‘The big education for me is that civilisation is fragile and can be destroyed in a heartbeat' - Jeremy Brade, former peacekeeper in Sarajevo.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Sovereign wealth funds and national prosperity

I have had a comment (on an earlier piece about sovereign wealth funds) from a Shromon Das, who gives his view on SWFs here and a follow-up today here.

Without pretending to technical expertise in this area, I can envisage implications for a growing ownership of equities by governments. One effect may be to reduce volatility in large-capitalisation stocks, since national treasuries can take a longer view than the individual investor.

But there must also be concern about the possible use of ownership for political purposes. For example, I wonder at the UK's having allowed foreign enterprises to take over some of our energy and water supply companies.

I began this blog for investors, but increasingly I think the real story is not about how some may make (or protect) their fortunes, but about the implications for ordinary citizens.


Today I drove past the site of the former Rover car plant in Longbridge, Birmingham. The firm was on its way out years ago and a venture capital company called Alchemy offered to take it over, cut its size and specialise in a line of sports cars. The rest of the land could be redeveloped - housing and retail. The surplus workers would have their pension rights and redundancy payouts honoured, and some could still look around for employment in other plants.

But there was an election coming (2000), so the government chose to encourage a management buyout instead. Thousands of jobs were saved, supposedly. Besides, it was said (I seem to recall) that the site was too polluted for residential development, anyhow.

Well, Rover did go bust anyway (after a £6.5 million "bridging loan" to prevent its collapse immediately before the 2005 General Election). The workers didn't get the redundancy payments they'd have had from Alchemy in 2000, and their pensions were hit too. Anyone still interested in car work elsewhere would then be five years older, in an industry that some believe discriminated on the basis of age prior to new legislation in 2006.

A Chinese firm, SAIC, has picked over the carcase, with special attention to any designs and other paperwork that might help with setting up an alternative in the Far East. And now the site is being cleared - for residential and retail development.

There is a big, shiny new building on the Bristol Road in Longbridge - a JobCentre Plus.


Where, in all this, were the working people's long-term interests really considered, even by their political representatives?

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