New Zealand republicans stage aerial protest

This article was published in The Telegraph

A banner reading “Time for a Kiwi Head of State” flew above crowds greeting the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in Auckland

A plane tows a banner reading

A plane tows a banner reading “time for a Kiwi head of state” as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge sail around Auckland Harbour  Photo: Anthony Devlin/PA

As thousands of royalist New Zealanders gathered to greet the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in Auckland harbour today, an aircraft flew over the adoring crowd towing a banner proclaiming that it was “Time for a Kiwi Head of State.” It is the latest broadside in the Commonwealth realm’s ongoing debate about the monarchy, sparked by this month’s royal tour of the antipodes.

The aerial advert was paid for by New Zealand Republic, a campaign group which advocates the abolition of the monarchy, and completed a two-hour flight over Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour while the Duke and Duchess competed against each other in a yacht-race.

“Our main aim is to make sure as many Aucklanders as possible hear about our campaign and see our core message,” the chairman of the campaign told Fairfax New Zealand.

“We think it’s important that people understand there is far more to the royal visit than just photo opportunities, that there’s actually an ongoing constitutional debate about what is best for New Zealand,” added the chairman, known only as Savage.

This constitutional debate was further stoked last month when the government announced a referendum on whether to retain New Zealand’s current flag, which acknowledges the Queen’s sovereignty with a Union Jack in its top-left corner. A new flag recognising the island nation’s indigenous heritage is proposed.

New Zealand’s Maori monarch, King Tuheitia, the ceremonial leader of the aboriginal tribes who constitute 15% of New Zealand’s population, has refused to meet any members of the Royal family during its tour of the country.

The majority of well-wishers in the Auckland area, however, failed to notice the fly-by protest. Those who did were largely unenthusiastic. As one member of the crowd tweeted: “Just plane rude”.


Artificial blood ‘will be manufactured in factories’

This article was published by The Telegraph

Wellcome Trust-funded stem cell research has produced red blood cells fit for transfusion into humans, paving the way for the mass production of blood

By Tanjil Rashid
1:10PM BST 14 Apr 2014

It is the stuff of gothic science fiction: men in white coats in factories of blood and bones.
But the production of blood on an industrial scale could become a reality once a trial is conducted in which artificial blood made from human stem cells is tested in patients for the first time.

It is the latest breakthrough in scientists’ efforts to re-engineer the body, which have already resulted in the likes of 3d-printed bones and bionic limbs.

Marc Turner, the principal researcher in the £5 million programme funded by the Wellcome Trust, told The Telegraph that his team had made red blood cells fit for clinical transfusion.

Prof Turner has devised a technique to culture red blood cells from induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells – cells that have been taken from humans and ‘rewound’ into stem cells. Biochemical conditions similar to those in the human body are then recreated to induce the iPS cells to mature into red blood cells – of the rare universal blood type O-.

“Although similar research has been conducted elsewhere, this is the first time anybody has manufactured blood to the appropriate quality and safety standards for transfusion into a human being,” said Prof Turner.

There are plans in place for the trial to be concluded by late 2016 or early 2017, he said. It will most likely involve the treatment of three patients with Thalassaemia, a blood disorder requiring regular transfusions. The behaviour of the manufactured blood cells will then be monitored.

“The cells will be safe,” he said, adding that there are processes whereby cells can be removed.

The technique highlights the prospect of a limitless supply of manufactured type O- blood, free of disease and compatible with all patients.

“Although blood banks are well-stocked in the UK and transfusion has been largely safe since the Hepatitis B and HIV infections of the 1970s and 1980s, many parts of the world still have problems with transfusing blood,” said Prof Turner.

However, scaling up the process to meet demand will be a challenge, as Prof Turner’s laboratory conditions are not replicable on an industrial scale. “A single unit of blood contains a trillion red blood cells. There are 2 million units of blood transfused in the UK each year,” he said.

