Friday, October 29, 2010

India economic ties get British PMO priority

S Kalyana Ramanathan / London October 29, 2010

Following Prime Minister David Cameron’s visit to India in July, his office is seeking a monthly report on the progress in strengthening the bilateral economic relationship. This is possibly the first time the PM’s office is asking for a monthly progress report on the UK’s business relationship with a particular country.

The report has been sought from UK Trade and Investment (UKTI), a government body that helps British companies trade internationally and assists foreign ones to bring investment here.

Though the details of this report are not available, a good part of it will come from the UK India Business Council, the lead organisation in this regard. UKIBC is financially supported by UKTI.

Confirming this, a spokesperson for UKTI said, “The PM has placed great emphasis on our relationship with India, and the visit in July was only the beginning. He, and the coalition government (here), are clear that this was not a flash in the pan, and that sustained effort and commitment will be needed to build a wide-ranging relationship for the 21st century.”

Adding: “The Prime Minister, therefore, takes a continued interest in the ongoing engagements with India, and we ensure he is fully and appropriately apprised of these. He is very keen to see that this renewed focus and effort translates into real results for UK and Indian businesses.”

India focus
The present coalition government, since it got into power in May, has been stressing on stronger economic ties between Britain and India. In the Queens’s address to the two Houses of Parliament on May 25, India was the only country mentioned in terms of Britain’s bilateral relations. The Queen’s Speech (delivered to the first session of Parliament each year), written by the government, said, “My government looks forward to an enhanced partnership with India.” India was also the first emerging market Cameron visited after becoming PM.

Since September, UKIBC has also got a new CEO, Richard Heald, formerly vice-chairman of Rothschild India, who has pledged to improve economic ties with India.

During the 13-year Labour government that ended in May, the economic relationship with India fell. In the past 10 years, Britain has slipped from being India’s fourth biggest source of imports to the 18th position. Foreign direct investment from Britain into India has fallen steadily in the past five years, though India Inc was aggressively active in Britain during this period.

As part of an effort to boost economic ties, UKIBC has identified six segments to work on. These includes skills & vocations, retail & supply chains, infrastructure, advanced engineering, health & life science and digital control.

Earlier this week, addressing a gathering of business leaders at the CBI annual conference, Cameron reiterated his stance on India. “Last year, the share of UK exports to China and India was just 3.2 per cent. Indeed, the UK exports more to Ireland than to Brazil, Russia, India and China – combined. These are shocking figures,” he said.

Life-saver at Euro airports from Indian innovator

S Kalyana Ramanathan / London October 29, 2010

Kromek, the Durham (UK)-based technology company founded and headed by Kolkata-born Arnab Basu, has received the official European Union certification to provide its colour x-ray liquid detection system to all European airports.

By April 2011, liquid items will be allowed on board if the appropriate security measures are in place at the airports concerned. The results of the European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC)-led trials prove the technology is ready to allow the 2011 regulatory deadline to be met by the airports. By April 2013, the ban will be lifted completely, allowing the carriage of liquids on flights across Europe.

The company is also in talks with the Indian civil aviation sector and hopes to have the the new product in place at Indian airports by the first quarter of next year. Kromek’s bottle scanner has qualified as a Category-B device (scan every single bottle without opening), that has achieved Type-1 (lower threshold to detecting threats) and Type-2 (higher threshold) 100 per cent capability and been officially tested, verified and authorised by ECAC. As of now, all EU airports are free to buy and implement Kromek’s bottle scanner product. The product, from drawing board to its final version, took a little over two years and was developed by a team of 55 at Kromek. It can handle up to the size of a two-litre Coke bottle and by itself measures three-fourth of a metre by three-fourth of a metre.

Next-gen technology
“It’s a significant milestone for Kromek, as the approved listing is vindication that colour x-ray detection has been proven,” said Arnab Basu, CEO. “The next generation of X-ray technology has arrived, with a market-ready machine that can detect liquid threats.” He said though Kromek was essentially a tech company, it had also rolled out a manufacturing strategy, with the setting up of a 25,000-sq ft production facility at Durham to produce up to 5,000 units of the new bottle scanner. Kromek’s revolutionary technology signals a new era in colour x-ray detection and a market-changing development in aviation security.

