Comment: Leaner Standard Life remains in robust health

Terry Murden
Terry Murden
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THE job losses announced ­yesterday at Standard Life are regrettable, though they were probably anticipated as the company refocuses for a new era.

Any “restructuring” of a business usually means someone will pay a price. In this case, it at least appears Standard Life is restructuring people out of the company as it heads in an upward direction.

The 139 job losses will tighten up the UK business, now merged with its European operations, ready for a shift in the pensions industry that will change the way the company interacts with its customers.

The upside is that Standard Life is not cutting jobs to cope with a fall in business. On the contrary, it has been ready for the retail distribution review, which bans commissions, since 2006. It is also prepared for auto-­enrolment which will force companies to provide pensions to their staff.

As you might expect, Paul ­Matthews, head of the UK and Europe division, is bullish about prospects for growth, but the company is generally regarded as being among the best-­prepared for the changes. It is also showing some robust trading figures. Half-year UK profits, reported in August, were up 62 per cent from £87 million to £141m as it shrugged off tough economic conditions and customers poured money into self-invested personal pensions (SIPPS). There were signs in the first half that it was building a solid position in the market ahead of auto-enrolment.

These are changed days for Standard Life, which came close to going bust a decade ago when it stuck stubbornly to mutuality and was forced to tackle its problems head-on.

The flotation in 2006 was controversial but shareholders have also benefited from the strong balance sheet and positive trading performance with a hike in the dividend and a 50 per cent rise in the shares since the beginning of the year.

Channel 3 licence move good news for Borders

THE amalgamation in recent years of most of the commercial television regions under the ITV banner has left the Borders effectively treated as an English region.

It is largely an accident of analogue history, but also a result of ITV’s ­indifference to local output which means viewers are excluded from the sort of news about Scotland that they might expect to receive.

As a condition of renewing the Channel 3 licences, Ofcom called on the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to look again at the provision of Scottish news in the south of Scotland.

Mary Miller, the present Secretary of State, has backed renewal of the ­existing licences and Ofcom is now preparing to issue ten-year contracts from 2014.

Consultation will begin and, crucially, will consider the proposed amendments, such as the news service provided to the Borders.

This gives both the viewer and STV the opportunity to unite in ensuring there is a proper Scottish service provided to the region, though at a time of retrenchment in the media it may require some lobbying to ensure STV is keen to take up the challenge.