Thursday, February 25, 2010

Profit (and loss) share - RBS, British Gas

RBS lost £3.6 billion pounds last year. They gave out £1 billion in bonuses, because the losses weren't as bad as they might otherwise have been. They are 84% owned by the UK taxpayer. Had that £1 billion been divided between UK taxpayers, it would have represented a few tens of pounds each. Divided between the 141,000 people that the whole RBS group employs (according to Wikipedia), this comes to over £7000 each. I somehow doubt that everybody in the group would see a bonus of anything like that amount. Also, since the depressed economy is arguably due to financial mismanagement in the banking sector, bonuses being visibly divided between the rich "elite" of a company when there are now graduates who are unemployed or working for nothing is even more insulting to the rest of the economy.

I am reading Andrew Marr's "The Making of Modern Britain", and it is interesting to compare the Tory opposition to tax reform in the first decade of the 20th Century.

According to BBC news, the RBS chairman says that employees have been leaving in their thousands over the reduction of bonuses. Had these people not left, the bank might have expected to have made another £1 billion (that is, reduced its losses to £2.6 billion pounds).

British Gas made a profit of about £600 million last year. This apparently represents about £3 per month per customer - hardly an extortionate amount, though there has been criticism that their retail prices aren't falling as fast as their wholesale prices. Prices for gas and electricity in the UK are amongst the lowest in Europe.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Salary and professionalism? Or lifestyle?

Asked to address the subject of pay, Phil Trenary, Pinnacle's [a commuter airline in the US] CEO, told the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Aviation: "I urge you, please do not ever equate professionalism and competence with pay ... Some [pilots] make over $100,000, some make less than that. They are all professionals." Trenary is missing the point. The issue is not low pay and professionalism, but low pay and lifestyle. If pilots cannot afford to live near their work, they have no choice but to commute - sometimes ... over very long distances. Colgan Air expected its Newark-based pilots to buy or rent accommodation in New Jersey, but did not recognise the cost of doing this in wage levels. Colgan Air's managers made no attempt to understand the wider socio-economic environment. They divorced themselves from the lived reality of the flight crew lifestyle. They lived in a bubble.

Questioned about his pilots' lifestyle, Daniel Morgan, VP for safety and Regulatory Performance at Colgan Air, told the NTSB: "You're adults, you're professionals, use the time we've given you to rest."

Morgan's statement is a prime example of Colgan Air's 'bubble' mentality - the belief that so long as minimum requirements are met, the rest will take care of itself. But as evidenced by long-distance commutes, nights spent sleeping on crew room sofas and the crash-pad (flop-house) phenomenon, things are not taking care of themselves. The US regional airline sector is an industry in crisis. Many pilots are overworked and underpaid and some managers are in denial. Something has to change.

"The Log", BALPA, Feb/Mar 2010
This article, by Dr Simon Bennett of the University of Leicester's Civil Safety and Security Unit, is discussing the salary/lifestyle implications which may have contributed to the Colgan Air accident in February 2009, and which attracted the attention of the NTSB.

A new pilot applying to join Colgan Air in November 2007 was offered a salary of less than $17,000 (£14,000ish). There are pilots operating flights in UK airlines on six month contracts with salaries which, if annualised, would amount to around £12,000. On top of this, they are often servicing training-related debts in excess of £60,000.

Their professionalism isn't in doubt. That isn't the issue.

Sunday, February 07, 2010


Went to see it, in glorious 3D yesterday. Some reactions ... the film was beautiful - CGI, or however implemented, the world Pandora was quite stunning. Special effects were impressive.

However, it wasn't only me who considered the plot pretty derivative. I reckoned it was a patchwork of Tarzan (human identifying with other race), The Matrix (body swap) and Return of the Jedi (cute, environmentally friendly aliens in touch with their intuitive side). Other facebook friends suggested:

- Fern Gully on steroids;
- Pocahontas in outer space;
- Smurfs on drugs.

I'm sure there are more.

The "science" part of the SF was slightly better than (say) Star Wars - though not a lot. At least we didn't have blasters and hyperspace. However, we did have alien race that was basically human-looking, trees that were basically earth-style (one huge one that was a bit like the home tree in the middle of Disney's Animal Kingdom in Florida), an unexpected and priceless mineral ("unobtainium" - where does that feature on the periodic table?!) which of course was right underneath the natives' home, and an atmosphere that had produced a kind of megaterran ecosphere and yet wasn't breathable for humans.

The underlying message of the film was, as can be deduced from the cross-references to other films above, similar to every other anti-war, vaguely environmentally conscious, vaguely new-age, tree-hugging film that you have ever seen - except with more explosions and oxygen masks.

Some people talked about Avatar as paving the way forward for cinema in the future. To be honest, I'm not sure. It is great from the point of view of spectacle, and that will certainly draw people in. But how many huge explosions or animals rushing out at you are you likely to pay to watch? The real power of cinema is not to do with amazing special effects, but to do with a captivating story. Avatar was okay, from that perspective, but nothing to write home about - it's too much like too many other films.