UK: Editorial - Turnarounds test Britain's banks.

UK: Editorial - Turnarounds test Britain's banks. - Anita van de Vliet's compelling feature on turnaround stories (p36) draws together a number of important threads from success stories. Some of them are obvious: good, disciplined management, deciding on

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Anita van de Vliet's compelling feature on turnaround stories (p36) draws together a number of important threads from success stories. Some of them are obvious: good, disciplined management, deciding on and concentrating on core activities and improving your product offering.

But there is another factor which rises above this and which is, to a certain extent, beyond the control of turnaround managements. This is the willingness of banks and other financial institutions to stick with a business through the thin times and refrain from pulling the plug. As the piece notes, the banks have got better at this and become more supportive - with the result that, all other things being equal, an ailing company's chances of survival are improved.

It is only right that the banks be given credit for this. It was not so long ago - during the last recession, as many of our readers will be only too aware - that the banks were pilloried (and deservedly so) for their reluctance to support British business, particularly SMEs.

But it is one thing for the banks to take a more long-term and benign view when times are good. What we all want to know is: how will they behave when the economy slows? As David Smith, our economics columnist, points out (p27), in 1998, we could well find out.

The newly independent Bank of England will be determined to demonstrate its anti-inflationary credentials and this, coupled with the sterling-influenced export slowdown, could slow economic growth to between 2% and 2.5%. As consumer spending slows, business will come under pressure and banks' resolve to stick with corporate borrowers will be put to the test. The portents are not cheery. Both Barclays and NatWest are clearly under City pressure to improve their shareholder returns - and damn fast too. The trouble is, this doesn't sit comfortably with the long-term view that businesses, big or small, need their banks to take.

The talent in the regions

The media, business media too, are often accused of being too London-centric in their view. It's not an unfair charge. As our feature on Britain's regional barons (p30) shows, there is considerable business talent, power and influence outside London - and that's the way these business bosses like it.

Although these barons tend to have their fingers in a lot of local pies and are therefore major contributors to the local economy, they have two other things in common. One is that much of their power and wealth derives from sport. This underlines the pivotal role of sport in the local regions and also its increasing economic importance. The second is that they have risen from outside the establishment. Britain may be a long way from the meritocracy of the USA, but it is at least getting there.

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