Industry News The Week That Was

Renationalising railways, ICO’s go mainstream and Nationwide protests

TWTW
Harriet Green
Written by Harriet Green

Morning everyone and a very happy new year.

New year, new start, so I’m going to be trying out a different format for the newsletter. Please do let me know what you think!

THE ROUNDUP

1. Train ticket prices have gone up by 3.4 percent across the country.

That’s the largest average increase in five years, and it means that many commuters will see their season tickets, which are regulated and rise by the annual rate of inflation, increase by over £100.

Three-quarters of Brits favour renationalising the railways. The issue with that is that our railways were never really privatised. John Major’s botched job meant there was never any real competition, just regional franchise monopolies. Now, government wants to combine track and train provision, unifying private control – which is how rail works in Japan. This could work wonders if paired with deregulation on things like new lines and ticket prices, which will speed up development and see capital flow into the industry.

In the meantime, if you’re looking for ways to save money on train travel, consider CommuterClub, which allows you to pay for an annual ticket in monthly instalments

2. What will ICOs turn into in 2018?

2017 has been hailed as the year initial coin offerings (ICOs) went mainstream. In the first nine months of last year, over $2bn (£1.5bn) was raised via ICOs, which enable new ventures or startups to raise funds by issuing crypto-tokens.

OFF3R compiled a list of the UK’s top 11 ICOs in 2017, which saw increasing numbers of people pour in cash. And it’s easy to see what’s fuelling their popularity: a report from VC firm Mangrove Capital found that the average return, across 204 ICOs, is 1,320 percent.

Expect 2018 to be the year several things happen in ICO world: (1) company/project failures, (2) significant corrections in the crypto market, (3) increasingly draconian regulation and legislation, including more nationwide outlawing (China and South Korea have done so already), and (4) lawsuits.

Something else to bear in mind is that not all ICOs are created equal – and this will become increasingly obvious. While some are issued for inchoate projects that lack security, credibility and even proof of concept, others will come from companies that do already have a product or service. You’ll also hear increasing talk of stablecoins, which are pegged to something else that holds value (like a fiat currency). Take care with privately-issued stablecoins that are pegged to another cryptocurrency, though; if the latter plunges in value, so too will the stablecoin. You can read more on this here.

3. Household energy bills have jumped by £280 in just a year.

Sorry, more doom and gloom: the average gas and electricity bill is now £1,625, according to Comparethemarket.com.

UK energy bills persistently top European counterparts because of lack of competition between suppliers and expensive energy projects designed to limit fossil fuel use. Even seemingly benign projects like the roll-out of smart meters have been fraught with difficulty. Originally mandatory, they are now just “offered” to households, who might decide their clunky, outdated technology isn’t worth the hassle. But all the same, they’ve cost the nation £11bn.

4. Nationwide protests are continuing across Iran and the unrest is keeping oil prices high.

Hundreds of thousands are calling for an end to the country’s hardline theocracy. They did the same in 2009, before Barack Obama made a deal with the government, the Islamic Republic of Iran, limiting its nuclear energy programme. Iranians thought their lives would get better after that, but inflation and unemployment are still high, and freedom hard to come by. Donald Trump has voiced support for protesters, but faces a conundrum: what can – or should – any external leader do?

On Tuesday, oil prices posted their strongest opening from a year earlier for four years. The two crude oil benchmarks (West Texas Intermediate and Brent Crude) opened the year above $60 a barrel – the first time since January 2014.

5. Yesterday was “Fat Cat Thursday”.

In the first week of every January, an organisation called the High Pay Centre puts out the same jolly nugget of news: on the first Thursday of 2018, the average FTSE100 CEO will have already been paid what it will take the typical UK worker all year to earn. It then calls for pay ratios to keep CEO pay in check.

The issue is that leaders of public firms are paid what those firms think they are worth. If the High Pay Centre has a better way of determining value, I’m sure business would be keen to hear it. But failing that, it just looks green with envy. And pay ratios don’t work: they simply serve to drive out and deter the best people, which makes life worse for more junior employees and shareholders, who lose expertise and value.

 

 CAUGHT OUR EYE

Company 

When it launched in 2013, not everyone understood why What3Words could be a gamechanger. It divides the world into 3x3m squares and labels those squares with three-word combinations. I am currently sitting in decent.pots.exile, for instance. If you’ve got an address, you may not see the point. But more than 75 percent of the 7.4bn on the planet don’t, and for them, it’s an invaluable tool.

Not only has the company helped address entire countries – Nigeria and Mongolia, to name just two. It also helps get aid and ambulances to destinations more quickly, and identify disaster zones. It supplies the data for offline navigation tools, can make drone deliveries accurate, and has just launched built-in What3Words voice navigation for Mercedes-Benz.

Person

Richard Cousins, former CEO of Compass Group. Richard died on New Year’s Eve in a seaplane crash near Sydney, along with four immediate family members. Richard should be remembered as an exceptional businessman. When he took the helm at Compass in March 2006, shares were priced at just 235.25p. At the end of 2017, they were at 1600p.

On a personal note, I worked with Will Cousins, Richard’s son, when he was head of press at Open Britain and I was in journalism. He was an intelligent, genial and highly efficient person, and always a joy to work with.

Technology

It’s an application of technology, but there are increasing numbers of firms and organisations using drones to deliver blood, vaccines and defibrillators to site, saving minutes and lives. Check out Zipline as an example.

 

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Should hospital parking be free?

No-one is disputing that hospital parking costs screw over a lot of people at the worst possible time. But if the NHS wants to help its poorest visitors, making parking free isn’t the way forward – because they don’t drive in the first place, they use public transport. Besides, the problem with making anything free is that it never really is – someone or something loses out. Here is what the Guardian reported on the subject…..

What do you think?

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About the author

Harriet Green

Harriet Green

Harriet Green is a former financial and business journalist. She left City AM earlier this year to set up a company that creates new forms of ownership in public services. She covered fintech, alternative finance and entrepreneurship for four years, but now you’ll more likely find her in a public convenience north of Birmingham. Harriet also works as a consultant for venture-stage tech firms.