Irish

Thursday 21 August 2014

The least influential people in business

NICK WEBB and SHANE ROSS

Published 13/05/2007 | 00:00

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There's a list for almost everything now. Rich Lists, Power Lists and Pay Lists. But what about the Influence List? Or rather, the Lack of Influence List? Millions have been spent on state agencies and business groups that have all had the impact of a muffled cough. But now Nick Webb and Shane Ross reveal the least influential people and bodies, who play an almost minimal role in changing the face of the Irish economy and the world of business

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The National Building Agency

Click the link from the main government website. Welcome to something to do with Yosemite National Park in Colorado. Has anyone noticed?

The National Building Agency, which really does exist, was set up in 1960 to provide local authorities and state bodies with building and architectural advice. The last annual report published by the agency on its real website dates back to 2002. At least they do answer the phone.

Competition Authority

Is it any surprise that John Fingleton jumped ship to the UK's Office of Fair Trading?

The Competition Authority is essentially just a big gust of hot air. An overflowing in-tray in the investigations unit saw the first ever criminal trial with a home heating oil cartel busted in the West of Ireland. Wow. The Authority also blocked Kingspan's bolt-on purchase of Xtratherm.

The Competition Authority's biggest contribution in 2006 was for cock-up of the year, when it was forced to greenlight the Topaz deal for Statoil after getting its dates all mixed up. New Competition czar Bill Prasifka faces a tough job to mould the CA into something even slightly scary. First step might be to get a calendar.

IBEC

The big employers' group, chaired by Turlough O'Sullivan, must take the biscuit for being the least influential lobby group in Ireland. Its role is to capitulate. And IBEC fulfils the role to the letter.

IBEC (or I BEG as it is sometimes known) is the voice of the bankrupt semi-states, monopolies and the banks. It has done a fantastic job for the Government in barking loudly against high pay in the public service, benchmarking and inflationary wage agreements. Then, it never fails to come into tense social partnership talks, right on cue at the last minute, waving the white flag and costing its business members a small fortune in high wages.

IBEC will soon be given another chance to whinge and surrender. When the next benchmarking deal is done, the Government will click its fingers and the national lapdogs will roll over on their tummies in the face of public service demands.

The National Competitiveness Council

The NCC, chaired by Don Thornhill and peopled by Forfas bods or various social partners, produces mind-numbingly boring but worthy policy documents for the Department of An Taoiseach.

God help whoever has to read them. The last Annual Competitiveness Report was 130 pages long. Guess what it said?

Um ... Ireland is getting a bit less competitive and we really should do something about it.

Guess what the findings were of the 2005 Annual Competitiveness Report?

And the 2004 edition?

Has Ireland got any more competitive on the back of these hefty bodies of work? Nope. In fact, last week the IMD Global Competitiveness League showed that instead we'd slipped another three places to 14th.

Stock Market analysts

If a stockbroker is pitching for corporate business, it would certainly queer the patch if its analysts started to dump on prospective clients. Fortunately, investment banks wouldn't dream of pressuring their own analysts to toe the party line.

They don't really need to given that some analyst reports have absolutely no influence on share prices. Just last month Goodbody Stockbrokers' analyst Dr Ian Hunter upgraded pharma company Amarin to a "Buy" recommendation on the back of expectation for its so-called wonder drug Miraxion. Amarin was trading at about $3.09 when Hunter tagged it with a price target of $5.70. "The balance of probabilities, given what is known from the previous Miraxion trials, is that the drug will meet its endpoints," he told Goodbody clients.

Hours later, it emerged that Miraxion was a dud and the stock tanked. Less than a week later, Hunter was advising clients to sell the stock, when it traded at 83¢.

The IAVI

The Irish Auctioneers and Valuers Institute (IAVI), headed by Alan Cooke, is possibly the least influential of the lot. Nobody takes a blind bit of notice of its opinions on anything at all.

Everybody knows its guide prices were an inaccurate little fantasy; its disciplinary rules are so lax that even an Oireachtas full of auctioneers has been forced to move against self- regulation in the estate agents jungle.

The IAVI failed to put a brake on agents' malpractices such as gazumping, false bids at auctions, lack of transparency in sealed bids and misleading booking deposits. But the Commission on Auctioneering will soon make the IAVI redundant when it finally sets up a new body to police the agents. The IAVI will still be allowed its jollies to serious auctioneering conferences in such hotspots of hard work as Cannes and Nice

Irish Stock Exchange/ Financial Regulator

The stock exchange has reinvented itself as the centre of listing various funds and the Financial Regulator is doing sterling work with regard to consumer education.

But neither has made the slightest dent on murky dealing in the stock market.

There has only ever been one prosecution for insider dealing in the history of the State. Dunloe Ewart's Philip Byrne was cleared of all charges.

Recently UK watchdogs claimed that a share price jump following heavy trading at Iseq-listed Viridian one day before a takeover approach was announced had a trillion to one chance of happening. Kingspan complained of suspicious trading ahead of a major announcement. The regulator has received 50 cases of possible wrong doing.

Will we see somebody doing the "perp walk"? Don't hold your breath.

FAS

There is pretty much total employment in Ireland. We have the lowest unemployment rate in Europe. The latest Quarterly National Household Survey shows that 90,600 people are unemployed in Ireland.

Rody Molloy's FAS, meanwhile, receives about 11,000 per person in state funding or about 1bn (€870m in 2005). Could the State not give Snap Printing a couple of hundred grand to print off a few thousand CVs instead? Or build a couple of pool halls for those who couldn't be arsed working.

Standards in Public Office Commission

There are plenty of heavy-hitters on the commission, chaired by Justice Matthew Smith, including Emily O'Reilly and Comptroller and Auditor General John Purcell.

Er... do they ever read the papers?

Data Protection Commission

The Data Protection Commission ran a series of advertisements some time ago.

"Not everyone needs to know your business," according to the blurb. "The data protection commissioner is here to ensure that your personal details are kept personal.,They've certainly done a good job keeping their own light under a bushell. It'd be hard to pick out commissioner Billy Hawkes in a line-up. But can you believe that the office which costs about €1.4m per year to run has produced 17 annual reports?

In 2005, the office received a modest 300 complaints, largely to do with direct marketing and it secured a successful prosecution, with an offending company fining a total of 1,500 plus costs.

Regulators

Telecoms Regulator Mike Byrne only just escaped making it onto the list, after Communications Minister Noel Dempsey handed his office a legal big stick. Quick as a flash the local loop was unbundling.

Mobile phone costs are still pretty exorbitant and broadband rollout is treacle fast. But Energy Regulator Tom Reeves has had even less impact on the market.

One of Reeves's key briefs was to open up the market and trim down the ESB's shadow on the industry.

While the long-awaited all-Ireland market will theoretically exist from the autumn, it won't make a bit of difference to consumers for yonks. Gazprom, EDF and other global players have all been scared off the Irish market by the sheer clout of the ESB.

Will hiving off the grid from the power generation suddenly create competition? The jury is out on that one.

Does anyone know what the aviation regulator does?

NICK WEBB and SHANE ROSS

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