There are more holes in Labour’s scheme to give shares to employees than there were in the plot of Bodyguard, and among the many raspberries blown at both, the mood was summed up by The Daily Mash: “The scheme would mean that employees now had a personal stake in the success of employers who they constantly cheat and steal from, and has been greeted with widespread revulsion.”

This is satire, as we must point out nowadays for fear of offending someone, but it highlights the essential absurdity of John McDonnell’s proposal to bung £500 to the workers and raise another tax on business. The less entertaining response from the CBI’s Carolyn Fairbairn, suggesting this could “crack the foundations of British business”, merely reflects the authentic voice of the big companies who are mostly cutting jobs, not creating them.

Mr McDonnell’s proposal is more a cry of pain than a policy. In the last decade, as he reminds us, the living standards of the many have barely risen. Meanwhile, the (very) few at the top have shrugged off the impact of the banking crisis and made fortunes.

The impression that there is a revolving door at the top of FTSE companies was reinforced this week by Anglo American’s promotion of Anne Stevens, whose shabby deal at the top of GKN netted her £2.5m for a few weeks’ work. When £1m is little more than a rounding error for CEOs, almost regardless of how well or badly they actually do, resentment is widespread. It is little wonder that proposals like these are popular, however irrational they may be.

Ms Fairbairn agrees with Labour that we all want “to engage and motivate employees, deliver for customers and share prosperity”. It is self-evident that prosperity is being concentrated at the top rather than shared.  If she has any intelligent suggestions to change this, we would like to know.

Life after Brexit? Simple, says Simon

Simon Wolfson tells it like it is. Not for him the pollyanna style of most CEOs, whistling to stay cheerful through grim numbers. The boss of Next lays out everything in an exhaustive and exhausting detail (75 pages this time), the bad news alongside the good.

Along with the results, he offered a forensic analysis of the cost of Brexit to Next, concluding that without a deal, the price of socks would go up by a few pennies. It would be comforting to believe that the UK government had done similar careful work across the economy, but it’s probably wishful thinking since there is no sign of it.

Yet here’s the thing. For all Lord Wolfson’s full and frank disclosure in a sector that is endlessly picked over by analysts, surveys and forecasters, the Next results still managed to surprise, producing a 9 per cent jump in the share price of this £7.5bn company. So much for efficient market theory…

Getting out the vote

No, honestly, we’re not panicking. Everything is on track. We always intended to take full page advertisements pleading for support from shareholders for “simplification”. This is Unilever, of course. Yet as the date for the meeting approaches, things look far from simple. The 75 per cent majority of shares needed for approval is increasingly uncertain, while the bare majority of shareholders in favour needed for the Court meeting that follows is highly problematical.

Only a dwindling minority of shareholders are now on the register in their own name. The rest are in nominee accounts, so is this treated as one shareholder or many? There is no clear answer. Hargreaves Lansdown and Alliance Trust Savings will aggregate the votes of their clients for the 75 per cent vote, but will be a single shareholder for the Court meeting. AJ Bell, by contrast, says it has found a way to allow each holder on its books to be treated as a single shareholder in the Court vote.

Either way, the Unilever directors are finally realising that they have a problem, as the full-page ads and the unconvincing performance from CFO Graeme Pitkethly on the BBC indicate. The fact remains that shareholders in Unilever plc are being invited to take one for the team. They should make sure they can vote to decline to do so.

This is my FT column from Saturday

 

 

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