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Chase Bank Limits Cash Withdrawals, Bans International... Before you read this report, remember to sign up to http://pennystockpaycheck.com for 100% free stock alerts Chase Bank has moved to limit cash withdrawals while banning business customers from sending...

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Richemont chairman Johann Rupert to take 'grey gap... Billionaire 62-year-old to take 12 months off from Cartier and Montblanc luxury goods groupRichemont's chairman and founder Johann Rupert is to take a year off from September, leaving management of the...

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Cambodia: aftermath of fatal shoe factory collapse... Workers clear rubble following the collapse of a shoe factory in Kampong Speu, Cambodia, on Thursday

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Spate of recent shock departures by 50-something CEOs While the rising financial rewards of running a modern multinational have been well publicised, executive recruiters say the pressures of the job have also been ratcheted upOn approaching his 60th birthday...

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UK Uncut loses legal challenge over Goldman Sachs tax... While judge agreed the deal was 'not a glorious episode in the history of the Revenue', he ruled it was not unlawfulCampaign group UK Uncut Legal Action has lost its high court challenge over the legality...

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Watch out, George Osborne: Smith, Marx and even the IMF are after you | Ha-Joon Chang

Category : Business

When even the IMF’s free market ideologues recoil from the UK chancellor’s austerity politics, democracy itself is at stake

George Osborne and his Treasury officials are gearing up for a fight. They’ve promised to make life difficult for the other side for the next two weeks. The unlikely opponents are the team of economists visiting from the IMF for a regular policy review.

Why has this routine meeting, which would hardly be noticed outside professional circles, become a confrontation? Because the IMF has recently dropped its support for the chancellor’s austerity policy and repeatedly urged him to rethink it. It even said he was “playing with fire” in refusing to change course.

This is an astonishing development. For in the past three decades the IMF has been the standard-bearer for austerity. Back in 1997 it even forced South Korea – with an existing budget surplus and one of the smallest public debts in the world (as a proportion of GDP) – to cut government spending. Only when the policy turned what was already the biggest recession in the country’s history into a catastrophe, with more than 100 firms going bankrupt every day for five months, did it do an embarrassing U-turn and allow a budget deficit to develop.

Given this history, being told by the IMF to go easy on austerity is like being told by the Spanish Inquisition to be more tolerant of heretics. The chancellor and his team should be worried.

If even the IMF doesn’t approve, why is the UK government persisting with a policy that is clearly not working? Or, for that matter, why is the same policy pushed through across Europe? A certain dead economist would have said it is because the government is “in reality instituted for the defence of the rich against the poor“. Dead right.

Current policies in the UK and other European countries are really about making poor people pay for the mistakes of the rich. Millions of poor people have lost their jobs and the support they received through welfare, but how many of those top bankers who caused the crisis have suffered – except for a cancelled knighthood here and a partially returned pension pot there? If anyone has suffered in the financial industry, it is its poorer members – junior analysts who lost their jobs and tellers who are working longer hours for shrinking real wages.

In case you were wondering, it wasn’t Karl Marx who wrote the words that I quoted above. He would have never put it so crudely. His version, delivered with typical panache, was that the “executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie”. No, those damning words came from Adam Smith, the supposed patron saint of free-market economics.

To Smith and Marx, the class bias of the state was plain to see. They lived at a time when only the rich had votes (if there were elections at all) and so there were few checks on the extent to which they could dictate government policy.

With the subsequent broadening of suffrage, ultimately to every adult, the class nature of the state has been significantly diluted. The welfare state, regulations on monopoly, consumer protection, and protection of worker rights are all things that have been established only because of this political change. Democracy, despite its limitations, is in the end the only way to ensure that policies do not simply benefit the privileged few.

This is, of course, exactly why free-market economists and others who are on the side of the rich have been so negative about democracy. In the old days, free-market economists strongly opposed universal suffrage on the grounds that it would destroy capitalism: poor people would elect politicians who would appropriate the means of the rich and give handouts to the poor, they argued, completely destroying incentives for wealth creation.

