All 4 entries tagged Money

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January 23, 2007

Supermarkets are getting an easy ride from the Competition Commission

Supermarket share prices, 23rd Jan 2007 It’s several years since supermarkets were last checked to see if they were anti-competitive. Since then, the answer’s become even clearer. Corner shops and convenience stores are lucky if they’re reporting declining sales. At least they haven’t shut up shop already.

But despite this, the Competition Commission has given the supermarkets plenty of breathing space while outlining their ‘emerging thinking’ today. And where’s the evidence? Well, it’s on the right. If the stockbrokers think that an across-the-board rise in supermarket share prices is appropriate, it probably means they’re going to get an easy ride.

The inquiry says it’s now going to “go local”. But you have to wonder if they’ll bother to speak to any of the thousands of people put out of business by the 800lb gorillas in the market.


January 05, 2007

Mears and Snow

I spent last night glued to BBC Two, which at last provided a night of TV worth watching (a rare event recently).

First up was Ray Mears’ Wild Food, in which the cameraman seemed to be having the time of his life. The Australian outback provided incredible scenery and the Aborigines who Ray was meeting filled their stage with ease.

There was a lot of deviation from the show’s purpose – i.e. food – but I didn’t care too much. It was the most beautifully shot programme since Planet Earth.

Dan and Peter SnowNext was a one-off featuring Peter Snow, his son Dan, and some shiny graphics that follow the former around like a loyal dog. It was ninety minutes of pure, unadulterated economics, wrapped up in the cotton wool of individual stories about how Britain’s changing economy is affecting the country. The Times said the graphics resembled something leftover from Torchwood, but I reckon it made the show so accessible that it ought to be shown to every secondary school pupil as part of careers advice.

And then there was Newsnight, which was a mixed bag. The report on healthcare in Sierra Leone was fascinating, but the story on food labelling looked like a boxing match where the two opponents had no interest in making any punches.

Thank god there’s an alternative to Z-List Big Brother.


September 08, 2006

We need Maglev… and we need it yesterday.

Maglev. About twenty years ago it was “the future”. Today, it remains a figment of our imagination unless you happen to visit Singapore or one of the ‘toy train’ test tracks in Germany and Japan. The world’s first commercial Maglev train was – believe it or not – in Birmingham, linking the NEC and the Airport. It was replaced a few years ago with a chain-based train.

But since the 2005 election, politicians are starting to take the proposition seriously again. Labour’s 2005 manifesto pledged a high-speed rail link between London and Scotland (presumably something Gordon Brown will eagerly approve if given the chance) and the government’s report into the various options (basically either Maglev or something like France’s TGV) will – hopefully – come out soon.

It’ll revolutionise British transport. According to pressure group 500km/h you’ll be able to travel up and down the spine of the country at 311mph, which means London to Manchester will take 45 minutes. That’s forty-five minutes. Liverpool to Newcastle (perhaps a more vital link than London-Edinburgh) would take under an hour. Linford Christie couldn’t even come close.

There’s a tonne of economic reasons why we should do it, but I’m not sure they’re the real reason we should start building now.

The real reason is that public transport in Britain is a shambles. Why would most people want to take a train from London to Manchester when driving there takes only a little bit longer (if you ignore the traffic within the M25) and costs considerably less (a London-Manchester return for tomorrow is a minimum of £60 and more like £200 if you want to go in peak-time).

The premise that many people would choose to travel by train is a nonsense. If you enjoy driving even a bit, it’s just not worth waiting at stations and missing connections. And don’t even mention luggage. The reason people do it is that they’re often going somewhere where parking their car is impossible. Or they don’t have a car. Today’s train system is geared towards the business traveller, and a huge proportion of its potential customer base is put off by the sheer stupidity of the way it works and the amount it costs.

For sure, Maglev isn’t going to be cheap. In Shanghai though, it’s about £3 for a single fare. Bear in mind that the length of track there is pretty short and that it was built with what we would probably characterise as slave labour (at British prices anyway). But it is the most reliable railway in the world, and from the video (see below) looks incredible. And the environmental cost is a fraction of aeroplane use.

There’s a danger that the North-South line in Britain will be scrapped because rail bosses think they can just squeeze more intercity trains on to the existing tracks. But this would be a disaster. The fares would still be extortionately high considering the lack of utility gained by travelling on a train (over a car journey).

This line shouldn’t be about increasing capacity. It should be about making the railway attractive again. Per mile, it’ll be half the cost of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, which has been built on time and nearly to budget.

George Osborne, the shadow chancellor, favours Maglev. But apparently Gordon Brown’s allies say it’s too expensive and impractical. Brown needs to look above the parapet of Westminster bureaucracy and see the benefits of the Tories’ blue sky thinking. He has a simple choice between a revolutionary railway system or congested roads, environmental disaster and a growing North-South divide.

A final thought for you…

Cost of replacing the Trident nuclear deterrent: £15bn
Cost of building a Maglev line between London and Edinburgh: £16bn

Which would you prefer?


July 23, 2006

Soon Money Will Buy You Happiness

The National Housing Federation reported this week that the average house will cost £300,000 in five years' time.

With few houses set to be built in that timeframe and there being no lack of demand which would bring about a fall in prices, we are pretty much buggered.

This generation of students – and seemingly the next one too – will find it impossible to own a house of their own, and only the very rich will be able to prosper by buying–to–let. The gap between the rich and poor will inevitably grow, with the poor becoming a bigger group.

So the adage that "money can't buy you happiness" is set to become false. Maybe it's a bit extreme to say that without a mortgage you can't be happy, but until you own something as fundamental as a house, many people will feel unfulfilled. Moreover, those who want to build their dream home (and they need not be loaded to do so), will in the future find their dreams evaporate.

This causes other problems. Younger homeowners are more likely to desire an environmentally–friendly home, are more likely to put solar panels on their roof and wind turbines in their garden. But if the vast majority of young people are renting until well into their 30s (as looks probable) then the move towards more sustainable housing will slow.

There's been much talk about the 'politics of happiness' recently, helped by a TV series on BBC Two and mention of it from David Cameron. The former was a bit drawn out while the latter sounded like opportunism, but the 'happiness formula' will become far more important as a whole generation finds it can't afford somewhere permanent to live.

Money might not be the be–all–and–end–all, but the gap between the haves and have–nots is becoming ever–larger as affordable housing becomes more and more invisible.


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