Businessweek round-up: Ireland’s future, how the markets influence sheep thieves and Christmas shopping in Wales

Cardiff Business News

An uncomfortable week ahead for the Irish

It will be an uneasy week for Ireland as its Budget for 2011 will be announced on Tuesday. The Guardian has called for the Irish politicians to go back to the IMF to renegotiate its bailout package as the Irish taxpayer is expected to pay one out of every five pounds in interest on its debt. If it a renegotaition is not reached, writes the Guardian, a further bailout deal could lead to a ‘Treaty of Versailles’ scale legacy on the Irish Economy.

Irish Prime Minister (Taoiseach) Brian Cowen
A worried Brian Cowen, Ireland’s Prime Minister

Sheep Thieves influenced by market trends

It is very rare that the Financial Times makes me laugh, but this weekend’s edition induced a chuckle as I read the headline “Ram-raiders flock to rustle sheep as global trends shepherd in price rises.” It wasn’t so much the Sun-esque headline that grabbed my attention but the fact that farmers will have to be watching the markets to anticipate new trends in the activities of thieves. The FT’s North of England Correspondent, Andrew Bounds, explains: “The weak pound means many sheep are being exported, while traditional sellers such as New Zealand are struggling with drought and sending what lambs they do have to newly wealth Asia. This is helping push up prices at home.”

As prices are pushed up, stealing sheep becomes more profitable. The same happens when commodity prices such as steel rise. In such instances theives have stolen manhole covers.

Lying sheep
Sheep Raiding is at a 10 year high

A round up of the Welsh Business News

Christmas is on its way and many shoppers are holding off for a bargain in the early sales. But Director of St. Davids Mall, Steven Madaley, has warned retailers won’t be slashing prices before the official post-Christmas sales. The higher rate of VAT is to come in this January, encouraging pre-Christmas buying.

Don’t bank on pre-Christmas sales, warns centre director

The Welsh Assembly Government has announced a consultation session on the future of the banking system as the Independent Commission on Banking (ICB) comes to Wales next week. The ICB will be at the Pierhead in Cardiff Bay on December 8 to debate and hear evidence.

Have a say on banking system

Other Cardiff Related Business News:

Languages needed to boost exports

Biotech firm makes acquisition

Doubts over Cardiff Bay plan for sector aid to companies

More next week.

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The BBC dosen’t tell the full story about China

Cardiff Business News

The Cardiff Business community heard how BBC coverage of UK trade with China does not show the full picture at a business event in Cardiff earlier tonight.

Over one hundred people attending the event organised by the Cardiff Confucius Institute heard from business leaders who are currently operating in with the world’s fastest growing economy.

Representatives from leading Welsh Businesses presented case studies and success stories of working China, dispelling claims in the UK media that a trade imbalance was desperately in favour of the world’s fastest growing economy, which saw its GDP increase by 8.7% last year.

Stewart Ferguson of CBBC, the China Britain Business Council, challenged reports from BBC’s business editor Robert Peston who said Chinese exports to the UK were three times the figure for imports.

In an article on the BBC website earlier this month Mr Peston said: “In 2009 we sold £8.7bn of tangibles and intangibles to China, and we bought three times as much, £25.8bn, from the Chinese,” he says.

“Although over 10 years our sales of goods and services to China have increased by a seemingly healthy 4.6 times, imports have risen by a far greater multiple, 6.6 times.”

Mr Ferguson said although this was true, there were other contributions to the UK economy from China such as £2bn per year coming from Chinese students in China.

He added there are 4,000 British enterprises in China, while UK based accountancy firms dominate the Chinese market and as over 150m Chinese residents are expected to flock to the cities over the next ten years demand could grow for UK goods and services.

Responsible Business: Interview with Business in the Community director Simon Harris

Cardiff Business News

Just two days ago the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) reviewed the figure of public sector job losses down from 490,000 announced by George Osborne in the CSR last month to 330,000. Despite this good news, both the public and private sector will suffer as a result of government spending cuts.


(Mr Harris at his office in Cardiff)

In these austere times as public sector contracts dry up and the banks refuse to lend, many business leaders will look to streamline their operations to save money and retain staff where possible.

