It’s over a decade since Whitbread brewed its last pint, and for the shareholders, giving up the booze was the best thing that the management could have done. It has reinvented itself as the owner of Premier Inn budget hotels, Costa coffee and a clutch of restaurant chains. Profits have sailed on through the recession.

Last week its 40,000-strong army of smiley happy people under CEO Andy Harrison (formerly of easyJet) showed that they were Good Together, as Whitbread calls its corporate responsibility programme, with some tasty half-time results and an upbeat statement.

Yet the City being what it is, there are those who reckon Good Together should be Better Apart. On its own, Costa might get a Starbucks-sized rating, while Premier Inn could look like InterContinental Hotels. Well, maybe. Costa has international ambitions, and its 283 stores in China might get a boost from accusations that Starbucks is price-gouging there.

Breaking up businesses and re-assembling them is routine bonus-mining for the M&A boys, who love to point to the “conglomerate discount” to justify their work. Unfortunately for their fees, there’s little sign of it here. As with Associated British Foods, owners of Primark, Twinings and Silver Spoon sugar, it’s clear that good management can indeed do more than one thing at once, whatever the current investment fashion dictates.

The break-up boys are not the only ones to have noticed. Since Whitbread abandoned brewing, the shares have more than tripled, and sell on over 20 times earnings. Definitely not cheap, but almost certainly better together.

We’re all doomed

Tricky, this government lark. Your coalition can promise a fixed price for 30 years for EDF to go nuclear, while rubbishing the opposition’s pledge to fix it for consumers for less than two. Meanwhile, someone who’s supposed to be on your side suggests a tax to punish the energy companies for their synchronised price hikes.

If anyone deserves a windfall tax, it’s the windmill owners, those who have covered tracts of almost-useless land with turbines to farm the subsidies. The fact that it would mean the big landowners being simultaneously subsidised and taxed is merely a microcosm of the shambles that passes for UK energy poilcy.

It’s all a bit of a sideshow, reckons Tim Morgan, Tullett Prebon’s rigorous economist. The real problem is the rising cost of finding energy sources, whether hydrocarbon, nuclear or wind. This is, as he points out, not merely a question of fuel prices, but of how much we leverage energy into economic wealth.

He points out that a gallon of petrol can deliver work equivalent to over 400 hours of strenuous human labour. He coins an ugly acronym, EROEI, for the hardly more elegant Energy Return On Energy Invested. Oil gushing out of Saudi Arabia delivers over 100 times EROEI, but Dr Morgan reckons the world average had fallen to 15 times by 2010, as ever energy-intensive sources are tapped.

These are deep waters, Watson, and his rigorous logic suggests that the ratio will be 10:1 by 2020. We won’t run out of energy, but so much effort will go into getting it that after 200 years, the days of fast growth are over. Still, by his standards, his book* is restrained. His series of papers on the UK is entitled Project Armageddon.

Turning the clock back…

In Spain’s case, to 1940, rather than (across the European Union at the weekend) by one hour. Spain’s time zone was imposed at gunpoint by the Nazis, and nobody got round to changing it back. As a result, its zone is synchronised with its rich and powerful neighbours to the north east, but its daylight is shifted far into the evening.

The Bond Vigilantes at M&G muse about bringing it into line with Britain, Portugal and Ireland. They conclude that Spain would lose more from shorter business hours with France and Germany than it would gain from us. However, they suggest that if all of western Europe moved to UK time, everyone would be better off. So all we need is the Solar Convergence Directive from Brussels, which would decree that the sun would rise and set at the same time right across the European Union. The Rainfall Distribution Directive would follow…

*Life after growth (Harriman House)

This is my FT column before someone took all the par breaks out and “edited” it

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