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on 11 September 2014
This excellent book “looks at the conditions which allowed Britain to become the favourite destination for overseas predators, the indifference of our policymakers, their neglect of our economic security and the impact on efforts to rebalance commerce in favour of making things after the financial panic of 2007-2009.” Brummer was the City Editor at the Guardian and is now City Editor at the Daily Mail.

He notes, “Thatcher led a revolution that would open up the markets to all comers. Deregulation would see the unblocking of Britain’s capital markets to overseas investment and the start of a takeover bonanza …”

Mergers generally fail to bring growth or jobs. A 1997 study by the Centre for International Business Studies at South Bank University found, “The bulk of the empirical evidence on the profitability of mergers and on the performance of the merging partners shows that mergers are usually unprofitable and the only group who stand to profit from merger are the shareholders of the acquired company.”

Brummer examines the 2010 takeover of the chocolate maker Cadbury by the US food giant Kraft. The nationalised Royal Bank of Scotland helped to fund Kraft’s bid. Even Lord Mandelson was moved to say that foreign ownership of British companies could damage the country.

The USA, Germany, France and Spain all have various forms of ‘economic patriotism’, to make foreign bids for domestic firms hard to achieve. But the Labour government’s 2002 Enterprise Act ended the government’s duty to intervene in defence of the national interest. From 1997 to 2007, foreign ownership of British firms rose from a third to a half, and ownership of vital services rose to 40 per cent. By 2010, just 34 per cent of the fuel for our economy was in British hands; 32 per cent was French-owned, 27 per cent German-owned and 7 per cent Spanish-owned.

Brummer denounces corporations’ current short-term approach to investment as bad for Britain, writing, “The tyranny of funding the rising dividend payout and buoying up the share price had a tendency to overwhelm all other goals.”

He points out, “once ownership moved abroad, there could be no guarantee that research and development would continue to be based in the UK.” R&D investment fell among foreign-owned firms. In 2008, they funded only £3.4 billion of the £25.6 billion invested in R&D here.

We need a British Investment Bank and a national infrastructure corporation. Banks should lend to British industry but the culture of finance capital is anti-industry. Therefore, a new state-directed Bank for Industry, Development and National Reconstruction must be created, out of the clutches of finance capital and non-reliant on their favour. It should make funds available at low or negligible levels of interest, lend according to a principle of long-term strategic national interests, and invest either to build new assets or to increase production.

We need to invest in educating engineers. Between 1987 and 1997, Germany produced three to four times as many engineers each year as Britain. Between 2001 and 2006, our numbers of electrical engineering students fell by 45 per cent.

“Among the biggest investments that will soon be required is the £200 billion which British-owned National Grid says is needed to update the nation’s distribution network to accommodate power generated from conventional sources, from renewables (such as wind farms), and from a new generation of giant French-built nuclear power stations. The burden of paying for this will fall on UK consumers, through surcharges on their quarterly bills. Much of the benefit, by contrast, will accrue to overseas-owned generators and power firms.”

“Along every link of the supply chain, down to the power companies that deliver electricity and gas to our homes, Britain has neglected the importance of energy security. It has allowed four of our big six energy companies to fall under Continental ownership, where the UK is regarded as a useful profit centre rather than of critical importance.”

Our annual subsidy to the rail network reached £5 billion in 2009-10. We paid the profits of foreign-owned firms, including state-controlled Deutsche Bahn. “The UK’s liberal approach to foreign ownership and involvement in our railways has, too often, worked against the broader public interest.” Governments have also encouraged the sale of airports bridges and ports.

