Saturday, December 03, 2005

Digby, the biggest mayor in the world.

We've had attempts to reopen the debate over an elected Birmingham mayor and now it seems that Birmingham's own director of the CBI, Sir Digby Jones, is being touted as a possible candidate.

He's hardly out of the local papers at the moment and this week, John Duckers wrote in the Post about the views of some opinion-forming businessmen in the City that there should be a role for Diggers once his term at the CBI ends. It even suggests that he should act as some kind of Chairman to Whitless' role as MD of Birmingham. That should certainly make things rather interesting, given Digby's rather public denunciation of the lethargy that passes for leadership in our City at the moment.

Our experience of having a businessman in charge of the City for the past eighteen months (in collusion with another well-known businessman, to boot) has been rather unexciting. Bob Piper notes that the response of business to the needs of their workforce has been rather negative and legislation has been required to ensure that employees are treated with a modicum of fairness, so perhaps those of us at more junior levels than the corporate 'big boys' should be a little more circumspect when it comes to putting them in charge.

With them at the helm, pretty much all of the workplace legislation of the past three decades would never have been passed. No equal employment rights for anybody, no equality of pay, no health and safety legislation, no working time rules, no right to holiday or even a minimum wage. All have been criticised heavily by our business friends. I'm not saying that they shouldn't have a role - they're crucial to the economy and clearly have particular insights, but their views are no more or less valid than anyone else's. They have no god-given right to be involved with politics and some of the big corporate beasts have less than stellar records when it comes to business.

Remember how GEC-Marconi was once a massive electronics business until the directors made some appalling decisions, the result of which was to start the company on a lingering spiral of death. Or perhaps we should look at the geniuses who ran Rover into the ground? The funny thing is that the directors tend to come out of these things OK. Sure, they lose their jobs, but the millions in their back pockets tend to compensate for the short-lived pain and their City mates are only too happy to find them a seat on another board and give them control of another company. These are human beings, not supermen.

Incidentally, why did the CBI choose a London venue for their conference rather than coming to Birmingham as they have done in recent years? You would have thought with Diggers at the helm, he'd be only too glad to show off his city. Or is he just ashamed at the thought of having to show off Whitless into the bargain?

Incidentally, I'm thoroughly impressed by the sense of justice shown by the directors who complained about the unfairness of the government's decision to allow public sector workers to claim their occupational pensions at 60 (in line with their contractual terms). These wouldn't be the same directors who have cheerfully scrapped company final salary schemes in favour of the cheaper money-purchase options for their employees, but have hung onto the final salary option when it comes to their own pensions? Oh, yes. It would.

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