Once universal suffrage was introduced, they could not openly oppose democracy. So they started criticising “politics” in general. Politicians, it was argued, would adopt policies that maximised their chances of re-election but damaged the economy – printing money, handing out favours to powerful monopolies, and increasing social welfare spending for the poor. Politicians needed to be prevented from making important policy decisions, the argument went.

On this advice, since the 1980s, many countries have ring-fenced the most important policy areas to keep politicians out. Independent central banks (such as the European Central Bank), independent regulatory agencies (such as Ofcom and Ofgem) and strict rules on government spending and deficits (such as the “balanced budget” rule) have been introduced.

In particularly difficult economic times, it was even argued, we need to insulate economic policies from politics altogether. Latin American military dictatorships were justified in such terms. The recent imposition of “technocratic” governments, made up of economists and bankers who have not been “tainted” by politics, on Greece and Italy comes from the same intellectual stable.

What free-market economists are not telling us is that the politics they want to get rid of are none other than those of democracy itself. When they say we need to insulate economic policies from politics, they are in effect advocating the castration of democracy.

The conflict surrounding austerity policies in Europe is, then, not just about figures on budget, unemployment and growth rate. It is also about the meaning of democracy.

As José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European commission, has recently recognised, the policy of austerity has “reached its limits” in terms of “political and social support”. If European leaders, including the British chancellor, keep pushing these policies against those limits, people will inevitably start asking: what is the point of democracy, when policies serve only the interest of the tiny minority at the top? This is nothing less than crunch time for democracy in Europe.

Death is tobacco companies’ business | Tanya Gold

Category : Business

You can’t blame tobacco firms for resisting plain packaging. But what’s the government’s excuse?

The coalition government acts as an agent for Big Tobacco, even as it auto-moralises. I do not think it is mad to call its actions murderous. It has pulled excellent anti-smoking legislation from the Queen’s speech on Wednesday, which would have forced the tobacco companies to use only plain packets, and chopped their one remaining marketing strategy entirely dedicated to cutting new smokers off at the knees. (Established smokers rarely change brands.) Potential smokers would have seen a dull, unfashionable box, illustrated with a photograph of gangrene or something equally hideous, rather than a glossy confection designed to mislead. Now the policy is ash and Big Tobacco is free to pursue its vocation of severely shortening the lives of one in two of its customers. And where the UK leads, the world follows; this is good news for tobacco’s markets elsewhere.

Could this be connected to Lynton Crosby, who will oversee the strategy for the 2015 election? He was the marketing man behind tobacco’s attempts to thwart plain packaging in Australia – although there, at least, he failed. Or does the government feel pressure from Ukip, some of whose members seem to think that smoking, along with misogyny, homophobia and racism, is patriotic? (I once watched a Ukip grandee rub a black girl’s hand on a platform and say, “Look, it doesn’t come off”). Of course Ukip backs smoking. It thrives on the rhetoric of the pub and assumes that because everyone smoked on D-Day, it was the smoking that won the war. The freedom to smoke is a freedom of sorts – and Nigel Farage smokes. This is like David Cameron legislating for morning coats; and if only Farage felt the same liberalism towards gay marriage.

Who else smokes these days? Children mostly, and poorer children more than anyone, and the numbers are rising. Two-thirds of smokers start before the age of 18, and 39% before the age of 16; only half will manage to stop before it kills them, although most wish they could. Andrew Lansley, the former health secretary, acknowledged this in 2011 when the government was still mouthing anti-inequality bites. “Smoking rates are much higher in some social groups, including those with the lowest incomes,” he wrote. “These groups suffer the highest burden of smoking-related illness and death. Smoking is the single biggest cause of inequalities in death rates between the richest and poorest in our communities.” How true. Yet smoking is a stick to beat the poor with: that benefit claimants all smoke and watch Sky TV is one of the government’s favourite cliches. Perhaps now they see its use.

