Last week the share price of RBS took another hit following the announcement by the chief executive, Ross McEwan, to set aside £3.6 billion for pension provisions and in anticipation of more miss-selling claims.
As a customer, I hate the diminution of service from RBS, such as the ending of personal telephone contact with one’s local branch and replacement by a call centre. On the other hand as a (modest) shareholder I should be encouraged by this example of cutting one’s cloth according to one’s means as the bank strives to regain liquidity.
But then again perhaps not. Last month the Daily Mail reported that RBS had paid the cigar-chomping, Nottingham Forest-supporting, former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Ken Clarke, the tidy sum of £10,000 to deliver a speech at a client dinner in Amsterdam.
A revelation that left me, well…..‘speechless’
True, Mr Clarke is an experienced politician, is still a high-profile MP, and, moreover, combining this with his well-known bonhomie no doubt makes him a first class after-dinner speaker.
However, for a company with the financial problems of RBS, ten grand for a speech may not have been the best move by whatever director approves such things.
True, in terms of the company’s overall marketing budget, this figure is no doubt peanuts but I wonder if it sends out the right signal when clearly the bank has some way to go before it returns to financial normality.
Meanwhile, speculation over interest rates continues apace with commentators no nearer agreement than they were this time last year as to when they will start to rise.
Last October, I had a fixed rate cash ISA come to an end, which led to a drop in annual interest from 4 per cent to a derisory 0.5 per cent which – had I held onto it – would now be further reduced to 0.25pc.
Uncharacteristically, however, I got off my backside and set about trying to find something better. The result was a two-year cash ISA from the AA paying 2.1pc – a return which, ten years ago, would have seemed pretty stingy but in today’s circumstances is somehow akin to the biblical golden calf.
With 24 months before maturity, I then put the ISA to the back of my mind until an e-mail from the AA came pinging into my inbox last week. The purpose of the alert was merely administrative but while in the home page of AA Financial Services, I noticed that last October’s 2.1pc had become 1.60pc for new savers.
So in just the barest of product statements I learned what specialist journalists and other financial pundits are taking thousands of words to tell us, which is that interest rates ain’t going to start rising any time soon.
Has Scotland inadvertently stumbled on a cure for obesity among children?
The question arises following a fascinating exhibition at Glasgow Science Centre, entitled Powering The Future, which in a manner both informative and entertaining, attempted to explain how ‘energy’ (in its many forms) works. For example, it showed in non-academic terms, what actually enables households to switch on their living room lights or motorists to start their car ignitions.
It was especially geared towards children by explaining the basics of energy while allowing them to have some fun. One exhibit comprised a Scalextric-type layout in which the model cars were powered not by controllers but hand-operated cranks which the kids had to physically turn to make their vehicles go faster.
Even more tellingly were the computers powered not by electricity but by bicycle-type pedals and chain.
It is often said too many children have abandoned the football and rugby field, the cricket pitch and the tennis court in favour of staying in their bedrooms where they are glued to laptop or tablet screens for hours on end.
This not only deprives them of one of the essentials of growing up but creates problems for both them (and society) in the future when they turn into porky adults.
So perhaps the self-powered equipment at the exhibition should be looked at as more than just educational tools. They could be remodelled for mass production – both to give the kids some exercise while spending time ‘online’ and as a means of reducing the attraction of computer games and encouraging their users to get their exercise outdoors in the fresh air.
Back in the days when I were a lad and the subject of ancient history came up in school text books, the class was all of the same mind – the Greeks were the goodies and their enemy, the Persians, the baddies.
And our opinions (prejudices?) were confirmed by the 1960’s blockbuster, The 300 Spartans, starring Hollywood heart-throb Richard Egan as King Leonidas, whose tiny force made a valiant last stand against the might of the Persian war machine at the battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC.
More than 2,500 years later, following the downfall of the Shah and the creation of an Islamic republic, Persia (now called Iran), once again was looked upon with suspicion by the West.
But now, after years of sometimes fraught negotiations, Iran has come in from the cold following the recent agreement which, or so it is claimed, will prevent that country manufacturing its own nuclear weapons.
Last week Iranian big wigs were in France to sign a trade deal with President Hollande but for all the new-found aura of friendship and co-operation, the Iranians still gave the impression of being a ‘funny lot’ – and I don’t mean ‘funny ha-ha’ either.
Invited to lunch, the visitors refused to attend on the grounds that wine would be served even though they were, of course, perfectly at liberty to stick to soft drinks or water. This seems at odds with the habit of Western politicians, on official visits to Middle Eastern regimes with strict Islamic laws, who happily accept the absence of alcohol out of respect for their hosts.
Still, no sooner had the nuclear deal with Iran been signed than Alex Salmond was leading an SNP mission to Teheran which managed to secure an agreement to exchange trade delegations in the spring.
So good on Eck for being so quick off the mark and let’s hope it leads to a sales boost for some Scottish firms. Sadly, those companies responsible for producing Scotland’s greatest export of all will not be holding their breath in anticipation of an upsurge in orders.