief, scrapping the 50p tax rate, issuing absurdly long-dated bonds, tax breaks for the TV and film industry and raising the income tax threshold towards £10,000.

3. Following on from point number one, it seems insider trading is a crime, but one that is only punishable by removing half a bonus. Then again, based on this, the key to insider trading really is as simple as playing a popular after-dinner game with your client over the (recorded) landline at your desk.

4. Hell of a week for Tesco losing its UK boss and telling its employees they’ll have to work two years longer before they retire – on the latter they’re to be applauded for addressing the issue sooner rather than later, many more are likely to follow.

5.  Fitch joined Moody’s this week to put the UK economy on a negative outlook threatening the AAA rating. Some have said it’s a gift for George Osbourne before the budget as it will set the tone for continued austerity. Indeed the agencies have been clear that any deviation from austerity would be more disconcerting. Ed Balls’ line however, that you should never set policy by the credit ratings agencies might just get some traction, particularly given the criticisms they face.

FPS’ Friday Fiver

Here’s your five for the weekend everyone – short, sharp and to the point:

1. We’re 12 days away from this year’s Budget and the noise has started already. This week’s focus has been all about the question of taxation – in particular, the proposed mansion tax, child benefit levels and how much relief on tax people paying into pensions should qualify for. Next week kicks off with the British Chambers of Commerce submitting their Budget wishlist – expect the hard economic debate from Mr Balls etc to follow.

2. Meanwhile, the Institute for Fiscal Studies provided plenty of ammunition for Labour with its latest figures on household spending which claimed to show that households are set to lose £370 from tax and benefits changes already in place.

3. Over in media land, Robert Peston drew the wrath of the Financial Times by latching onto an exclusive from George Parker last month and repackaging it into one of the stories of the week – Vince Cable’s now very public critique of Coalition policy.

4. Wrapping up the week, today finally saw the disclosure of pay figures for Barclays’ senior figures, including Bob Diamond. Suffice to say, the reaction has been predictable, decrying the vast sums while others have questioned the payout based on the company’s declining performance. Perhaps not such a bad day for Lloyds and RBS to reveal their figures at the same time then…

5. Finally, tonight sees the inaugural Financial & Professional Services ‘Cheese & Wine night’ – expect plenty of sore heads and full stomachs tomorrow!

Happy weekend all!

You don’t have to be mad to work at H+K, but….

THIS POST IS BY MARIE CAIRNEY.

Unsurprisingly with over 2.5 million people unemployed, the subject of work or lack thereof is currently high on the media agenda. Aside from a minor manufacturing boom in sunny Sunderland instigated by Nissan’s answer to the Ford Fiesta, and the announcement of (our client) InterContinental Hotels Group’s intention to create 3,000 jobs in three years, the discussion around employment appears to have been largely negative.

Only yesterday the Government, throwing PR caution to the wind, decided to potentially make up to 1700 disabled people unemployed; a tricky manoeuvre for any spin-doctor by any stretch – and to be fair they didn’t try very hard to spin it. Whether this could have been perceived as an inspired move or utter madness all came down to timing. In the boom years, you might have positioned it as stroke of genius social improvement. Let’s face it who could argue that disabled workers might not be better off fully integrated into the general workplace?  However, the trouble with this in austere times is that most people fear that the only thing the workers of Remploy will now integrate into is the benefits system and job seekers’ clubs.

The current debate in Westminster and the media on work experience got us thinking about the jobs we've all done previously (Image: Wikipedia.org)

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Friday Fiver

Sticking to the format of our new shorter and snappier Friday Fiver, here are five things that caught our eye from the week that was:

Just horsing around

Source: Creative Commons/Kenjonbro

1. The rise of the Sun on Sunday and the death, or rather resignation of another – On Wednesday, James Murdoch resigned as executive chairman of News International, raising speculation to the possibility of one of Jimbo’s older siblings emerging as eventual contender for the top dog of News Corp as he steps down.

2. The Leveson enquiry unrivalled another “surprise” this week with Rebekah Brooks and her gift horse from the Metropolitan Police. Sure did reveal the stable relationship Brooks had with the police. Oh the puns!

3. Facebook Timeline for brands got us talking this week as well. What it will mean for financial clients, for professional services? How to mark those significant brand milestones? I mean, issue 9.99 of an ISA account is hardly going to create the same emotional relevance, as the nostalgia of an iconic Coca Cola advert. Whatever the outcome, existing brands have just 30 days to clean up their Timeline and flip the switch.