Meanwhile globalisation has enabled companies to outsource to emerging markets like China or India and cut corners where possible to trim their budgets.

But as cutbacks are made, will responsible business practices suffer?

Sitting in his BiTC office boardroom, Mr Simon Harris, told me this is not necessarily the case.

When asked whether businesses were less likely to invest in responsible and sustainable business projects Mr Harris said:

“This is a particularly important time to focus on responsible business practice.”

“Our argument is that to separate yourself out as a business from the rest you need to look at how you are different from the rest.”

“In the retail sector consumers are becoming more aware of where their food comes from and purchase fair trade goods, for example.”

“So, if a business can promote a very positive responsible attitude then there is a possibility that consumers would be more likely go for those businesses than those that aren’t.”

“There is evidence that business leaders across the UK see responsible business practices as being key to their strategic development within the next few years.”

Mr Harris did, however, admit the CSR and public spending cuts could affect operations of the BiTC.

“With reference to the BiTC, as it does receive funds from the WAG, it will be difficult to renew some of the programmes we are running,” Harris said.

“In terms of the private sector if there is a continued or double dip recession it could be more difficult for them.”

Mr Harris said he was hopeful projects such as working in schools and exposing business leaders through projects such as “Seeing is Believing,” would help promote responsible business practices.

In as the recession continues it remains to be seen how business practices will react to tighter budgets and and a contraction in the public sector.

Applications open tomorrow for the BiTC flagship awards the Wales Recognition Awards 2011.

BiTC is a UK based business-led charity, which seeks to promote responsibility in the workplace, marketplace, community and the environment and it is a member of The Prince’s Charities. It’s headquarters are in London.

The Beauty of Data

Cardiff Media Blogs

The word ‘data’ may not conjure the image of a Madonna and Child, but with a bit of manipulation, numbers and facts can be made into something beautiful.

Although numbers, formula, tables and graphs may sound uninspiring, we don’t live in a world of colourless information.

We all use data, and people are not colourless.

Politicians, monitoring bodies, health organisations, charities, businesses, the media and individuals alike, we all use data in some shape or form, often to inform us of trends and to make decisions.

Data can be used creatively to explain, enlighten, educate and improve. It is as vital to journalism as it is to business.

Data is powerful. It can be used to encrypt secretive information, it can open up access to people and reveal the practices and decisions of those in power. CD’s with data can fetch hundreds of thousands of pounds and can bring down politicians, just as in the expenses scandal in 2009.

This is a typical example of how the Guardian visualises data in its newspaper – in this case showing the MP expenses dataset.

But with the expansion of the internet, the uncontrolled influx of data can often be overwhelming. It can present a great challenge to journalists, as their primary task is being shifted from obtaining data to dressing it up for the consumer. The task of the journalist becomes as much about aesthetics as it is about raw data, as more people have access to information, we should bear in mind that the audience wants to be entertained as well as informed.

Online tools like Wordle can help in this process. This tool can dress up the Wikipedia entry for ‘data’ making it more aesthetically appealing, while it informs the audience of the nature of data.

Wordle: data

But let’s take a more recent example: the wikileaks revelation of various US diplomatic cables known as ‘cablegate.’

The guardian website has an interactive guide to the leaks. The information presented up in an accessible and interactive way, allowing the user to search through the data in an interactive map, allowing us to navigate to the information we want.

As data becomes more widely available, surely there will be a greater need for data specific journalism. Data presentation skills will become more important than ever and with it the apt use of online tools such as Wordle, Many Eyes, Facutal, Swivel, Socrata, Verifiable.com, Google Fusion Tables, Widgenie, iCharts, Chart Tool, Open Heat Maps, Fusion Charts, Excel, Google Docs and Yahoo pipes.

Of course data can be manipulated and it is the job of the journalist to identify where PR wallpaper is covering the cracks in any political system.

Data is the journalist’s companion, together they can inform, educate, warn and criticise.

It may just take a while for a new relationship to flourish in the new online environment.

Will Lewis: Times of Change

Cardiff Business News, Cardiff Media Blogs

Times may be changing in the media business, but is The Times changing the business of media?

