Another fine mess from the telecoms industry
There’s a grim logic to EE’S decision to go to court over rights to 5G airwaves. If it did not, it risked allowing Three to curb its ambitions unchallenged. Now, at least, the High Court will hear arguments against capping its share of radio spectrum, as well as imposing tighter restrictions. When Marc Allera, its chief executive, says his hand has been forced, it is hard to deny. EE would have let the auction go ahead under Ofcom’s proposals, but the attack from Three aimed directly at its future strategy and that of parent company BT required a defence.
The whole thing is a mess of a type the telecoms industry has become very adept at creating for itself. Hundreds of millions of pounds in legal fees must have been paid out in the last decade.
The stakes this time are higher, however. Britain’s status as a leading digital economy is a key competitive advantage over our EU neighbours. Keeping up in the shift to 5G will be key to maintaining it.
Months spent in the High Court will not help.
It hasn’t been a vintage year for relations between big business and government.
On this side of the Atlantic, Theresa May’s frosty approach to Britain’s top companies won her few fans in the corporate world. She disbanded David Cameron’s business advisory group, pulled down the Downing Street shutters and lost touch with a vital constituency.
Few predicted Mrs May would disastrously misjudge the national mood with her general election campaign, but perhaps more advice from business people and less from policy wonks might have helped.
Now Donald Trump has disbanded his panels of chief executives. Or, more truthfully, they have abandoned him. The startling fact is that the president is now someone with whom the boss of the Campbell Soup Company is embarrassed to be associated.
The flaws and failures of two unusual politicians, with unusual approaches to business, might convince some chief executives their interactions with the public sphere are just fine.
Many of those who resigned from Trump’s advisory groups said they had joined in good faith and had been shocked and disappointed by events.
Really? Did they really believe they would be able to influence the president? Amid his post-charlottesville meltdown he tweeted that they were easily replaced. That seems fairly good evidence Trump placed no value on their views in the first place. If business leaders want to be heard they are going to have to learn to speak up, rather than rely on polite discussion behind closed doors. The outpouring of Brexit-related concerns from British business in the wake of the general election was understandable but too late. They should have joined in debates around the campaign, been straight with the public and made their voices heard.
No one owes big business a quiet life. Nobody else is getting one for a while.
‘If business leaders want to be heard they are going to have to learn to speak up’
China’s not done with deals
Sincere condolences are due to international dealmakers this weekend. The Chinese government on Friday officially killed off the market in massive, head-scratching deals that has delivered fat fees to investment bankers for the last few years.
Never again shall we see a debt-fuelled spree of hotel takeovers by a Chinese insurance company. Footballers hoping that some sort of widget maker in Guangdong will buy their club and keep paying their inflated wages will be disappointed.
It is a shame, in some ways. The acquisitive antics of Anbang, Wanda, Fosun and HNA Group have been entertaining, if nothing else.
Yet as our front page story about China’s richest chicken farmer making a £1bn play for Northern Ireland’s Moy Park shows, the days of Chinese takeovers are far from over. They just might make a bit more sense from now on.
Overall outbound deal-making by Chinese companies is down 42pc this year, yet the value of takeovers in countries such as Britain that are targets for Beijing’s new Silk Road initiative are already higher than across the whole of 2016.
Nobody should be counting their chickens, but China’s interest in overseas investment appears to be maturing rather than waning.