When representatives of Imperial Tobacco, British American Tobacco (BAT), Philip Morris International and Japan Tobacco International met the government this year, Imperial Tobacco threatened to pull its packaging manufacture from the UK even though plain packaging and no packaging are hardly the same thing; no one is suggesting cigarettes be delivered by elf. They insisted plain packaging would assist counterfeiters and smugglers. If this fascinates you, I suggest you watch British American Tobacco’s amusing and ostensibly racist promotional video Who’s In Control?, in which cartoon eastern European gangsters drool over the financial possibilities of regulation – although anti-counterfeiting measures can easily be incorporated into plain packets. Are these theoretical gangsters Bulgarian, or Romanian, is the obvious question. Elsewhere in Who’s In Control, the super-imposition of physical violence and drug abuse with regulation veers into paranoia.

We could muse further on these apocalyptic fantasies, but the tobacco companies will not publish their impact studies. They were burnt before, when a 2011 BAT report designed to thwart plain packaging in Australia was shown to be ruthlessly skewed and scientifically worthless. It is true that the exact impact of plain packaging is unknown, and will remain so while the tobacco companies so diligently oppose it. But the independent studies undertaken all agree – young people and women don’t like plain packets, and tobacco knows it. By its terror shall we know its desires.

I don’t blame the tobacco firms. Death is their business. When BAT says, after exhausting its arguments, that “We will take every action possible to protect our brands, the rights of our companies to compete as legitimate commercial businesses selling a legal product, and the interests of our shareholders”, I almost admire its dedication to cash. Yet the British government, theoretically dedicated to the health of its citizens, has a duty not to sink to lobbyists, even if Nigel Farage does smoke. It attacks the habits of the poor, but does nothing helpful. As ever with this government, hollow rhetoric will do.

Twitter: @tanyagold1

Double dip? The economy is lurching in and out of potholes

Category : Business

Britain is in a depression. Cuts won’t cure it. And there’s so much we could be spending money on

The government and the nation desperately require a Plan B. If our obstinate chancellor is not prepared to own up to the need, then he should have words with his prime minister about his interest in another cabinet post and leave the door

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On press freedom day, remember the dead – and the need for common sense

Category : Business

Thirty-two journalists have already died on duty this year. In Britain, meanwhile, it’s charter vs charter, and Cameron needs to get a move on

The latest chink of commonsense emerged on World Press Freedom day on Friday, appropriately enough. Journalists around the globe were remembering the 32 of their number who have died on duty already this year. The World Association of Newspapers, assessing threats to open reporting, singled out Britain, post-Leveson, as a cause for concern. And David Cameron, with Ukip to worry about, did the pragmatic thing. He dropped 15

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From welfare to wages, women fight back against the uncaring market | Selma James

Category : Business

The welfare state is the latest victim of the market’s corruption of all it touches. Fighting like hell is the only option

It’s almost unbearable to wake up to a world in which the welfare state that has defended us from the worst excesses of the market is being destroyed. The only way to hold on to the last vestiges of entitlement, and even reverse defeats, is to fight like hell.

Bereaved but determined families pursuing those who neglected vulnerable patients in Staffordshire had to do a massive piece of organising before the deaths of hundreds were looked into. (Other suspect hospitals are emerging.)

Parents of children needing heart surgery organised against closure of the Leeds heart unit and won a court judgment. Then they had to struggle to prevent that judgment from being circumvented. But they did it.

Attacks on people with disabilities were unthinkable. Now suicides and premature deaths of sick and disabled people targeted by the work capability assessment and other cuts are described by campaigners as “genocide by the back door”.

Single-mother families and large families were protected. Now children in low-income families have become “extra“, targeted even before birth by adoption targets or, once born, by exclusion from schooling and social housing. Asbos and heavy sentences await the inevitable rebellion and protest, including against rising racism.

How did it get to be so threatening to so many?

When the women’s movement began in the 1970s, women were the carers. Working-class women also did waged jobs, but the wellbeing of children and others remained the primary concern. Women formed the movement not to eliminate caring but the dependence, isolation, servitude, invisibility and almost universal discrimination that a wage-dominated (ie male-dominated) society imposed on the unwaged carer.

