John Street’s Diary

Written By: John Street
Published: September 21, 2017 Last modified: September 25, 2017

Labour is back in business, or rather back with business. Since Jeremy Corbyn became a leader to be taken seriously, boardrooms have been champing at the bit to get close to him. It’s not quite the cosy closet of the Blair years, and who’d want that? But the relationship is warmer than it has been. Google and Microsoft, for example, have chosen to exhibit at the party’s annual conference for the first time since 2015. Labour insiders claim that businesses with previous links to the party are re-establishing relationships along with first-timers who include Ecotricity Tangent, a creative technology agency. While many executives still regard Labour as hostile, chief executives feel they cannot ignore the party in the current climate of political uncertainty. They also see Corbyn as more open and realistic on Brexit following 18 months of being shut out of discussions by Theresa May. Overall 1,800 companies will be paying for attendance at Labour in Brighton, 50% up on a year ago. Ker-Ching!

Blood sports
Twelve members of the far-Right group Britain First staged a picket outside the Maidstone mosque – and unwittingly raised £120 to fund a brand-new replacement. The Kent county town’s Anti-Racial Network promised £10 for every BF member who turned up, and honoured the pledge. Of course, this is now a proven tactic across UK towns, but proves that the best way to deal with home-grown Nazis is through mockery.

Changing of the guard
The contest for the leadership of Labour in Scotland following the resignation of Kezia Dugdale gets under way after party conference in Brighton. The cat has been let loose among the pigeons by the arrival of Simon Fletcher, the political strategist who helped get Jeremy Corbyn elected leader and was then appointed as head of his office. Fletcher, who was also an adviser to Ken Livingstone when he was mayor of London, has joined the campaign of Richard Leonard, the Corbyn-favoured candidate against front-runner and former New Labour rising star Anas Sarwar. Local antipathy has been roused not just because of his politics but also because he represents yet another Islington incursion north of the border.

It’s a very deep sea
The chairwomen of two Parliamentary committees have asked the City regulator to explain proposed rule changes seen as favouring the world’s largest oil company, Saudi Aramco following reports it plans to list 5% of its shares in London or another stock market in the West. The call for clarity came in a letter addressed to FCA chief executive Andrew Bailey and signed by Nicky Morgan and Rachel Reeves, who chair the Treasury and business select committees respectively. UK rules state more than 25% of shares should be listed to stop a single shareholder having too much dominance, but proposals put forward by the FCA in January could allow for exceptions. The regulator has proposed waiving a number of requirements for sovereign-owned companies. These include the need to provide independent shareholders with their own separate vote on the appointment of independent directors, which can potentially delay the process by up to 90 days. An FCA consultation on the proposed changes will close on 13 October and the regulator will make a policy statement before the end of the year. According to reports, Saudi Aramco could be valued at $2tn (£1.5tn) when it lists – a huge price tag that would also generate hundreds of millions of dollars in fees for investment bankers, lawyers and other professional firms involved in stock market flotations.

Our favourite shop
Mergers and acquisitions (M&A) in the second quarter of 2017 involving UK companies saw a notable increase when compared with the number and values seen in the first. There were 155 successfully M&A involving UK companies worth £30.0 billion in second quarter, compared with 214 transactions valued at £16.5 billion in first quarter of the year. An increase in the value of takeovers abroad by UK companies was the driver to the increases. There were 24 takeovers abroad by UK companies in second quarter of 2017 worth £18.3 billion. This was the largest value for outward M&A transactions recorded since the first quarter of 2011 (£19.8 billion). In the first quarter 2017, the value of deals was just £2.1 billion in 36 deals. In the second quarter, the major outward takeover – a UK firm acquiring a foreign company – was the £13.5 billion ($16.6 billion) acquisition of the US baby milk group Mead Johnson Nutrition by the UK household goods group Reckitt Benckiser. There were 44 completed inward M&A transactions – foreign companies acquiring UK companies – in second quarter, worth £2.9 billion. This was down in terms of both number and value compared with first quarter when there were 70 acquisitions valued at £9.5 billion. One of the big deals was the £700 million takeover of payment technology group Vocalink by the US credit card firm Mastercard.

A milestone was reached when the Royal Mail Group recently signed the TUC’s Dying to Work Charter. It means that over half a million workers are now covered by charter, which guarantees rights for workers facing a terminal diagnosis. Royal Mail joins 50 other employers who have signed the charter, including Santander, Legal and General, the Co-op, universities, local authorities, and various public bodies. Energy company E.ON was the first to sign in April 2016. The charter is part of the TUC’s wider Dying to Work campaign which is seeking greater security for terminally-ill workers. The campaign began following the case of Jacci Woodcook, a 59-year-old sales manager from Derbyshire, who was forced out of her job after being diagnosed with terminal breast cancer. The TUC is asking employers across all sectors to sign up to the voluntary charter to stop cases like Jacci’s happening in the future. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Your job should be the least of your worries when you get a terminal diagnosis. Royal Mail has shown real leadership in this area, working with unions like the CWU to guarantee fair treatment for terminally-ill workers.”

Organisations and firms must tell employees in advance if their work email accounts are being monitored, without unduly infringing their privacy, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled. The judgment in the case of a man fired 10 years ago for using a work messaging account to communicate with his family is crucial to curb corporate snooping. The ECHR judges found that Romanian courts failed to protect Bogdan Barbulescu’s private correspondence because his employer had not given him prior notice it was monitoring his communications. The ECHR ruled by an 11-6 majority that Romanian judges, in backing the employer, had failed to protect Barbulescu’s right to private life and correspondence. The court concluded that Barbulescu had not been informed in advance of the extent and nature of his employer’s monitoring or the possibility that it might gain access to the contents of his messages. The company was not named in the ruling. The ECHR also said there had not been a sufficient assessment of whether there were legitimate reasons to monitor Barbulescu’s communications. There was no suggestion he had exposed the company to risks such as damage to its IT systems or liability in the case of illegal activities online. “This set of requirements will restrict to an important extent the employers’ possibilities to monitor the workers’ electronic communications,” said Esther Lynch, confederal secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation

About John Street

John Street is Tribune's diary columnist.