Any other business

The real reason hospitals threw back that Presidents Club cash

3 February 2018

9:00 AM

3 February 2018

9:00 AM

I visited St Thomas’ Hospital on Monday, to discuss fundraising for a cardiology research project. On the way in, I spotted an acquaintance taking her little boy for tests; she was busy explaining why the doctors needed to do what they were about to do, so I didn’t interrupt. I also spotted a block on the map labelled ‘future site of Evelina Children’s Hospital’, and my thoughts turned to the £650,000 pledged for Evelina at the Presidents Club dinner: £400,000 of it in an auction bid from the restaurant tycoon Richard Caring to secure naming rights on a high-dependency unit.

In the furore over the all-male club’s treatment of female hostesses, the money was turned away by Evelina’s parent charity, in line with Great Ormond Street Hospital’s announcement that it would return £530,000 donated at this and previous club events. So I tried out on the fundraising professional with me the line taken by Ross Clark and others — that the charities should just take the money and cure sick children with it, rather than leaping on the bandwagon of outrage. ‘Pecunia non olet’ (money has no smell) was the way that wily dog Lord Goodman put it in the early 1980s while persuading fastidious theatre folk to accept tobacco sponsorship for want of state subsidy.

But my colleague was vehement: ‘It really isn’t about virtue-signalling, it’s a pragmatic choice about not tainting your charity brand. If we’re seen taking that sort of money in the current climate, so many other people will stop giving to us.’ She’s probably right. Those Presidents Club pledges should be torn up, and the donors behind them should wait a while, then quietly send cheques for the same sums to the same charities with a Gift Aid form and a note saying ‘no publicity’.

It was the format of the event that was offensive, not (as leftists clearly think) the fact that a gaggle of rich men were doing the giving. But still it might be a good thing if in future we’re spared the most vulgar charity-gala moment of all, which is not the parade of miniskirted hostesses but the repeated gleaming spectacle of Richard Caring and his long-time business associate Sir Philip Green outbidding each other to be the evening’s most adulated benefactor.

Ikea and civilisation

Ingvar Kamprad, who died this week aged 91, was a tortured soul but a retail genius. As the founder of Ikea he sold cheap but stylish furniture to millions of what are now called ‘hard-working families’: those who want to improve their homes and make better nests for their children on limited budgets. Though his fortune does not seem to have made him happy, his stores have made a benignly egalitarian value-for-money contribution to modern civilisation and it’s interesting to list other companies that have done likewise. Here are a few for starters.

Ford, Fiat and Volkswagen for ‘people’s cars’ more reliable than anything ever built by 20th-century British marques. Boeing for the 747 ‘Jumbo’ that made long-distance travel accessible to everyone, and Ryanair for cartel-busting low-cost short-haul. Nokia and Samsung for mass–market mobile phones — more so than Apple, a design pioneer but an elite brand. Intel for the microprocessors behind personal computing, Google for information and Amazon for shopping, but only if we forgive its impact on the rest of the book trade. As for banks, none have ever been described as benign or egalitarian — but let’s include the building society movement before it demutualised and Visa for globalising the credit card industry. Then there’s Bayer for aspirin, Boots for ibuprofen and (some might say) Pfizer for Viagra. More suggestions welcome, to

Poorer but happier?

A leaked ‘Cross Whitehall Briefing’ foresees a negative impact on growth of 8 per cent over the next 15 years if Britain leaves the EU without a new trade deal, falling back on WTO rules; –5 per cent if we do agree trade terms with Brussels; and still 2 per cent even if we fail to achieve full-blooded Brexit and remain in the European Economic Area. It’s worth comparing those numbers with HM Treasury’s shot at the same exercise back in April 2016, with its foreword by George Osborne that was condemned by Brexiteers as the founding text of ‘Project Fear’. Its percentages for these three scenarios were –7.5, –6.2 and –3.8.

So despite the relatively strong performance of the UK economy since the referendum and the distinctly weak performance of our Brexit negotiators, little has changed. The real outliers in the body of economic opinion are forecasters such as Professor Patrick Minford, whose bold assumptions about deregulation at home and new trade horizons abroad tell them those numbers (especially for the no-deal scenario, which they favour) will all turn out glowingly positive. But we’d be wiser to accept that Brexit will most likely make us marginally poorer — while clinging to the hope that it can make us marginally happier.

Tonic fever

Last week I took a little tour of blockchain-related shares in search of ‘moments of brightness’ amid a dreary start to 2018. This week, I draw your attention to a real-world consumer brand that has turned into a stock market rocket: Fever-Tree Drinks, the tonic-water maker whose share price has multiplied 18 times since its Aim flotation in November 2014, taking it to a near-dotcom price-earnings multiple. This triumph of smart marketing offers ‘a leveraged play on premiumisation trends in spirits’, according to one analyst, which I think means that as drinkers become more discerning about gin, they get fussy about tonic, too. But can they really taste the difference, and is Fever-Tree really worth so much more per measure than Schweppes? As sales growth slows and competition multiplies, this looks like a share to have bought a year ago and to be thinking of selling soon.

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