“The threat from liquid, aerosol and gel-based explosives became apparent in August 2006, following discovery of a plot to use such devices aboard multiple transatlantic flights. Although Kromek had not set out to produce such equipment, we were quick to realise with our capabilities that we had the versatility to produce a solution for this market need,” said Basu.

Kromek, he says, is planning to soon announce a similar breakthrough in cancer detection technology. “We see ourselves as a life saving and life enhancing technology provider,” he added.

SBI readies for retail push in UK

S Kalyana Ramanathan / London October 28, 2010

Targets the 1.1-million NRI/PIO market, to begin with home mortgages.

Targeting a market of 1.1 million people of Indian origin and non-resident Indians in the UK, the local branch of India’s largest public sector bank, State Bank of India, is preparing for a big push in mortgages (housing loans) within the retail banking segment.

A full rollout of the products will be completed by March 2011 and the UK branch of SBI will be adding three branches over the existing seven to push its retail agenda. With this, SBI will take on local heavyweights in the mortgage segment such as HSBC, Barclays, NatWest, Lloyds and RBS.

Apart from addressing the local mortgage market among NRIs, the bank also proposes to offer a suite of mutual fund (MF) products from its own stable and from other MFs in India.

SBI UK’s CEO and regional head, Rajnish Kumar, said despite the presence of several large Indian banks in the UK, the penetration among NRIs was less than 10 per cent. The estimated net worth of NRIs and people of Indian origin in the UK is £50-60 billion.

Of SBI’s seven branches in the UK, four are in London and one each in Birmingham, Manchester and Leicester. Three new branches at Newham (London), Wolverhampton and Coventry and an additional 30 people will be added to the existing 150 to enable the retail push.

The bank is also hiring a new head of retail to oversee this operation. SBI tested its ability to address the retail market in the UK with savings and fixed deposit accounts and got some 6,000 customers over the past year. Kumar said with fresh push in the retail segment, he hoped to take this to at least 15,000 customers over the next year.

A similar retail push is planned in other foreign branches in the US, Canada and Hong Kong, though the offerings will vary depending on the local demand.

SBI UK has until now focused on wholesale banking, with strong presence in syndicating external commercial borrowings and trade finance for imports from the UK into India. “After investing in core banking technology over the last five years, we are now ready to service a larger customer base in the retail sector in the UK,” Kumar said.

BS People: Dheeraj Hinduja Twin edge

S Kalyana Ramanathan / October 26, 2010

The elevation of Dheeraj Hinduja, 39, as the new chairman marks a new beginning for Ashok Leyland, India's second-oldest and second-largest truck maker. As the third generation Hinduja takes charge, R J Shahaney, who had been with the company for more than three decades, of which he was the chairman for 13, exits. Ashok Leyland has been the runner-up in the Indian truck and bus market for far too long with little sign of closing in on Tata. Insiders believe that HInduja could be the man to change that.

His colleagues say he sticks to his family principle and allows the CEOs of group companies to deal with the day-to-day affairs, but is keen to know what the companies are up to. Based in London, he visits India at least once every six to eight weeks. “He does not believe in surprise visits, but keeps himself updated constantly. His interaction is strictly with the CEOs of the company,” says a Hinduja Group executive.

The next phase in Ashok Leyland will be crucial. For the first time, the company, which has been a leader in the heavy segment, will take on overall market leader Tata Motors with an entry into smaller trucks (3-7 tonnes) with its joint venture with Nissan. An automotive industry lobbyists says Hinduja was Shahaney’s understudy for the last three years as the co-chairman.

He has spent more than a decade and a half at strategic and leadership levels, covering a variety of businesses such as automotive, energy, infrastructure, finance & banking, IT & ITES, media and healthcare. He holds BSc (Hons) from the University College, London, and an MBA from the Imperial College, London. He is married with two children.

