All entries for August 2007

August 10, 2007

Regional Venture Capital Funds

Writing about web page

The relative absence of innovation, knowledge economy and business start-up culture in the English regions has been partly attributed to a supposed lack of available venture capital, an apparent ‘equity gap’ where the market was failing to provide ‘small-scale risk finance for SMEs with growth potential’ {{964; }} . The government identified this as a ‘market failure’ that was preventing the regions from capitalising on the economic potential of their own innovative nascent entrepreneurs. In other words, the seeds of a dynamic business culture lay dormant just below the surface of the English regional economy but lacked the necessary watering of start-up capital for this latent business culture to break through the barren topsoil and flourish.

The Department for Trade and Industry attempted to address this apparent market failing by setting up nine publicly backed Regional Venture Capital Funds (RVCFs), working closely with the Regional Development Agencies, each charged with sprinkling a total of £250m per annum onto the regional economies and thus providing the necessary boost to allow regional start-ups to breakthrough.

The RVCFs were typically new regionalise both in their underlying logic that regions already possessed everything then needed to prosper with a relatively cheap discursive shove in the right direction and also in their operational design as public private partnerships, with government providing around half the capital and the rest raised from the private sector, with private sector fund management companies, members of Lovering’s ‘regional service class’, contracted in to manage the funds. The RDAs played a central role in both setting up and then running the RVCFs, since they would be responsible for ‘raising the necessary private sector investment by utilising their contacts and knowledge of the business support network within their region’ at the outset, and then providing a sort of advanced secretariat support to the private sector fund managers, connecting the RVCF with potential recipients, providing an after-investment service to the beneficiary SMEs and sitting ‘as members on the advisory committee for each fund’ {{964; }}.

In 2007, after five years of the RVCFs operation, fund managers have been unable to find sufficient suitable ventures into which to pour their available funds, with only half of the allotted money being spent and, since the private sector partners had a preferential claim on any returns, without any return on that investment for the government {{965; }}. In an interview with the Financial Times John Guthrie quotes an anonymous private equity executive as saying that ‘the government fundamentally misunderstood the market. There was never any equity gap. But there was an investment opportunities gap’, a view reflected by the experiences of the contracted fund managers in the regions, with NEL Fund Managers in the North East and of Catapult Venture Managers in the East Midlands reflecting that ‘it has been tough getting the money out there’ and ‘there is no lack of capital, but there is a lack of good management teams to invest in’, respectively {{965; }}.

While Guthrie’s article was driving at that efficiency of the market mechanism, which cherry picks the few and far between worthy venture investment opportunities in the regions, compared to the misguided interventions of the state, the experience of the RVCFs points to a more worrying empirical finding for the boosterish new regionalists: that the regions simply are not possessed of the sort of native business culture that they had assumed lay dormant, waiting to be tapped by the right institutional framework.

August 08, 2007

Murat search reveals nothing (again)

Follow-up to Clutching at Straws? Robert Murrat's home is searched again from Bartleby

Iraqi childIt wouldn’t entirely surprise me if I glanced at a ‘red top’ newspaper this time next month to see that Robert Murat has once again been questioned and his house searched by police in connection to the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, only for absolutely nothing to be found just a few days later. Neither would it surprise me if the media uncritically dragged Mr. McCann and anyone he might have ever been friends with or done business with, through the foulest of mud.

We should remember that Murat was fingered on the basis of nothing more than the prejudiced suspicion of a self-seeking predator – a tabloid journalist. As far as I am aware, there is absolutely nothing to link Murat, or anyone his knows, with the offense other than the smug comments of a Sun(?) journalist who couldn’t in any way substantiate her suspicions beyond Murat being a not very masculine looking single bloke living with his mother.

That Murat’s investigation started on such a weak lead, or that the police found absolutely nothing on either him or his associate, didn’t stop the gutter press from labeling him and everyone who ever met him a paedophile and / or a registered sex offender. As far as I am aware, no one seems to have thought it fit to apologise for what perhaps began as an honest mistake in the course of an investigation but would seem to have degenerated into an obscene comedy of errors in what is almost certain to become a ‘cold case’ if it is not already such.