Currently, it costs approximately £120 to transfuse a single unit of blood. If Prof Turner’s
technique is scaled up efficiently, it could substantially reduce costs.

Dr Ted Bianco, Director of Technology Transfer at the Wellcome Trust, said: “One should not underestimate the challenge of translating the science into routine procedures for the clinic.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the challenge Professor Turner and colleagues have set out to address, which is to replace the human blood donor as the source of supply for life-saving transfusions.”

For the moment, factories of blood remain the stuff of fiction.

© Copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited 2014
4/25/2014 Artificial blood ‘will be manufactured in factories’ – Telegraph 3/3

Taking a businesslike approach to social woes

This article was published by The Los Angeles Times and The Chicago Tribune

‘The Solution Revolution’ shows how entrepreneurs and organizations are taking on intractable social problems.

December 15, 2013|By Tanjil Rashid 

Like many revolutionary manifestoes, “The Solution Revolution” seeks the overthrow of government as we know it.

But for authors William Eggers and Paul Macmillan — who work in public-sector practice at Deloitte — this is a revolution very much in the interests of business, not against it.

The book, “The Solution Revolution: How Business, Government and Social Enterprises Are Teaming Up to Solve Society’s Toughest Problems,” is a compendium of case studies of entrepreneurial individuals and organizations taking on some of the most intractable social problems.

The authors argue that “private enterprise for public gain no longer need be an oxymoron” and that social enterprises can “backfill public services.”

We meet “social entrepreneurs” and “venture philanthropists” such as Muhammad Yunus, the microlending pioneer, and Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay, who both adopt a businesslike approach to social problems; Yunus’ Grameen Bank provides loans to poor Bangladeshis, while the Omidyar Network (ON) invests in products such as d.light, a cheaper, solar-powered alternative to the carcinogenic kerosene lamp.

By seeing the poor as a market rather than a receptacle for aid, Grameen and ON have built profitable enterprises that solve social problems.

These markets are worth a startling amount. Ashoka, the social enterprise network, values the market for healthcare that serves the poor at $202 billion and for food at $3.6 trillion. In the education market, entrepreneurs have been wise to the savings from “disruptive technologies” such as the Internet.

Khan Academy, for example, uses its analytics engine to tailor online learning to students who might otherwise be taught by unmotivated teachers in overcrowded classrooms with outdated textbooks. The profitability of these enterprises makes them sustainable and attractive to donors, but ultimately “they measure their bottom line in social value.”

The authors contend that this social value should be seen as a form of capital, with philanthropists investing in “the trillion dollar market for public good.”

Although the authors have given it a new name, “the solution economy,” the idea is hardly new. The annual Social Capital Markets Conference has been a fixture of the philanthropy scene for years.

Most of the examples in “The Solution Revolution” are well known from David Bornstein’s landmark study of social entrepreneurs, “How to Change the World.”

Meanwhile, Matthew Bishop and Michael Green introduced the idea of the “venture philanthropist” — as engaged, target-driven and professional as any venture capitalist — in their 2008 book, “Philanthrocapitalism: How the Rich Can Save the World.”

Eggers and Macmillan’s work succeeds as a guide to new opportunities to profit from “socially impactful” activities once thought unprofitable. But there is no focus on whether these “solutions” are the best for the problems at hand.

Eggers, an ex-fellow of the neoconservative Manhattan Institute, has written six books outlining his vision for diminished government. That vision grounds “The Solution Revolution” too: “All [government] has to do is get out of the way to let these solution markets work.”

But the authors show little awareness of the market failures that have led to the very problems for which they advocate market solutions. That they cite a problem-ridden, minimally governed country such as Bangladesh so frequently in this book is not so much a success story as a cautionary tale.

British Muslims develop appetite for halal turkey

Originally published in The Financial Times

By Tanjil Rashid

Covered in blood and Urdu script, the traditional halal butcher’s shop has catered to generations of Britain’s Muslims – serving up a platter of chicken, lamb and beef to mostly foreign-born customers.