Brummer sums up, “Hunger for quick returns and the need to service debt is not the best combination for companies running vital and long-term infrastructure.”
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on 2 May 2012
This excellent 250-page book should be read by our politicians and anyone interested in rebuilding Britain. Mrs Thatcher's conversion to neo-liberalism and the abolition of almost all controls on what money can do in this country let speculators buy up anything using debt and leverage. Over 50% of UK companies are now foreign owned and the list includes facilities such as banks, electricity, gas, water, ports, airports, transport, football clubs and real estate. Government has not realised that with foreign ownership pricing, tax, control of local employment conditions, research, and supply chains all move offshore. We can only get out of our debt crisis by manufacturing and selling abroad but our universities expand arts courses and 70% of postgraduate engineers in this country are from overseas. Foreign takeovers could be limited by stakeholder consultation and restricting short term speculative investment. Alex Brummer is the City Editor of the Daily Mail and writes smoothly, with wide inside knowledge and a few well-chosen statistics.
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on 1 June 2012
I found this book to be very thought provoking, and I was surprised to learn how our government, whichever party is in power, seem to be more interested in short-termism. Well worth reading.
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on 22 August 2014
A must read type of book, and good to have near your bed table. It really opens your eyes and helps you to become more aware of what is going on around you in our society. I may help you to become more active within our democracy as well!
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on 30 April 2013
An interesting read, yet extremely annoying as to why previous governments of whatever party have let overseas companies buy our once previous leading organisations. It's a pity they cannot be taken to account for such betrayal.
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on 18 January 2013
I've noticed something about books written by journalists. They tend to have a larger format than standard paperbacks, are generally printed in bigger typeface, and each page only runs to about 340 words, compared with about 420. `Britain for Sale' would therefore make a rather slender standard paperback of about 200 pages. A flashy slightly frothing red-top-type cover, a bit of playing around with line spacing, fonts and margins, and conveniently forgetting that the 15-page index could be compressed into half that space if it were typeset smaller - just right for this selective skim over Britain's manufacturing victimology of the past few decades.

And the point about journalists? Well, they tend to write in newspaper-length paragraphs, particularly if they write for the Daily Mail, as Alex Brummer is currently. The paragraphs would look very short indeed if printed in standard paperback format. All this is speculation, but I wonder if anyone else has noticed the phenomenon (there are wonderful exceptions, for example Larry Elliott of the Guardian, but his articles are always notable essays to begin with; writers who can think book-length can become good journalists, but the converse is rarely true).

Minutiae apart, (and as MadMax31 much more concisely expressed it in a recent review) Brummer arbitrarily and sentimentally centres his tale around the malevolent takeover of `iconic' Cadbury, manufacturer of all that sort-of chocolate, by Kraft, the manufacturer of sort-of cheese. A highly successful and brave British company with multiple brands and a great moral core, we are told, that was pitilessly pursued by a slightly less successful company with multiple brands and no ethics. The excessive narrative detail, such as the touch-down time of the Kraft CEO's private jet, may read well in sequential newspaper reports of the day-to-day jostling that always occurs with these takeovers. But we need a much bigger picture for a book.

So, that bigger picture is frustratingly missing, and in his many omissions and casual elisions, one suspects that Mr Brummer has an eye to his continuing future employment with the Daily Mail, arch-supporter, you'll remember, of the `Tell Sid' cut-price hive-offs of the 80s that started this whole dismal process; we get the chronology but not a lot besides, other than the barely believable subtitle of the book: British Companies in Foreign Hands - the Hidden Threat to our Economy. Hidden? Where has he been since 1980? His crashingly banal final paragraph implies that Thatcher's magnificent `revolution' had as a mere side effect the pendulum swinging against British business that was then cranked up by Blair and the current coalition. He is profoundly wrong: the demise of British business was a primary vindictive aim of tooth-and-claw neoliberal Thatcherism. However, among the light-touch banalities, he does provide a few good quotes. Try this one, from the Chairman of ICI when it was being hounded by NobelAkzo in 2007:

I did float the idea ... to the civil service whether anyone in the government or in the upper reaches of Whitehall had any kind of policy on protecting British companies. The answer came back: `Absolutely not. We don't feel in any way that it's part of a government's job to protect ICI or anybody else from a foreign takeover. We're interested in jobs [really?] but we're not interested in who owns the company'.