Madeleine McCann’s disappearance is both a mystery and a tragedy. However, what is sickening is how a significant portion of the British public have been getting a parasitic emotional kick from the whole affair in much the same way as they did with the death of Dianna ten years ago. If people really gave a shit about other people, they would have been up in arms about the kidnap of the British mixed race toddler in Nigeria, or demanding that Britain open its arms to widowed mothers and their young children from Iraq and Afghanistan – they aren’t, instead preferring to bolt the doors and leave thousands of little girls and boys to die or be orphaned in civil wars and other conflicts, at least one of which is of British making.

The image to the above right is of a young girl in Iraq whose parents had just been mistakenly gunned down by young and trigger happy American soldiers.

August 04, 2007

Clutching at Straws? Robert Murrat's home is searched again

Writing about web page

It was in the news today that Robert Murat, the only ‘official suspect’ in the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, has again been visited by the Portuguese police, this time in the company of a British police sniffer dog.

It is one thing to ‘leave no stone unturned’, but I find it somewhat incredible that the same stone is being turned over again and again and again. While it is impossible to know what is on the Portuguese police’s mind, since their law does not allow any details of an investigation to be released, surely if there was any evidence to be found to connect Murat to the offense then it would have been found by now?

While Murat, a single man who owns a computer and lives with his mother and thus a prime suspect for the media profile of the ‘stranger danger’ lurking in even the most innocent appearing bush, this ignores the reality that most victims of violent and / or sexual crime, especially child victims, either know or are related to the offender.

I am in no way pointing the finger at anyone, but from the point of view of investigating a case as important as the disappearance and possible murder of young child, then the parents and their friends should be coming under a careful investigation. So, while Robert Murat’s house is once again searched in what will almost certainly be a pointless exercise, seemingly based on the desperation to be seen to do something and not to give up the only ‘official suspect’ and thus be left with nothing, I wonder how closely the McCann party, friends as well as family, itself has been investigated.

August 03, 2007

Chinese Justice: The Death Bus

It was once assumed that China’s advance toward economic, and perhaps military, super-power status would proceed hand in hand with the liberalisation of the Chinese state. Unfortunately, this has not been the case and instead the West has slid toward legitimating authoritarianism and police state tactics as a solution to its own problems, taking a leaf from China’s books rather than the other way around.

This video from Sky News, showing the use of hight tech ‘death buses’ to execute people without anything like what democratic countries would call a fair trial, then harvesting their organs, is as disturbing as it is enlightening about the nature of the dragon that Western greed for cheap consumer goods is so happy to feed with investment and unwarranted free trade.

Yes, the USA also executes prisoners, and while I cannot support the death penalty in principle, at least in the USA there is an assemblence of a fair trial, there is a chance of being found not guilty if the state lacks evidence or has tortured confessions out of its prisoners, and lawyers are not disappeared by the state when they contradict its prosecutions.

The Chinese state, and for that matter the Chinese elite, rely a great deal on the phrase ‘social stability’ to excuse all manner of oppression, suppression and abuse of fundamental human rights. What is perhaps most frightening is that this line is not simply the empty rhetoric of the Chinese state, but is evidenced in the attitudes of the elite of Chinese civil society, who have been indoctrinated with what is, by British and European standards, an anachronistic form of extreme chauvinist nationalism. It was less than two years ago since the Warwick University newspaper, the Warwick Boar, came under ferocious criticism from a significant number of Chinese students for publishing a negative article on China, with calls for the student who wrote the article to be disciplined.

It is perhaps too late to check China’s advance, or even the independent erosion of liberty and respect for human rights in the West. Human rights has become as dirty a word in the British press as it is in China – a barrier that protects bad people from the righteous justice of the people as represented by the state.

It is perhaps an apt time to reflect on just how far we have fallen, as national and global societies, in terms of our ideals and our practices, since the heady days of the early post-coldwar period.

August 2007

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