Will Lewis, the man who brought down scores of politicians by uncovering the expenses scandal with the Telegraph in 2009 and famously broke the Exxon merger with Mobil at the Financial Times in 1999 addressed the Cardiff Business Club. at St. David’s Hotel and Spa in Cardiff Bay last night.

The former Editor-in-Chief at Telegraph Media and current Group General Manager at News International, which owns The Times newspaper, outlined some of the fast-moving changes taking place in the newspaper industry, sharing some of his experiences with the Cardiff business community. He said:

The last five years has seen the digital ecosystem evolve. It offers a real opportunity.

News International, the publishing arm of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, has been in the spotlight recently as being one of the few news organisations to introduce a paywall for its Times newspaper. According to News Corp the paper has sold 105,000 digital products since they were launched five months ago, although around half of these are monthly subscriptions.

But in his speech last night, Mr Lewis defended the paywall saying there were many changes facing his industry.

He said the rise of search facilities, broadband, iphones, ipads, quality websites and applications have changed the way we consume news encouraging a shift towards digital platforms, a trend accelerated by the rising cost of paper.

There is a change imperative for newspapers.

Mr Lewis said there needs to be more customer contact while branding will play an important role in determining where people choose to consume their news, even on an international basis. “Let’s not restrict content to our shores,” he said.

He hinted many newspapers were not adapting to change quick enough, saying the news industry needs to move away from a strategy of damage limitation.

More of the same is not a recipe for growth.

At a tough time for newspapers Mr Lewis challenged the news industry: “We need to back ourselves to bet on ourselves.”

The paywall issue has been raging over the past few months, with many of the major newspaper outlets holding different opinions about online business models. The Guardian, for example, secures its online revenue base from advertising.

But as the pawyall concept is relatively new it is still unclear whether The Times’ “charge ahead” will pay off or not.

The Cardiff Business Club is a business membership group, which invites with guests of international standing in business, law, politics and other areas to speak on a monthly basis.

Serving the people

Cardiff Media Blogs

Journalists may enjoy the thrill of racing the clock to break a story, rising to the challenge to be creative in the space of a few inches of newspaper, breathing life into the mundane or even attracting people’s attention with pictures.

But is that what journalism is really all about?

Is it not about serving people?

Joanna Geary a social media guru at the Times challenged trainee journalists at Cardiff University to write down their reasons for chosing journalism as a career, providing an uneasy moment for those whose job is to ask questions rather than answer them.

“It’s not about us getting the story,” says Geary, it’s about the audience.

In fact, its not about getting your name in print, or attracting any sort of reader, but meeting their needs of people. Newspapers who look down on their readers can have no hope of ever succeeding as a business.

As the internet is changing the news-scape, users now have more control than ever before. Audiences can challenge journalists and pitch their own ideas. A community forms and people that care about an issue are forged together, forming a niche area where people can collaborate.

So as and where communities form, journalists must interact with them. These audiences have news ‘needs’ and ‘wants’. And now, thanks to the internet, they can communicate directly with the content provider to express their appetite for news. Anyone reading this, for example, can leave a comment or write to me on twitter.

But if editorial staff play to the ‘wants’ of people to attract more views could, however, lead to myopic news values. Will news shrink entirely to the tune of its readership?

Have a look and see what the most popular stories are now on the BBC’s counter. The most popular videos on youtube contain Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga – an indicator of what people want. Let’s hope newspapers don’t give in to online peer pressure as revenues crumble.

Obviously there is a necessity to attract an audience, as audiences bring revenue. But as there is so much choice on the internet, does it mean news sites becomes more about a brand than news per se?

Let’s take a hypothetical situation:

I am a businessman and so I am interested in business news, changes in government policy and anything that might affect my business. I could go to any number of outlets or news sites. But I will decide to go to one that I am familiar with. I will go to a source that I can trust and with whom I share news and/or political values. I choose the Times online.

I used to enjoy this source for free. But unfortunately now I have to pay for it because of a paywall.

The leads me to a crucial question:

Is the Times business news so unique and useful that I will not go anywhere else to find out what is happening in the business world? Do I trust the journalists and enjoy their writing style, find their analysis helpful and understand the way they present data? This is what you might call added-value journalism.

News in the future could well be based on brand, reliability, but also about online relationships. I am much more likely to read a news site that listens, interacts and cares about my business needs.

