“I'm backing Britain
Yes I'm backing Britain
We're all backing Britain
The feeling is growing
So let's keep it going
The good times are blowing our way”.
David Cameron is unlikely to burst into song today when he addresses the CBI annual conference, but his speech will be very firmly in the “I’m backing Britain” camp.
He’s expected to say that the nation has an “incredible opportunity…for new start-ups to flourish, for innovations to drive growth and create jobs.
"To build that new dynamism in our economy, to create the growth, jobs and opportunities Britain needs, we've got to back the big businesses of tomorrow, not just the big businesses of today."
No doubt that will be music to the ears of the captains of industry gathered at the conference. With the government looking to the private sector to replace the 500,000 or so jobs likely to be lost in the public sector over the next few years, the business world will be expecting a helping hand in creating the right conditions to do just that.
As CBI director-general Richard Lambert says, the coalition government still has much to do to improve the UK’s competitiveness as a destination for investment, but he is upbeat about the future: “The stakes are high, but if the UK raises its game, the prize we reap in jobs and opportunities will be considerable.”
With the government and the commercial world apparently singing very much from the same hymn sheet, British business could soon be on its way to demonstrating its legendary bouncebackability…though it may take a little longer for the good times to be blowing our way.
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This may have been partly down to the iconic nature of the Cadbury brand, with the loss of its independence having a greater impact on the wider public than that of a lesser-known name, but there was undoubtedly a feeling that there was little a target company could do in the face of a hostile takeover.
Changes proposed this week by the Takeover Panel include measures to penalise buyers who renege on commitments made to the target company or its employees during the bidding process, forcing banks to publish their fees relating to a takeover and setting buyers a four-week limit for buyers to either make a bid or walk away once they have announced their intentions.
Business Secretary Vince Cable welcomed the changes, saying it had become ‘too easy’ for bidders to make hostile offers, but unions said the proposals did not go far enough and should take more account of the effect of takeovers on workers and communities.
The watchdog rejected calls to ban hedge funds and other short-term investors from voting if they had only bought stakes in the target company concerned after the takeover bid was launched, and also decided against raising the threshold needed to approve a takeover from the current 50 per cent plus one.
But will these changes make any difference to the number of takeovers? Already some investment bankers are suggesting four weeks is not always long enough to gather the necessary information and make an informed judgement, particularly if the board of the target company chooses to be obstructive.
Penalties for broken promises may prevent situations such as Kraft’s closure of its Bristol factory, which it promised to keep open during the bidding process, but buyers may on occasion decide that a modest fine is a price worth paying to gain agreement for the deal.
With the proposals now going out to consultation, the Takeover Panel must ensure its proposals do not block desirable deals which are in the best interests of all parties, but if the changes serve to prevent another national icon such as Cadbury falling into foreign hands they are likely to have public opinion on their side.
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