David Cameron sends mixed signals on immigration

S Kalyana Ramanathan / London October 26, 2010

UK Prime Minister David Cameron today assured the country’s business leaders that even though his government was committed to bringing immigration to a manageable level, his government’s forthcoming policies would allow smooth flow of talent into the country.

Speaking at the annual conference of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), Cameron said: “...let me give you this assurance, as we control our borders and bring immigration to a manageable level, we will not impede you from attracting the best talent from around the world.”

In less than five months into the government, this assurance from the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition government comes on the back of a pre-election promise that the new government would set a cap on non-EU immigration into the UK.

In June this year, the coalition government had announced an annual cap on immigration from non-EU countries into the UK that would be limited to 24,100, or five per cent less than last year’s.

It was also assured that this was a temporary policy. Permanent limits on non-EU economic migration routes was then said to be decided and put in place by April 1, 2011. The new government has been in consultation with businesses on the details of how the final limit would be delivered, details of which would be available by the end of the first quarter next year.

Reacting to Cameron’s assurance, CBI Director-General Richard Lambert said: “It was encouraging that he encompassed all parts of the economy, from broadband to ports and from transport to energy. He also made it clear that access to finance and immigration would not be barriers.”

Cameron also reiterated his government’s commitment to partner with India (and China) in developing stronger economic ties. “I believe one of the most important things the government can do is drive trade. Last year, the share of UK exports to China and India was just 3.2 per cent. Indeed, the UK exports more to Ireland than to Brazil, Russia, India and China combined. These are shocking figures.”

“My approach is clear, British business should have no more vocal champion than the British government and that’s why I have put the promotion of British commerce and international trade at the heart of our foreign and economic policy. So, when I went to India this summer, I took the biggest visiting delegation of business leaders and entrepreneurs of any prime minister in recent memory,” Cameron said.

Deal with union saves JLR plant

S Kalyana Ramanathan / London October 16, 2010

Tata to invest £1 bn a year, workers agree to wage settlement

After completing an investment of about £1 billion over the last one year in new technologies and product development, Tata Motors-owned Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) today said that it would continue to invest an equal amount every year over the next five years.

Improving sales and a return to profitability have also enabled the company to reconsider its plans to close one of its plants in UK’s Midlands. JLR has signed a new deal with its unions that will see pay rise for existing workers by around 5 per cent and also add another 1,500 workers over the next year, taking its total workforce to 17,500 by the end of next year.

“This is a triumph for all concerned,” said JLR Chief Executive Ralf Speth. “The agreement is a great deal for our workers and the company, and we can now really get on with working together to achieve an even more exciting future for the Jaguar and Land Rover brands. This is truly the beginning of a new era for Jaguar Land Rover.”

Nearly a year ago, the company had announced plans to shut one of its plants in the UK and streamline operations without any additional job losses.


# 3 plants, 2 development sites in UK kept until 2010

# Two-year agreement with the workforce on wages

# Annual investment of £1 bn a year for next 5 years

# 4,000 new jobs to be created over the next decade

The present intention to keep all three plants in the UK comes as a surprise. A couple of weeks ago, Tata Motors CEO Carl-Peter Forster had said at the Paris Motor Show that JLR wanted to merge plants. “The most efficient model is one large operation,” he had said.

Dave Osborne, union Unite’s lead negotiator for the car industry, said: “This agreement secures the future of all JLR workers in the UK for the next 10 years and beyond. Just 18 months ago, our members agreed to changes to their terms and conditions, which ultimately helped the company navigate its way through an unprecedented recession. There can be no bigger sign of loyalty to JLR than that.”

Commenting on the new deal, David Bailey of Coventry University Business School and an expert on UK's automotive sector, said: "JLR gets to cut costs, a plant stays open and new workers will get new jobs in the future, albeit on lower starting rates of pay. The latter is especially important as, with an ageing population and workforce, people leaving the firm will be replaced by younger, cheaper workers, giving the firm a competitive boost. But the overwhelmingly good news is that the threat of closure has been lifted from the historic Castle Bromwich plant here in Birmingham."

