Britain for Sale by Alex Brummer

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Britain for Sale by Alex Brummer

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Category: Business and Finance
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A very good look at how the country is being bought by foreign interests with only profit in mind. Well worth purchasing - and locally sourced, too.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 262 Date: April 2012
Publisher: Random House Business
ISBN: 9781847940759

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Buy British, we're constantly told, and many people do - the French, the Germans, Qataris, Chinese... If you want to buy British you'd be hard pressed to use a British electricity company, the people shifting North Sea oil to you might be foreign, the trains near you may be foreign-operated, and so much of what's in the shops you buy from would of coursed be sourced from abroad, and shipped through foreign-owned ports. Whether or not the country is going to hell in a handcart, it's moving in piecemeal stages to exterior business interests, and the British citizen gets the worst of the deal.

I've never before willingly picked a business or economics book, but this is a very readable survey of a consumer-based matter of great import. I hardly know much of the wider subject. My experience of mergers and acquisitions was seeing my juvenile savings get less and less interest as first one building society then another bought the one I used, then turned into a bank. I remember all the privatisations of the 1980s, and those pointless ads for Hanson - you remember, The company from over here that's doing very well over there - the company you had absolutely no idea what you could buy from them. Many people bought into the idea of expansion of trade and amalgamation of business, though, and Brummer gives us a resume of globalisation and free-market economics. By his account it's clear to agree with Thatcher that globalisation and 24/7 market trading was inevitable and not something to even think of disallowing.

It's noticeable that Brummer hardly touches on Labour's continuation of free-market privatisation in his history, bar occasional dropped-in shock details. It also seems a bit odd at first that he picks the sale of Cadbury's as a tipping-point in British attitudes, as opposed to, say, Harrod's, but he backs up this with lots of facts and detail. We learn it was only 29% owned by British stakeholders anyway, yet still made headline news - and not only in Brummer's paper. We can see things from Kraft's side too - a company for whom 8% annual profit growth was not enough, and had to expand at the same time as lumbering themselves with £18 BILLION of debt.

Yes, it's clear from this how stupid free-market economics have become. Chapter two is a great flashback to the credit crunch and state of play now. Banks were free to stock up on 'assets' being debts totalling much than their own worth, owed them by companies trading on the future prospects of others they were buying up with hot air. On the other side of the fence, while USA, Germany et al locked down their national assets and made sure they stayed locally owned, the UK chose to have no regulation as to who could buy what. So ICI got chopped to bits, other firms got asset-stripped and ruined yet still sold on for a huge profit, and all around, from Connex train users to Blackburn FC fans, the dangers of naively bought foreign 'investment' are being seen.

Which is partly why people hated Siemens of Germany getting British train building contracts instead of Bombardier - who are, of course, Canadian. But at least they build in Britain, and the aspect of a country of coffee-shops and service industries being able to build out of a recession with no engineering base or manufacturing industries left after both the brain- and profit-drain is a nightmare, with nothing here to wake us from it. The last 20pp are an appendix of major trades of British business to interests abroad, and it seems to be an on-going aspect of life we can do little about - yet Brummer can summarise in two pages simple, reasonable and firmly beneficial legislation that would help in future. By then, however, he has apolitically shown both major parties (and any passing coalition-members too) to have quite ridiculously bad histories in the matter.

To repeat, this is a very readable book considering the subject, and throughout Brummer very easily fills us in on terms, background and more needed to get the full gist of the matter. Years of experience on Fleet Street have served him well - he has a serious yet very approachable style in giving us his knowledge. It has some corners where it clearly was rushed to the shelves with not quite enough editing, as it lapses into repetition here and there, but that is four pages perhaps out of a lot of high quality. While we may be helpless in the face of the dudgeon this book can inspire, it is well worth reading about here.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

For more on the credit crunch, there's Reckless: The Rise and Fall of the City by Philip Augar. Captive State: The Corporate Takeover of Britain by George Monbiot shows us that whether it's from abroad or not, EVERYTHING in these shores is being bought from under us.

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