The women’s movement faced a choice. It could embrace the market: careers for some and low-paid jobs for most. Or it could find another way to live: demanding that the work of reproducing the human race was recognised as central to all priorities. Getting wages from the state for this work, carers would help reshape all social relationships: reorganising work to incorporate men into caring and women into – everything.

Feminism largely chose the market. This enabled governments to demean rather than recognise caring. “Workless”, according to New Labour, mothers are now urged to “do the right thing” – go out to work irrespective of workload, childcare, the needs of those who depend on us.

Cuts in social services and public-sector jobs attack women – three-quarters of public employees. Government aims to push women into the private sector which pays – especially women – less and demands more. This lowers wages generally, imposing working conditions previously unthinkable. Already more families with adults in jobs are in poverty than families where adults are unemployed. When government says it wants “work to pay”, it means driving claimants below the lowest paid: from poverty to destitution, unable to refuse £1 or £2 an hour (many immigrants face this).

The market, which we are urged to love, honour and obey (Marx said it was a fetish), has corrupted all it touches, including the life of the planet. When recently a scientist warned of imminent destruction from climate change, we were told it would be “impractical” to try to stop it. Incredibly, the media did not gasp at this suicidal greed.

Many people say this is not the society they want to live in. But how can we confront all that needs changing?

First we must acknowledge the thousands already refusing hospital and library closures, cuts in benefits and legal aid, factory farming (concentration camps for animals), a poisonous food industry, toxic pharmaceuticals, media-police corruption, sale of playing fields, tax havens, warmongering, criminalisation of protest … Campaigns share one vital tenet: our entitlement to what we are struggling to reclaim.

Our problem is not only that we have allowed cuts – and perhaps the unkindest cut has been of the universality of child benefit, the money that recognises society’s responsibility for children. Our problem is that it has seemed foolish and impractical to dare to challenge the market when no major party is on our side.

With a three-way coalition against us, this has got to be a DIY job. On 1 May, International Workers’ Day, the Global Women’s Strike will launch the petition “Invest in a Caring Society: A living wage for mothers and other carers” – aiming to “redirect economic and social policies towards people and the planet and away from the uncaring market”. A challenge to the market by women, the carers, can only strengthen all those already fighting like hell.

Help to Buy risks helping to create another housing bubble

Category : Business

In his ‘emergency’ budget in 2010, George Osborne pledged to create a less debt-fuelled economy. Where is that promise now?

The late Eddie George, in 2002, brought the phrase “two-speed economy” into common parlance, telling an audience in Scotland: “We have taken the view that unbalanced growth in our present situation is better than no growth – or, as some commentators have put it, a two-speed economy is better than a no-speed economy.”

But his words could just as well have been applied to last week’s GDP figures. While it was undoubtedly great news that the UK has skirted around a “triple dip”, the breakdown of the numbers suggested that, far from achieving the rebalancing George Osborne hoped for, away from consumers and towards industry, the mix of growth looks much as it did a decade ago. Manufacturing output declined; services expanded; government spending made a positive contribution. Industrial output is still 10% below its pre-crisis peak.

Yet far from acting to redress the balance, the coalition’s latest policies read like a desperate attempt to return to the unstable, unsustainable norms of the early noughties.

Help to Buy, announced in the budget, will offer taxpayer backing for up to £130bn worth of mortgage lending, while last week’s extension of the Funding for Lending scheme will allow banks to receive £10 of cheap funding for every pound they lend to small businesses in 2013 – and lend it back out again in any way they like, including to buy-to-let investors.

Back in 2002, George wanted to reassure consumers they would not face a runup in interest rates – because with other sources of growth, such as industry and exports, struggling, the Bank was willing to allow Britain’s shoppers to continue propping up demand with their buy now, pay later spending habits rather than risk economic stagnation.

When he spoke, the cost of the average home was less than £96,000, though prices were already rising at double-digit rates; by the peak of the boom, little more than five years later, it had all but doubled, to £183,959.