4. In other news, banks have had their knuckles rapped this week by the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS). The FOS received over 250,000 complaints in 2011. Topping that list were Lloyds and Barclays as the most complained about banks.

5. Soon you’ll be able to use your phone for ANYTHING and EVERYTHING. Just earlier this week, H+K client, Visa Europe announced a worldwide partnership with Vodafone that will allow mobile phone users to pay for goods and services using their handset.

Friday Fiver

posted by Edward Jones

1. Peston & Hester on the One show: On the eve of RBS’ eagerly anticipated results this week, Stephen Hester, the undersiege Chief Executive, took to the airwaves to defend RBS. The interview on the One Show was as expected, up until the point Robert Peston, commenting that bankers usually hate the limelight, asked ‘Are you enjoying yourself?

Hester’s response was telling:

‘The limelight I hate. I don’t know if I’d have done it if I had my time again, but I’m here and what I care a lot about is can RBS succeed? I think it can, I want to be part of the team that made it succeed, and I’m gritting my teeth about the rest and pushing on with that.’

I was impressed with two things: first, his honesty, and secondly his determination. Both came through during the interview and set the tone for how the results were received the following day.  

2. Another week, another Greek bailout: A second bailout in as many years, amid constant rangling begs the simple question will it last? I’m not convinced.   

3. A less marked U-turn, but a U-turn nonetheless: Cameron ‘attacked’ anti-business rhetoric this week decrying those who criticise big business as ‘dangerous’. Quite. I’m pleased to say it wasn’t just us that noticed the irony of this statement. 

4. Only girls allowed: An advert with face recognition technology is highlighting discrimination against women for children’s charity, Plan UK. The ad on Oxford Street ignores men and will only play to women aiming to send a message about equality. Perhaps the Government could place one in the boardrooms of Britian’s biggest companies in its drive to improve equality.

5. The Sun on Sunday: Finally, we’re eagerly anticipating our little trip to the newsagents this Sunday morning to get our hands on the first edition of the Sun on Sunday, to complement our last edition of the News of the World. Don’t forget yours.

Forget about Greece, it’s all about the oil

posted by rossgillam

Following the second €130bn bailout for Greece, you could be forgiven for thinking that the Eurozone crisis might finally be abating. However, the increasing tensions between Iran, Israel and the West pose a significant threat to economic recovery.

As Gideon Rachman wrote this week, the threat of conflict with Iran is increasingly real. Israel’s Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, has stepped up the rhetoric against Iran, recently calling for tighter nuclear sanctions, to the extent a pre-emptive missile attack by Israel no longer looks out of the question. Similarly, whilst the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, explicitly said the Government are not advocating military action against Iran, Mr Hague would not support a backbench motion calling for the unilateral ruling out of it.

Added to this is the escalation of conflict in Syria. Despite the veto by Russia of a recent UN resolution that sought to put an end to Bashar al-Assad’s authoritarian regime, increased media attention of al-Assad’s crackdown, heightened by Marie Colvin’s untimely death this week, means some form of military intervention from external sources also looks more likely than previously believed. Such intervention is likely to provoke a response from Iran, a fierce ally of al-Assad, which could draw in other regional players, such as Saudi Arabia and Israel. Whilst such a scenario currently seems a long way off, as events across the Middle East have shown us in the last 14 months, anything is possible.

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Friday Fiver

posted by Edward Jones

As you may have noticed this week’s fiver is a little, well, smaller. Importantly however, it’s still perfectly formed! It’s a new format designed to fit in around what we know are normally busy Friday afternoons. We hope you approve and do let us know what you think. 

1. Merlin fails to wave magic wand – Project Merlin’s official data this week confirmed what most people already knew, principally that the banks have missed their SME lending target of £76bn.

2. A case of impeccable timing – Good news then that later this week companies with a turnover of up to £41m will now be able to apply for the Enterprise Finance Guarantee Scheme and four new lenders have been accredited for the EFG scheme including Metro bank.

3. Inflation signals reprieve for consumers – Though expected, the news of a decrease in the rate of inflation is welcome news to household budgets and savers, as Lucy Tobin pointed out this week.

4. Taking AIM – Newspapers continue to fret about the fluctuating FTSE and its effect on our pension funds, the inactivity on the sister AIM stock market used by smaller companies is even more worrying. Allenby Capital reckon fundraising on AIM was very quiet in January with even less money raised than at the back end of 2011.

5. Not all bad though – 10 of the 17 companies that left AIM during January left because they were bought by other companies, which just goes to show that a well performing share price remains a magnet for buyers. Meanwhile the City continues to eye up the Glencore Xstrata merger, not least the eye watering fees, with glee.