Monday 22 January 2018

Branson urges social change - and isn't keen on water bills

Mary Moloney, CEO of Koderdojo, left, and Naomi Moore, CEO of Windmill Lane Recording Studio, listen to Richard Branson speaking at the RDS Photo: Colin Keegan
Mary Moloney, CEO of Koderdojo, left, and Naomi Moore, CEO of Windmill Lane Recording Studio, listen to Richard Branson speaking at the RDS Photo: Colin Keegan
John Mulligan

John Mulligan

Billionaire Richard Branson has called on businesses and individuals to play a bigger role in driving social change - and said he would think twice about paying a water charge.

In a blaze of publicity, the Virgin boss rolled into Dublin yesterday to launch the rebranding of TV, telephone and broadband firm UPC as Virgin Media. In the UK, Virgin Media is owned by US firm Liberty Global, which also owns UPC.

The outspoken businessman - who founded the Virgin brand over 40 years ago - promised that the deal was much more than just a name change.

"It's literally a transformation. It's about working with a business that's already world-class and making it a world beater," he said.

UPC has about 500,000 customers in Ireland. It will also launch Virgin Mobile on Monday and is offering the service to its existing customers for free for the first three months.

But while Mr Branson was in town for the rebrand, he was also eager to give his views on a range of topics from water charges to the minimum wage.


In an interview with the Irish Independent, he said that "ideally" water should generally be available free of charge to people - a view certain to bolster those strongly opposed to the controversial charge here.

"I'm sure I would fight my corner like everybody else," he said, asked if he would pay a water bill if it landed through his letterbox.

Mr Branson - famous for his environmentalism and desire to drive social change across the world - also said that the minimum wage can help to lift people out of poverty traps.

During the summer, the Low Wage Commission here said the minimum wage should be raised by 50c an hour to €9.15. The wage hasn't been changed since 2007.

But some businesses - especially those in the hospitality trade - believe an increase could have a severely negative impact on their operations.

"Generally speaking, a decent minimum wage is something worth striving for," he said.

"Obviously, individual countries have to work out whether or not that could affect unemployment or not.

"So you just don't want to tip the balance to the extent that you're actually going to end up not having companies not taking people on because you've set the level too high."

Mr Branson added: "By and large, I think that giving people the decency of making sure that they have a roof over their heads and can get proper food and travel to and from work and hopefully have something left over is very important."

The entrepreneur also said that everyone, including businesses, have a role to play in making the world a better place.

"I don't think it's just governments," he said. "It's the responsibility of business, business people and entrepreneurs to play a big part in addressing all kinds of grievances in countries. If you leave it to governments, certain things get solved, but business can play a big role."

Mr Branson was in Africa three weeks ago to see solar panels being installed on homes there. He said about 600 million people there have no electricity, adding: "I saw a 79-year-old man turn on a light bulb for the first time in his house.

"He said that it may be a bit too late for him, but for his granddaughter, she'll be able to do her homework at night time and his grandson will be able to plug in his mobile phone and that might hopefully get him some work."

Irish Independent

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