But in a sign of changing consumer habits, they have taken to selling halal turkeys, as growing numbers of practising Muslims gobble up roast turkeys for Christmas dinner on the Christian feast day.

Last December, the Halal Monitoring Council certified 5,500 turkeys slaughtered in UK abattoirs. In 2011, they certified none. Last week alone, the HMC certified 1,500 turkeys.

Demand has taken many suppliers by surprise.

“I was shocked there was a market at all,” said Paul Kelly, managing director of Kelly Bronze Turkeys.

Ben Bayer, an executive at wholesaler DB Food, says there is “huge demand” for halal turkeys, but they are unable to meet it, as the UK’s biggest halal assurance body, the Halal Food Authority, does not yet certify any turkeys as halal.

Muslim butchers instead mostly import halal turkeys from Ireland and Italy. These are now even available at Smithfield Market in London.

A Financial Times survey of 20 halal butchers based in London, Lancashire and Essex found that over half sold halal turkeys in December – some for the first time this year.

JR Butchers in Tooting says it is on track to sell 2,500 turkeys this December – a 4 per cent rise on last year.

It is relatively recently that turkeys have waddled into the UK’s £2.6bn halal meat market, as estimated by the World Halal Forum, which is growing exponentially as the Muslim population grows.

Research by Eblex, the meat industry body, shows that Muslims constitute less than 4 per cent of Britons, yet account for 12-15 per cent of British meat consumption.

Turkeys are representative of the flush nature of an expanding market, which Javed Rashid, a partner at JR Butchers, describes as “the high end of halal”. It encompasses increasing Muslim demand for halal geese and halal free-range products.

“These are home-grown Muslims with a higher disposable income than their parents’ generation and are more at home with British customs – without compromising their faith,” said Noman Khawaja, founder of the Halal Food Festival who uses the term “haloodie” to describe these new halal “foodies”.

Businesses are increasingly catering to this market. Mr Rashid aims to give his customers “an education in meat, which old-fashioned halal butchers are unable to provide – they lack the product knowledge”.

Fast food outlets have long served halal meat in areas with a high Muslim population. Now more upmarket restaurants, from the PizzaExpress chain to China Tang in Mayfair, have halal menus, too.

John Man, senior manager at China Tang, believes that it is important the luxury restaurant “reflects its customer profile”, adding that “the quality of halal meat is always good, when other meat sometimes fails to meet our standards”.

The increasing diversity of the UK’s halal meat market reflects a bigger, worldwide trend. Last week, a Norwegian supplier of Scandinavian game meat unveiled the world’s first halal reindeer – enabling Norway’s Muslims to taste the traditional yuletide meat for the first time.

SuperGroup’s online sales soar in Europe

Originally published in The Financial Times

Ecommerce sales in Europe overtook UK sales for the first time at SuperGroup as the once-volatile fast fashion retailer reported its eighth consecutive quarterly rise in sales.

Julian Dunkerton, chief executive, said British retailers have an advantage over continental European peers, as consumers have switched to online shopping faster in the UK than elsewhere.

“I think we, as international British companies, have a huge advantage – because of the sophistication of our online businesses in the UK – to capitalise on internationally.”

British shoppers spend about twice as much online as the French, and almost three times more than the Germans, according to a report by Ofcom.

But it is difficult to break into an international market without a bricks-and-mortar presence, according to Mr Dunkerton.

“We have an international presence as we are multi-channel,” said the former market stall trader. “It gives us a natural advantage. You can’t just create something in one country and hope it sells in another.” Only about one in 10 online retail transactions is cross-border, according to a report by Accenture.

Profit before tax for the six months to October 27 was about a quarter lower at £9.9m as the group spent heavily on a new 500,000 sq ft distribution centre in Burton upon Trent, Staffordshire.

SuperGroup had a difficult 2011 and 2012, marred by profit warnings, but steady growth since then has won investors round. Shares in the group edged 0.3 per cent lower to £12.50, having more than doubled during the past 12 months.

