So, it’s not going to be T-Orange after all, then. T-Mobile and Orange have resisted the temptation of the obvious and have decided to run in a completely different direction, calling their joint venture everything, everywhere – perhaps a slightly hyperbolic name for a mobile company, even if it is the largest one in the UK, and one which appears something of a mouthful in comparison to the available competition (it has more syllables than the three other network operators put together).
Its ‘vision’ includes a single ‘super-network’ giving ‘unsurpassed coverage and capacity’ for customers (though 3 might take issue with this bit), and at a lesser impact on the environment. Few details are as yet available other than that the company will seek to combine both the Orange and T-Mobile networks and, by cutting out duplication, reduce the number of stations and sites that the company uses (which currently stand at some 27,000). Nevertheless, how this network looks, and operates, is a vitally important consideration not least given the terms on which the JV was approved (i.e. the guarantees given to 3; and the sale of spectrum). The company has, however, confirmed that all four of the companies served by the network (including both 3 and Virgin Mobile) will run on a common infrastructure.
The new company claims a customer base of more than 30 million people – ‘over half of the UK adult population’ (I can’t recall the companies trumpeting this sort of statistic while the regulators were looking at the proposed JV: funny, that!) and its press release helpfully breaks these down into pre-paid and contract mobile customers and Orange’s fixed network (the management of which was outsourced last month to BT) – so would seem to incorporate the potential for some double-counting.
The merged company will have 16,500 employees – 2,500 fewer than they had when the JV was announced seven months ago – and is, according to the same report, seeking savings of some £3.5bn by 2014 in shared infrastructure, technology and in the savings resulting from job cuts.
Not everything, everywhere for everyone, then.
The Pensions Protection Fund published the PPF7800 Index today for the end of April, showing the state of health of the 7,400 pension schemes under its supervision.
The Index is currently showing a small net deficit, of £2.2bn, reversing March’s small surplus (£0.3bn). Given the growing turmoil in currency markets during April associated with the financial and economic situation in Greece and other small EU countries, something which was only capped this week with the agreement between EU finance ministers, a drop of the Index back into negative territory is not surprising but the small-scale nature of the drop was a surprise, and a particularly welcome one.
Some 69% of schemes were in deficit this month, more or less the same as the 68.5% in March, which seems to support the view that the picture is, essentially, little changed. Evidently, this remains an uncomfortable proportion of schemes in deficit, even if the overall net balance of assets and liabilities lends the view that the average scheme is not all that much in deficit. The total assets of these schemes reached £913bn, a drop of 0.2% over the month and an increase of 18.2% since April 2009; total liabilities stood at £915bn, a small increase on the month but a drop on the £961bn recorded in April 2009.
During April, the value of both assets and liabilities deteriorated, the latter by more than the former (hence the drop of the net figure into negative territory). Over the year as a whole, rising stock markets have added 16.4% to pension scheme assets, while rising bond yields have added only marginally to liabilities.
So, overall the picture continues to be encouraging, although the change in the actuarial assumptions underpinning the calculation of the Index in October last year continues to affect the figures. Caution remains necessary – pension schemes are far from out of the woods just yet.
In an announcement somewhat overshadowed by EU finance ministers’ agreement on a €500bn package for member states with solvency problems and to provide support to the euro as a currency, as well as in the UK by the will they-won’t they tea dance going on in Whitehall as I write, former European Commissioner Mario Monti has presented a report to current EU President, Jose Manual Barroso, on a new strategy and direction for the EU’s single market.
Monti was commissioned to write the report back in October 2009, and its aim is to motivate a renewed political determination around the concepts of the EU’s single market and to provide a fresh impetus for the principles which underpin it. What seems to be high up in the Commission’s thinking is the need to assess the state of play in the single market in time for the 20th anniversary of its establishment, in 1992, while the context is also clearly rooted in fears for the direction and commercial success of the EU associated with any retreat into economic nationalism arising from national-level responses to the economic and financial crisis. The report will be the basis for a Commission initiative to relaunch the Single Market as a key strategic objective and, following internal discussion, the Commission will emerge with a ‘balanced, broad and fair’ vision of what the single market should look like in the future some time in July.
This is a hugely significant report and the timing of the announcement of the publication could not be worse (though this is unlikely to inhibit a serious discussion in time of the report’s focus). The thrust of the Monti report is that a system of national regulators sees to it that the EU ‘falls short of its commercial promise‘ in the communications and e-commerce areas, and that the response should be for the EU to have stronger powers over national regulators. Some of the conclusions – for example on an EU-wide spectrum licencing regime – look somewhat behind the play given the round of advanced spectrum auctions which have been concluded in the Netherlands and in the Nordic countries, and are currently well underway in Germany. But what looks inescapable is Monti’s views on the need for a revision of regulation in the communications sector so as to create an EU-wide market for electronic and communications and to drive the growth of Europe’s digital economy.
Given the recent conclusion (in 2009) to the last round of revision of telecoms regulation at EU level, the sigh of ‘here we go again’ is equally inescapable. Nevertheless, this is a report that will need serious consideration, both in terms of its political significance as well as in terms of the impact of the measures that it proposes will have on workers in the sector.