A news outlet will need to have a pre-defined model, niche strategy and brand. For if it does not, I will simply take my business elsewhere.

It poses a great challenge to journalists: be informed, inform, be reliable and accurate, be trustworthy, listen, serve your audience and interact.

Is it possible to be and do all these things?

With a smart use of technology, a solid grasp of social networking, such as the use of Twitter for tip offs but still hold onto the fundamental skills of journalism of robust tradecraft, strategy, good contacts and accuracy it is still humanly possible do all of these.

It’s about building a personal brand and serving people.

Q & A: What does the Draft Budget mean for Wales?

Cardiff Business News

It has been called the biggest challenge to the WAG since the advent of devolution. But what is the budget and what does it actually mean for the people of Wales?

What is the Draft Budget?

It is a draft of spending plans for Wales over the next three years. Each year the WAG is allocated funding, for example, £13.5bn was set aside for revenue spending and £1.2bn for capital spending in 2011-12.

Why is it important?

The draft budget outlines the amount of expenditure available to government departments, including Health and Social Services, Social Justice and Local Government, Economy and Transport, Environment Sustainability and Housing, Rural affairs, Heritage, Public Services and Performance and Central Services and Administration. There will be cuts to all of these sectors, which will lead to departmental cost cutting measures including possible redundancies.

How much and what is going to be cut?

The total capital expenditure, that is, the amount available for building projects such as schools, roads and hospitals will be cut by around 33% over the next four years.

captial

Meanwhile the total revenue expenditure, which relates to running costs such as salaries, will be cut by around 7%, meaning the total budget will be cut by 40% over the next three years.

revenue change

Source WAG draft budget

What has been saved?

There will still be free breakfasts for children at school, free prescriptions for those on low incomes, concessionary travel for the elderly and disabled and free swimming.

What will the spending cuts mean for the private sector?

While the draft budget gives an indication of how cuts will be administered to the public sector, there will also be ramifications for the private sector.

impact

Cuts to the public sector will mean contracts to private companies will be curtailed as building projects are frozen, and this draft budget will no doubt concern businesses in Cardiff.

Ok, but it’s only a draft budget. When does it become official?

Assembly votes on the final budget on February 8.

The Draft Budget can be viewed in full on the Welsh Assembly Government website

The Source Guide: Business Blogs in Cardiff

Cardiff Business News

Businesses in Cardiff
A membership club for local businesses in Cardiff

A Blog for start-ups
A website offering advice to new start-up companies in Wales

South Wales Business News
Business from the South Wales area – written by four local entrepreneurs

Devolution Matters
A political blog on Wales

Wales Online Business News
News from the Business scene in Wales

Save the Basics

Cardiff Media Blogs

News may be changing – but the basic skills of journalism are not.

Rory Cellan-Jones, a Business Journalist who started out at Wales Online in 1983, told JOMEC students about the fast changes taking place in the news industry last week.

Despite unprecedented changes to the news industry, he said the core skill set in journalism will remain the same. The ability to to turn pieces around in a hurry and solid logistic skills with a thirst for accuracy are essential to the trade.

Added to this are the new pressures of being able to write for new platforms such as twitter, interacting with more readers online and understanding copyright law for the likes of flikr and facebook.

And just as we thought things were challenging enough, he said there must be an allowance to experiment with technology such as online video editing, audioboo, blogging and SEO.

Because a new relationship with technology means that we will now have a new relationship with the audience.

New technology and the democratisation of information may also have an effect on business and financial matters.

There is the possibility, for example, that sensitive financial information could be leaked onto the internet, which could in turn, affect share prices if the blogs prove to be trustworthy.

Mr Cellan-Jones also highlighted the fact that the status of Google as a non-involved media engine is continually being questioned.

The number for the charity group ‘Samaritans’ is shown when a search is made for the term ‘suicide’.

Google TV is a major new development that will change the way we consume visual media. People may no longer look to watch TV on channels, but snippets of their favourite show.

So as technology beings to blur the boundaries of journalism, the new generation of journalists must strive to focus on the basics, to save the trade from deterioration of hard news skills and to inform the world of what is going on in an accurate and balanced manner.