What we need, then, is not another narrative of Britain's manufacturing base going down the swannee (which as Larry Elliot in Going South persuasively argues has been occurring for the past century or more: this is just the accelerated terminal phase); we need a coherent story of why it happened so completely here, and, except for the USA, almost nowhere else. To me it seems there has been a trio of 30-year slow-motion train crashes. The UK and USA were the first to capitulate to every raw, unadorned tenet of Thatcher-Reagan neoliberalism, which demanded that everything deemed inefficient, even if eminently retrievable, and especially if nationalised, must go to the free enterprise wall. Then, and associated with second-wave Blair-Clinton neoliberalism, we moved equally enthusiastically into our current extreme form of hectoring moralistic neoconservativism, associated with uncritical and mandatory compliance with every demand emerging from government and its hugely more tentacular quangocracy. Brummer tones even this down to the barely critical: `The British mentality is to take EU directives at face value; the European mentality is to interpret them according to national interests'. Unwittingly, he nails the point in this feeble sentence: other than narrow jingoism, we - people, government and especially the commercialised and politicised civil service - have lost any sense of long-term national interest, and have lost the will and ability to ring-fence anything, apart from the revolving door in and out of the private sector. We still have the pitiful and transparent charades: Brummer and many others describe laughable verbal raps over the knuckles issued by toothless organisations like the Mergers Commission and the terminally enfeebled Takeover Panel that like every other potentially vigorous and independent body have been absorbed into the self-serving gong-seeking quangocracy. I'm sure the very thought of receiving a fax from such imperious bodies makes the venture capitalists very quake in their leather private-jet seats.

It's been a lost cause for 20 years, and Brummer's blend of misty-eyed soft-focus consumerist hokum with an heroic battle for Britain roll-call of clichés (`The bid battle lines were now drawn and Cadbury's public relations machine roared into action') tells us nothing about why, having dumped Wedgwood, for example, we can't even raise the money to keep its legacy collection intact, and soon the only places we will be able to marvel at this astonishing phenomenon at the heart of the industrial revolution will be the V&A and British Museum (and of course eBay), while the pottery and glass industries of Germany thrive and create (and they make their own cutlery as well). Bemoaning our wretched fate as the hapless battling victims of other countries' perfidy doesn't cut it when we were in the vanguard of deregulation and the other neoliberal precepts that had industrial implosion as a necessary accompaniment, and we now urgently need a great polymath economic historian to write the 1000 page footnoted corrective that could straighten the record. But the only person to have the guts and intellect to write it - Keynes - is long gone, and the other possibles are mostly staying shtum in first class in the privatised gravy train while day-dreaming of perpetually revolving doors.
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I read the review already given on this and can't fault it. I wanted a spare copy of this book, as well as one for myself, to send to a close relative who is as concerned as I am, if not more so about the state of our country. You hear bits and pieces of news on TV or elsewhere, but it helps a lot when someone delves right into the topic and writes a book on the subject at hand. The subject is the selling off of British assets and it has to be one of the worst mistakes this country has ever done. I got word of this book via a well-known British newspaper and just knew I had to buy it.
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on 19 May 2016
This is a really interesting book which explains how successive governments have stood by or actively encouraged overseas investment in buying out key industries and infrastructure in the UK, and how this might ultimately affect the country's future. A sobering read.
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on 22 October 2015
Opens our eyes to just how much of our industry and manufacturing has been sold off. What happens when it has all gone?
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on 5 January 2013
This book isn't really about "Britain For Sale", it's mostly a heavily padded critique of the sale of Cadbury's to Kraft and not much else. The author doesn't really have anything to say or any particular point to make, it's disjointed, incoherent and completely without any insight into global economics. I was hoping to learn something interesting but I was disappointed.
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