Alongside that extraordinary growth in house prices came an unprecedented explosion in household debt. But constantly rising prices bred a warm feeling of confidence among homeowners and fuelled a sense of entitlement to the unearned benefits of rampant housing-market inflation, creating a ready-made lobby group opposing changes to inheritance tax, council tax or any other method of sharing the windfall more widely.

In Osborne’s first, “emergency”, budget in 2010, he carefully laid out his intention of building a safer, more stable economy, less reliant on debt-fuelled spending. Yet three years on, scarred by the failure of the pound’s 20% depreciation to spark an industrial renaissance, he appears to be banking on the two-speed doctrine to lift him clear of trouble.

Osborne has insisted that Help to Buy is not aimed at pushing up prices. But encouraging first-time buyers to take out mortgages with high loan-to-value ratios – on properties whose value may be unsustainable even at current levels, let alone after another market bounce – is hardly a recipe for a fairer or more stable economy.

The Treasury claims to hope the policy will stimulate housebuilding, helping to ease the chronic shortage of homes that has driven up prices; but as the Treasury select committee rightly pointed out in its report on the budget, if the government really wanted to kickstart building, it should act to do so directly. That might mean taking advantage of record low gilt yields to invest in council housing, for example. But as Pete Jefferys of Shelter put it in a blog last week, Help to Buy is a “Thatcher-style home ownership revolution, not a Macmillan-style housebuilding boom”.

Neither does pumping out a new generation of cut-price loans – which, remember, will be available to anyone buying a house worth up to £600,000 – tackle the problem of banks still saddled with shaky-looking mortgages from the boom years. It just postpones the reckoning – and risks making it worse when it comes.

There is agreement across the political spectrum that Britain faces a housing crisis: a generation of young people have little or no prospect of affording a place to live, and find themselves trapped in insecure, poor-quality rental housing owned by landlords out to make a quick buck.

But first-time buyers need cheaper homes, not bigger loans, and the chancellor’s argument is reminiscent of those who used to claim vehemently in the mid-noughties that allowing low-paid workers to borrow six times their income was socially necessary, because otherwise young people wouldn’t be able to afford a home.

A mass programme of publicly funded housebuilding, along the lines stirringly recreated in Ken Loach’s documentary The Spirit of ’45, could boost supply dramatically and help to rebuild the shattered construction sector, while tougher regulation of the rental market could ease the pain for those unable to afford their own home.

And taxing housing more heavily – whether through a more progressive council tax system, heftier inheritance levies or a land value tax, under which homeowners would pay a small percentage of the value of their property each year – could help to prevent the next bubble inflating. Instead, the government appears intent on subsidising it.

Martin Rowson on escaping a triple-dip recession – cartoon

Category : Business

George Osborne says Thursday’s growth figures are ‘an encouraging sign the economy is healing’

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BT wants a broadband bounce from sport, but may have scored an own goal

Category : Business

The complex relationship between BT and BSkyB rests on gaining new customers for the former, rather than advertising

BT and BSkyB are at loggerheads. BSkyB is refusing to allow BT to advertise its new sports channels on Sky Sports, and BT has complained to Ofcom. Now leaving aside the fact that BT can (and does) advertise on any of BSkyB’s other channels, and that BSkyB and BT have both previously declined advertising from direct competitors – so there is plenty of precedent for BSkyB’s position – this dispute really is a storm in a teacup. What lies behind it, however, really couldn’t be more serious and the key questions are all for BT.

BT has spent upwards of £1bn on sports rights – mainly 38 Premier League games a year, top-flight rugby and WTA tennis. When you throw in production and other costs some analysts’ estimates put the total bill at nearly £450m annually. Sky has between five and six million sports subscribers and recent history with Setanta and latterly ESPN suggests that maybe a million of them will pay extra for the additional content BT will offer. Of course in addition to recruiting Sky customers BT will hope to attract new subscribers too, but even if it doubles that number to two million, simple arithmetic suggests it would have to charge them close to £30 per month just to cover costs.

Since no one seriously expects anyone to pay that much just for BT’s sports channels – which are still no real match and certainly no substitute for Sky’s – some analysts expect BT to lose in excess of £200m a year on them.

