Cantillon

Tue, Nov 2, 2010, 00:00

Inside the world of business

The strange defence of Anglo’s Tom Browne

THE DEFENCE adopted by former Anglo Irish Bank director Tom Browne, who headed up its Irish lending division until his departure in late 2007, against the bank’s attempts to recover loans of €50 million is somewhat odd.

He has claimed that the bank and various State agencies lost him part of his fortune and now he cannot repay his loans to the bank.

In a letter to Anglo last January, he said: “As a result of negligent actions and omissions by the bank and State bodies from the latter part of 2007 until January 2009, resulting in the nationalisation of the bank, I (like others) have suffered substantial loss and damage resulting from the dissipation and extinguishment of my shareholding in the bank and, in turn, the bank’s security, and a corresponding increase in my personal exposure to the bank.”

He didn’t deny he owed Anglo money but said: “If the then board of the bank and State bodies had not engaged in certain courses of action, I (like many others) have no doubt but that the bank would still be a publicly quoted company and that my shareholding would be of material present and future value to me and, in turn, the bank.”

Browne failed to mention his role in growing the Irish loan book so rapidly from 2005 to 2007, which has led to most of its losses.

His letter drew a frank response from Anglo chief executive Mike Aynsley who told Browne that his claims were “a deliberate attempt to try to detract from your own personal indebtedness to the bank”.

“Many internal and external factors led to the nationalisation of the bank,” wrote Aynsley. Browne held a senior job in Anglo before he left in 2007, Aynsley told him; “as such you had and have responsibility for the activities of the bank during your tenure,” he said.

Court filings show that Browne owes a further €15 million – on top of his Anglo debts – to AIB, Bank of Ireland, National Irish Bank, Bank of Scotland (Ireland) and Ulster Bank. So he has responsibilities elsewhere as well.

Ryanair’s game of chicken

Ryanair used results’ briefings in Dublin and London yesterday to reiterate its call for the €10 air travel tax here to be scrapped and airport charges to be lowered.

In Britain, chief executive Michael O’Leary told analysts: “We continue to campaign with the Irish Government to scrap the damaging tourist tax and break up the failed DAA monopoly.” In Dublin, his deputy Michael Cawley claimed Minister for Tourism Mary Hanafin is “very much in favour of it , as is Tourism Ireland”.

This might have exaggerated her position slightly but, hey, that’s Ryanair for you.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Tourism said the matter was “subject to ongoing discussions in relation to the framing of the upcoming budget” and referred Cantillon to answers given in the Dáil recently by Hanafin on the issue. “I am concerned about the potential for the tax to affect the competitiveness and viability of air routes to Ireland,” she said last month. “From a purely tourism perspective, it would be preferable not to have an air travel tax.

“However, I appreciate that the Minister for Finance considers it to be an important revenue-raising measure . . . I am quite happy to continue my discussions with the Minister for Finance but I would need to know from Ryanair what we will get in return.”

At its annual meeting in October, Ryanair published a detailed plan on how it could bring one million extra tourists to the country. But this was predicated on airport passenger charges in Dublin and Shannon being cut sharply, as well as the travel tax being axed.

What happens to Ryanair’s plan if the Government scraps the travel tax but passenger charges remain at their current levels? “It won’t happen if the DAA’s price increase is allowed to stay. We have got to get the airport charges down,” Cawley said.

Airport charges fall under the remit of Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey. In a statement yesterday, he said he would not be making public his views on the air travel tax in advance of the budget. Airport charges, he added, were “a matter for the DAA”.

The game of chicken goes on.

Setting a standard

Before recession put the brakes on all non-core issues, corporate social responsibility was the concept corporate Ireland adopted to show it cared. Precisely how and for what was often unclear. But it sounded good, even if the more cynical assumed it was just another way to spin a positive profile and boost profits.

Now, the National Standards Authority of Ireland, together with Geneva-based International Standards Organisation (ISO), has launched the world’s first standard on social responsibility. ISO 26000:2010, Guidance on Social Responsibility, was developed by representatives from more than 80 countries worldwide, including Ireland, and “will assist organisations in their efforts to operate in the socially responsible manner”.

The new standard encompasses issues in seven broad areas: human rights, labour practices, the environment, fair operating practices, consumer issues and community involvement and development. The usual suspects such as preventing pollution, avoiding corruption and fair marketing practices are there, but the question remains – just how do you measure goodness?

And that’s the rub. ISO 26000 does not contain “requirements”. So vague is it, despite 118 pages of detail, that the ISO warns firms cannot claim to be certified as socially responsible under its title. Plus ça change.

Today

The Department of Finance will publish exchequer returns for the month of October this afternoon, giving the Government a better feel for the requirements of the budget.

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