Elsewhere in the sector, online sales at Moss Bros trebled as the tailor rolled out websites across Scandinavia and Ireland and fleshed out plans to launch a website in Australia.

The formalwear company once doubted whether its customers would buy suits online, “but now we see they very much are”, said Brian Brick, chief executive of the group.

“We were slow to get into e-commerce, but now we’re catching up,” he added.

Moss Bros closed three stores net in the period. Mr Brick was quick to defend these as part of the company’s strategy to get stores with flexible leases. “We certainly expect to see more stores and have plans to open stores across 20 cities and towns,” he said.

Shares in Moss Bros rose 2.1 per cent to close at 71p.

Metro Bank seeks £387m to expand branch network

Originally published in The Financial Times 

Metro Bank is planning to raise £387.5m from investors – an increase of £100m on its original target – as it seeks to finance the opening of dozens more branches across the UK.

In a letter to existing shareholders in October, Metro Bank said it was intending to conduct a private capital raising, to help it grow its lending and expand its high street presence.

Although the bank has said that it wants to have 200 branches by 2020, it has yet to turn a profit. Its total pre-tax losses have exceeded £100m in the three years since its launch, highlighting the difficulties of breaking into the UK’s retail banking sector – even when the government has made it a priority to make high street banking more competitive.

When Metro was founded in July 2010 – becoming Britain’s first new high street lender for at least a century – it pledged to stir up the country’s tarnished banking industry. Its 22 branches in London and the southeast have proven popular with customers for their longer opening hours, drive-through facilities and dog-friendly store policy. Last year, customer deposits grew 279 per cent to £576m.

Metro’s plans for further expansion are intended to help it reverse its losses, which reached £45.7m at a pre-tax level in 2012. Earlier this year, Vernon Hill, chairman, told The Financial Times: “Our primary goal is to expand the business . . . and profit certainly will come.”

UK food industry ‘vulnerable’ to criminal infiltration

Originally published in The Financial Times

In an interim report into the horsemeat scandal, Chris Elliott, director of the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University Belfast, said: “A food supply system which is much more difficult for criminals to operate in is urgently required.”

He called for measures to prevent food crime, including the establishment of a specialist ‘food crime unit’ to prevent fraud through increased intelligence gathering, testing and better co-ordination between government departments.

Professor Elliott said his review had identified “a worrying lack of knowledge regarding the extent to which we are dealing with criminals infiltrating the food industry. I believe criminal networks have begun to see the potential for huge profits and low risks in this area. The food industry and thus consumers are currently vulnerable.” He also criticised instances of “casual dishonesty” in the meat trade.

Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University, said Prof Elliott “rightly identifies problems such as the evisceration of food law enforcement”, but added that the report “stops short of taking on the ruthless meat and dairy machine controlled by retailers”.

Jeanette Longfield, co-ordinator of Sustain, which campaigns for better food and farming, welcomed the report’s 48 proposals, but said that organisations such as a food crime unit would be “pointless without the financial resources to enforce existing legislation, as inspectors and auditors are stretched to breaking point”.

The government commissioned Prof Elliott to examine the integrity of Britain’s food supply network after the discovery in January that horsemeat was being sold as beef in frozen burgers and lasagnes in the UK and Ireland.

The horsemeat scandal exposed a bewilderingly lengthy and complex food supply chain across Europe, during which horsemeat had been fraudulently mislabelled as beef.

In October, the National Audit Office cited the case of a pizza sold in Ireland made out of 35 ingredients that had passed through 60 countries on five different continents.

It said in its report into food safety that regulators had struggled to keep up with the complexity of the supply chain and called for more tests and food monitoring.

Owen Paterson, environment secretary, said some measures had already been introduced, adding: “We will continue to work closely with the food industry, enforcement agencies and across local and central government to improve intelligence on food fraud and our response to it.”

Prof Elliott’s final report with more detailed recommendations will be published in the spring.