The only way of making sense of this from a BT investor’s point of view is to see it not as a loss but as an investment in improving the position of BT’s core business – broadband, and especially high-speed broadband. BT has been losing broadband market share to BSkyB – which from a standing start has gone to second in the market behind BT, the legacy operator, in just eight years.

The sharp end of that battle is the 2.5 million Sky TV customers who currently take their broadband from BT. Were BT to lose them, or even many of them – and on today’s trends that could happen – the loss of revenue (line rentals and broadband fees) could top £700m a year. Which is why BT really wants to package up its sports offering with its broadband services. In other words, for BT this is not about sport or even pay-TV, it is about broadband.

Which brings us back to the current spat over advertising. After Ofcom’s pay-TV review, BSkyB faced being compelled to wholesale its premium sports channels to BT at regulated prices. But with no obligation running the other way – on BT to wholesale to BSkyB – BT would then have been in the enviable position of promoting its YouView platform service as the only place to get all Premier League football. And that was the position last year when BT spent its £730m on football rights. But the Competition Appeals Tribunal decision to upend the Ofcom ruling means there is no obligation on BSkyB to wholesale its channels to BT at all.

BSkyB is now saying it will wholesale its premium sports channels to BT – allowing BT to sell them on to its customers – but only if BT will allow BSkyB the same arrangement with its sports channels. If such an arrangement was agreed, BSkyB would almost certainly drop its objection to BT running adverts on Sky Sports as the rivals would in effect be commercial partners.

But the problem for BT is that if BSkyB retails BT Sports as part of its offer to its customers, the telecoms company gets the money but not the customers – they belong to Sky. And no customer data means no capacity to try to sell them broadband packages. Which defeats the strategic point of spending £1bn on sports rights. Which could lead investors to wonder what else BT might have done with all that cash.

Martin Rowson on the rich list and the London Marathon – cartoon

Category : Business

The Sunday Times’s annual naming of Britain’s wealthiest residents coincided with the running of the London Marathon

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Sometimes even chief executives get sick of being force-fed bonuses

Category : Business

Shareholders are gearing up for another rebellion on pay, but it’s non-executives who bear the lion’s share of responsibility

Take a deep breath. Could we be seeing an outbreak of morality among the corporate elite? Next’s chief executive, Lord Wolfson, announced last week that he is sharing out his £2.4m bonus among his retailer’s 19,400 staff; the head of one of Austria’s biggest banks – Herbert Stepic of Raiffeisen – has handed back £1.2m of his pay on the grounds that he is overpaid; and the incoming head of miner BHP Billiton, Andrew Mackenzie has taken a 25% cut to his salary.

In these austere times – GDP data next week will show whether the UK has sunk into an unprecedented triple-dip recession – an acknowledgement by top bosses that they are overpaid should be embraced. Or should it?

Take Mackenzie of Billiton. Even with the 25% cut in his pay, his salary is still £1.1m before any bonuses. Wolfson, a Tory peer and Conservative party donor, still enjoyed a 13% rise in basic pay to £4.6m at Next (the store’s staff got 2%). The Austrian bank boss still walked away with more than £2m.

And, as is usual with executive pay, there are many more bosses grasping for more. The attempts at restraint demonstrated by BHP’s boss contrast sharply with the behaviour of Xstrata’s departing Mick Davis. He is walking away with £75m as a result of the takeover by Glencore – a staggering £9.6m of which is to be handed to him in cash rather than shares. Similarly, compare Stepic’s gesture of goodwill with Barclays, where the much-welcomed retirement of Rich Ricci seems unlikely to stop millions of pounds of previously awarded bonus deals continuing to flow to him as he enjoys his retirement – which is beginning at the age of 49.

Ricci is a symbol of anything but restraint. This is the man who was handed £17m under the cover of this year’s budget – when Barclays seemed to hope attention would be focused on the chancellor’s speech – taking his earnings since 2010 to over £70m.

