“No Integrity, Minimal Credibility”: Big Business In The UK Under Fire:

 

Who do you trust the most? Presumably, your closest relatives, your best friends, your “other half”, a few of your next-door neighbours and maybe your hairdresser. That’s probably it. Your list of the people & organizations you either distrust or are not too sure about will almost certainly be considerably longer. If, for example, you haven’t been particularly impressed by the phone-hacking activities of some sections of the British press over the past couple of years, then (according to a “You Gov” survey published at the beginning of November) you share the views of almost 60% of the British public. Despite this (& the controversies currently engulfing the BBC), 64% of the population (as reported by “The Guardian”) continue to have faith in the country’s TV channels and 58% in its radio stations. “Twitter” is trusted by just 15% and blogs by “fewer than 9%”.

“You Gov’s” research, however, covered more than the journalism profession. Top of its “Trust League” are: Family doctors at 82% (down from 93% in 2003) followed by School-teachers at 70% (88% in 2003); Judges are at 62% (68% in 2003); Senior police officers: 49% (72% in 2003); BBC news journalists: 44% (81% in 2003)), marginally ahead of the 41% for their colleagues at ITV (82% in 2003). The figures for the leading politicians have remained at the same consistent low level: 23% for Labour (25% in 2003) and 19% for the Conservatives (20% in 2003), with the exception of the Liberal Democrats (led by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg), who have plunged from 36% to 16%, due in all likelihood to their having reneged on their pre-election promise not to increase student tuition fees.

The three main UK political parties thus appear not to have heeded Barack Obama’s admonition that “If people cannot trust their government to do the job for which it exists – to protect them and to promote their common welfare – all else is lost.” The image of trade union leaders (28% now, 32% in 2003) has clearly been diminished by hostile articles in the “Daily Mail” and other newspapers attacking the “£100,000-plus salaries of the ‘rich general secretaries’ threatening industrial action and a wave of strikes to bring Britain to its knees”. Estate agents, at 12%, are (as always) near the bottom of the “You Gov” table, a mere 2% above “tabloid journalists” such as those employed by the “Sun” and the “Mirror”. In the opinion of Allister Heath, editor of the “City AM” newspaper, this “astonishing decline” in public confidence has made the UK “a dangerously low-trust society”. While he acknowledges that “scientists, economists, doctors, policemen, judges or bankers (who are distrusted by 63% of their UK customers) can often make mistakes”, he also feels that “extreme of lack of trust (when nobody believes anything anybody says) isn’t healthy either.

Somewhat surprisingly, considering the “outrageous practices” attributed to several of the major energy & retail companies operating in Britain, the people who run them received 23% in the You Gov analysis (compared to 20% in 2003). The “Daily Mail” was clearly indignant at what it depicted (in its front-page headline on November 15th) as “The Greed Of The Energy Sharks”: Their Consumer Affairs Editor, Sean Poulter, strongly criticised Scottish & Southern Energy (SSE) for having “hit its 9.6 million customers with a 9% increase in the cost of heat & light” at the same time as announcing a profit of £397.5 million for the six months to the end of September (38% up on the same period in 2011). Scottish Power has put up its prices by 8.7%, British Gas by 6.7% and (the German-owned) Npower by 9.5%. Some of these same power companies are subsequently being investigated for allegedly manipulating the energy market in order to achieve their “enormous income rises”.

In August, Sean Poulter asserted in his column that Asda & Tesco were selling “bottled tap-water” for a “mark-up” of 2,500% and on 11th November his colleague Ben Griffiths wrote that “Three of Britain’s biggest water companies (Thames, Anglian & Yorkshire) “are paying no tax on their massive profits.”  A similar accusation was levelled at Google UK, Starbucks and Amazon when three of their executives appeared before Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee on 12th November. The claim by Starbucks (with almost 800 outlets across the country) that it had made no profit during its 14 years’ presence in the UK was greeted with incredulity; Google’s “tax avoidance schemes” were denounced as “immoral” and the Amazon director was described as being “deliberately evasive”. Meanwhile:  Some UK banks may have to pay huge compensation for “mis-selling” payment protection insurance (PPI) and a credit card protection policy; Ryanair is considering “charging passengers for carry-on baggage to further increase revenue & profits” (The Guardian) and a Channel 4 “Dispatches” documentary on “The Secrets Of Poundland” suggested that many items purchased from the discount chain might not really be such “irresistible bargains”.

American writer Eric Hoffer once declared that “Those who think the world is always cheating them are right”. Whilst even the presenters of BBC TV consumer protection programmes such as “Rip-Off Britain” and “Watchdog” (who expose “rogue traders”), as well as the Guardian’s “Consumer Champions”(Lisa Bachelor & Miles Brignall), might find this a little too pessimistic, it is evident that the public have to be constantly on their guard against attempts to deceive or exploit them and also (when necessary) fight to defend their rights.

In an international context, the “Global Trust Barometer ” has revealed that the most “dramatic decline of trust during 2011” took place in Brazil (and to a lesser extent, Argentina).  However, they also noted that the media & business sectors “are more trusted in Latin American nations than in two-thirds of the other countries they surveyed”.

Filed under: Politics, Society | Posted on November 22nd, 2012 by Colin D Gordon

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