As I See It: Week in Review
L of a week: landbanks, lottery and a landslip
Heather Small and Emma Thompson entertained guests at the Postcode Lottery gala dinner (photo by Terry Murden)
A week in the Daily Business diary began with a call from a housebuilder and also featured lunch at a historic venue, an Oscar winning actress, a pop singer and one of the world’s richest men…
Alan Brown, who surely now qualifies for the title ‘long-serving’ CEO of Cala Group, was in bullish mood about the company’s growth, raising the bar on housebuilding targets. Even the planning issue seems to concern him a little less, particularly in Scotland, though he admitted to be being irritated by the UK government continuing to accuse the industry of sitting on vacant sites, known as ‘landbanking’. “It’s the fourth time the government has looked into this and it just isn’t happening,” he told me. “There is not a single site where we are not active.”
On to Kennox Asset Management which, despite being one of Scotland’s lesser known fund managers, is marking 10 years in business. Peter Boyle runs a small team from a splendid period property in Edinburgh’s Drumsheugh Gardens. Kennox’s anniversary coincided with the sale a week earlier of another boutique manager, Edinburgh Partners, leaving Mr Boyle to lament that the cost of entry for smaller firms in the sector is proving prohibitive.
The magnificent Playfair Library in Edinburgh hosted the first Federation of Small Businesses annual lunch and awards and it provided an opportunity to catch up with the chaps from Aberdein Considine who are keen to let the world know more about their range of activities, more of which we hope to bring you shortly. The FSB had a particularly feisty start to the week, with its head office calling for the introduction of ‘project bank accounts’ to protect suppliers from big company failures, something that Scots businessman Ken Lewandowski has been instrumental in introducing to public sector contracts in Scotland.
From the Playfair to the Botanics for a night of celebration by the People’s Postcode Lottery. These guys not only know a thing or two about fundraising (it’s now the world’s biggest donor to charity) they also know how to party. The ‘evening’ kicked off at 4.30pm and apart from a stimulating address from guest speaker and supporter Emma Thompson (and clips from her many acting performances) we also had an impromptu session from nineties favourite Heather Small of M People (appropriately singing ‘What have you done today to make you feel proud?).
This was meant to be set aside for a video interview, but a couple of domestic calamities forced a substitute interviewer. The video by SNS Group went ahead as planned (more later) and credit where it’s due to British Gas whose contact centre was prompt and courteous and the man they sent out to deal with a power cut got the job done quickly.
It was a big day for Tesco Bank which announced its new CEO…another recruit from former business partner RBS. Gerry Mallon, head of RBS-owned Ulster Bank, will cross the water to replace Benny Higgins who retires next month to concentrate on chairing the National Galleries and carving out details of Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish Investment Bank.
Rail passengers were hit with another day of disruption, this time because of ‘rocks on the line’. Torrential rain caused a landslip at Winchburgh in West Lothian, prompting commuters to ponder how it took so long to remove the debris and politicians to once again start hollering about the need to take the network back into public ownership. Of course, under state control there would be no disruption, no landslips and no torrential rain.
A document leaked to the Wall Street Journal revealed proposals by drinks giant Diageo to fiddle about with the whisky process. Indignant Scots insisted Diageo – owner of brands such as Johnnie Walker – leave well alone, though the company said it was merely looking to innovate as all drinks companies do from time to time. I recall many years ago Ken Hitchcock, the Australian who at the time was head of Whyte & Mackay, commenting on outraged reports that his countryfolk were dousing Scotch with Coca Cola. “I don’t care what they put in it as long as they drink it,” he said. He left soon afterwards and the company was sold.
Lunch in Leith with the founders of Timberbush Tours and their new(ish) managing director Stephen Spalding. More on this later…but a word for Compass restaurant on the corner of Constitution Street which may be one of the city’s lesser known delights.
One of the world’s richest men came to town to check up on the latest research into food production and give lots of his money away. Microsoft founder Bill Gates is a big supporter of the boffins at Edinburgh university who are doing good work to help feed the world’s poor. Mr Gates handed over a cheque for $40m which may even have caused a few gasps of astonishment over at the Postcode Lottery offices in Charlotte Square.