The announcement of Ricci’s retirement came just a few days before the bank’s annual meeting with investors this Thursday. The hope is that it will take the heat out of an uncomfortable few hours for new chief executive Antony Jenkins. Remember the fuss last year– even before the Libor crisis had struck – when Bob Diamond was at the helm? Diamond also had unimaginable wealth but was determined to take a bonus for 2011. Almost a third of Barclays investors failed to support the remuneration report.

That rebellion heralded last year’s “shareholder spring”, during which an unprecedented number of remuneration reports were voted down and a number of bosses ousted after years of being overpaid for underperformance.

There are signs that this year could see a replay. Standard Life has angrily criticised the pay policies at BP, and fund manager Jupiter – which itself polices pay policies – suffered a serious humiliation on Thursday, when 42% of investors failed to back its own remuneration report. Corporate governance expert Manifest reckons that any dissent of more than 10% is something for a management team to worry about.

Governments keen to pass the buck on the pay controversy point at shareholders to keep a lid on pay excess, but non-executive directors have at least an equal responsibility. Bonus schemes that pay out so much that their bosses are embarrassed to take the proceeds should never have been approved. Directors on remuneration committees need to think much longer and harder about how bonuses are handed out.

And then there are the executives themselves. Wolfson, Stepic and Mackenzie are to be applauded. But the loudest cheer should be reserved for those executives ready to acknowledge that they do the job to their best ability regardless of the bonus attached. Shell’s former chief, Jeroen van der Veer, once admitted his work would have been the same regardless of his bonus arrangements. Surely he cannot be the only one.

Npower’s tax bill may be justified, but its record isn’t glowing

Almost 90,000 people have put their names to an online petition for RWE npower to pay more corporation tax more in line with the rest of the business community. Revelations last week that npower – one of the Big Six energy providers – had paid “almost nothing” (just £5m) over three years understandably infuriated many.

Comparisons have been made with Starbucks, which faced similar protests and eventually decided to make a £20m ex gratia payment to the taxman.

Will npower have to do the same? Maybe, but the energy company is in a rather different position from the US-based coffee chain, not least because it has invested much more heavily in Britain. The German-owned company has spent almost £5bn over recent years putting in place new gas-fired power stations and wind farms.

Npower is legitimately able to write off some of the cost of those investments against its profits in Britain, where it has more than 6.5 million gas and electricity customers. Certainly, Britain needs new lower-carbon power stations rather more urgently than it needs caramel macchiatos.

It is more vulnerable to criticism over an estimated £350m of “interest payments” from the British company to the German parent. Npower argues that this is just good business: the British arm can borrow money for infrastructure building more cheaply from its colleagues in Essen.

But critics, including crusading tax experts such as Richard Murphy, say there is no difference between such “interest” and the “royalties” paid by Starbucks for use of the brand name, which triggered the coffee crisis.

And there is still no need for any of the Big Six to give regulator Ofgem anything other than retail and generation profits. Yet sitting in between these two are big trading divisions.

The real problem is that npower and the rest have been tarnished by a string of Ofgem fines, criticism over tariffs that seem designed to baffle, and some executive pay excess. Few feel inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt when a tax row breaks.

Departing lingerie boss leaves Bolland looking exposed

The sudden departure of Marks & Spencer’s lingerie boss 12 weeks after her much-heralded arrival means at least six senior bosses at the ailing retailer have recently quit.

When Janie Schaffer was recruited, her appointment was described as “inspirational” . Dubbed “the knicker queen”, she had learned her trade in the M&S undies department, founded the Knickerbox chain in 1986 and for the past five years had been creative director at Victoria’s Secret in the US, injecting new glamour that has helped to haul the brand out of the doldrums.

M&S sources say that Schaffer had come to the end of a three-month probation period – with the clear suggestion that she wasn’t up to the job. Schaffer’s supporters say she didn’t have a probation period and quit because she wasn’t allowed to make even basic decisions, such as new packaging for women’s tights.

Who to believe? Who knows. But a little of the Victoria’s Secret sparkle would have been welcome at M&S, where sales of clothing and homewares have been falling for the past seven quarters. Chief executive Marc Bolland should be worried: the executive exit door is revolving fast, and he might soon find himself spinning through it.