A JLR spokesperson said that development of a new sports car by Jaguar will continue as proposed earlier, and will be positioned a notch below the current Jaguar XK model. The concept electric hybrid, also under the Jaguar badge, will not be rolled into commercial production anytime soon. "That was a model developed to celebrate Jaguar 75th anniversary, not for production," the spokesperson clarified.

Tata Motors group sales were up by 19 per cent in September. JLR global sales in September were 19,528 vehicles, higher by 16 per cent. Jaguar sales for the month were 4,861, higher by 10 per cent, while Land Rover sales were 14,667, higher by 19 per cent.

Cumulative sales of JLR for the fiscal are 112,287, higher by 40 per cent. Cumulative sales of Jaguar are 29,780, higher by 27 per cent, while cumulative sales of Land Rover are 82,507, higher by 45 per cent.

Cairn Energy shareholders approve Vedanta deal

S Kalyana Ramanathan / London October 8, 2010

Shareholders in oil explorer Cairn Energy Plc today approved plans to sell the bulk of the company's stake in Cairn India to London-listed mining company Vedanta Resources Plc for up to $8.48 billion.

About 99 per cent of all the shareholders unanimously approved the sale of 40 to 51 per cent stake in Cairn India to Vedanta Group, a spokesperson at Cairn Energy said. “We are pleased that Cairn Energy shareholders have approved the proposed transaction with Vedanta. This is an important step in the process towards completion (of the deal),” he said.

But the Cairn-Vedanta deal is far from conclusion. Besides seeking its shareholders’ approval before

October 30, Vedanta Group will have to complete the Indian open offer for the transaction to reach its logical ends.

Vedanta Group is yet to get the Securities and Exchange Board of India's (Sebi’s) nod for making an open offer to minority shareholders of Cairn India, as the market regulator awaits the government to clear the deal first.

While Vedanta is acquiring 40 to 51 per cent stake in Cairn India at Rs 405 per share, Sesa Goa, its subsidiary has applied for approval to make an open offer for an additional 20 per cent in Cairn India at Rs 355 per share.

Meanwhile, petroleum secretary S Sundareshan today said the government would take a call on Cairn Energy’s stake sale to Vedanta Resources by the end of this calendar year.

“The production sharing contracts require detailed examination, so we will into production-sharing contracts carefully and take the view with regard to granting the permission," he said, adding that the decision would come "sooner than later, hopefully within the next couple of months, by the year-end."

The deal would also be subject to Vedanta qualifying as a technically competent company to own and run Cairn India, according to Indian government officials.

“The issue has not been considered by the Indian government till now at all and all the focus has been on the applications given to us by Cairn Energy. One of the grounds for granting the permission is that the new party should have sufficient technical expertise,” Sundareshan said. “This will be examined when we take a final decision. I would like to make it very clear that I have no comment to offer on either the experience or the inexperience of the potential buyer. We have not made up our mind either way.”

Another Indian official said he didn't think ONGC had plans to preempt the stake sale, after ONGC said in September it was "not passive" to the deal and trade minister Anand Sharma said in August the company should have a say in the transaction.

“I don’t think the ONGC board has seriously considered the idea of a counter-offer,” Sundareshan said. “It is the question of money involved, it is a very large investment,” he said while responding to a question whether the ONGC was planning a counter-offer to Cairn Energy.

Senior officials from the oil ministry are visiting London along with oil minister Murli Deora for a curtain raiser event in London for the ninth round of New Exploration and Licensing Policy, which proposes to offer 35 new blocks. Officials said nearly 60 per cent of the blocks offered this time were fresh ones and not recycled ones as it was done in the eighth round.

The eighth round, which saw 70 blocks being offered, managed to sell only half of what was offered. With better seismic data in hand this time, ministry officials hope to find more buyers this time. Apart from the UK, officials will be visiting Russia as well and one of the visiting officials said the offer to Russia came after a gap of two years.