You might have heard of this new tech company in China, it makes all kinds of telecom stuff and they are known as Huawei. What is interesting is that we got a lecture by Alex Younger (fearless leader MI-6), he was all about the fact that at no time a national infrastructure should be done by a foreign nation, now as reasons go, this is a decent one, there is no need for evidence, it is about national interest. I was not in favour, but I do not set British policy (apparently) and as such I believe that it is an acceptable view.
In that light I have a hard time looking (at https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-50879809), where we are treated to ‘Cobham takeover: Boris Johnson defends £4bn sale to US equity firm‘, so we see a stage where British national security concerns are now going through an equity firm putting Wall Street in charge of a large chunk of British Defense. Can anyone explain that to me?
The US has one directive, serve the needs for the US and the US only, then we get Wall Street where profit is the run of the coast, so at what point was selling Cobham to any other nation a good idea?
Even as we see the statement from Boris Johnson “A lot of checks have been gone through to make sure that in that particular case all the security issues that might be raised can be satisfied and the UK will continue to be a very, very creative and dynamic contributor to that section of industry and all others“, I wonder if proper checks have been made from situations that are in opposition, the entire Yemeni war and the position of the US Congress is an apt description. Admiral Lord West was concerned and not without reason.
The risk of “unauthorised persons” obtaining information about the MoD’s capabilities and activity is a big one, keeping secrets in the US and on Wall Street is a challenge at the best of times and this will bite the UK before 2030, optionally before 2022.
The threat to existing MoD programmes (due to funding cuts or moving capabilities “off-shore”), more important, whatever is done to keep the invoices low will be an affront to Wall Street an equity managers, so they will oppose whatever options the MoD finds to lower invoices. Then there is the other issue, do you think that ANY equity firm will pay £4,000,000,000 unless they can get at least double out of it? So where is that marging coming from? There is no way that this was merely for the nicety, it is an equity firm and I get that, yet what business are we in when governments hand over control of defense contractors and the power that they have within the MoD to a foreign nation? It does not rhyme and we see an absence from MI-6 setting that stage correctly (and optionally openly).
I also believe that the moment things do go South, the people in the UK will dress up like angry villagers and quarrel their settlement with pikes and pitchforks with Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom who was kind enough to validate “she was satisfied the risks that had been identified had been mitigated “to an acceptable level”” you see an acceptable level is a subjective term and of course it will bite and probably whilst she is still in office. I am also interested in the fact that a Business Secretary sets the stage for national defence, was that her job? And I am completely with Admiral Lord West on this one, which issues had been mitigated? How were they mitigated and why was mitigation a point of discussion in the first place.
There is another side, the side of the equity firm (advent) and in this case Shonnel Malani who states “We are confident the transaction and undertakings being given on national security, jobs and future investment, provide important long-term assurances for both Cobham’s employees and customers, particularly in the UK and also globally“, these words when you look deeper take no consideration of stock and change of stock, this is a statement of people, data and hardware are not considered in this, and perhaps the government looked at it, but I wonder to what degree. Consider the complete data branch of Cobham Airborne Surveillance not having one storage location, but now also is handed to the US data farms for intel grinding. That would be worth a pretty penny, would it not? And lets not forget, Cobham is a global player, so advent will get doors open all over the alphabet group (as well as alphabet). There is a lot of intelligence in Cobham and the deciding factor of where it goes is now in the hands of a Wall Street pleaser.
I checked (at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-update-on-the-proposed-acquisition-of-cobham-plc-by-advent-international) and I was right, again we see “After meetings with the parties, advice from the Defence Secretary and carefully considering the consultation responses, Ms Leadsom has made the decision that the undertakings offered by the parties mitigate the national security risks identified to an acceptable level. She has therefore accepted the undertakings that were consulted on“, yet there is no protection of data as far as I can tell, the owners can get access to it to the largest degree. Even after Brexit, Advent can sell it to Strasbourg, leaving the UK with less options in the long run, a shortsighted response and I do personally hope that Andrea Leadsom gets to personally deal with the cloud of angry villagers when failures come out (she is likely to be on the next plane to the US for granting this merger).
I also liked the idea that Mrs Leadsom had added “meticulously thought over” in several places. The consideration of it tends to lead towards parts no one thought off. You see, the fact that an equity firm agrees to a £4,000,000,000 caper indicates that there is a 20%-30% to be gained annually, which in the end in the long lasting set would not have made sense so sell at all, so we go towards other venues that Cobham allows for, data is one (yet not the only one), available stock is the other one. It is called vulturing, yet when we realise that there could be up to £ 6,000,000,000 in valued hardware the 30% is easily reached and over three years Cobham would be in a worse state, that last one is speculation, yet is it far fetched? Consider WHO is buying and the government as well as the stockholders are OK with it does not sit well with me. There is a truckload of value that we underestimate in any firm. We might accept “provide important long-term assurances for both Cobham’s employees and customers, particularly in the UK and also globally“, it sounds nice, but what happens when their workload doubles because Cobham ends up doing service for another player who becomes part of Cobham? Selling off was checked, yet adding inferior players to cobham seemingly was not. I look at it because the buyer is an equity firm and I tend to not trust them, I merely trust their need for greed and when they decide, they have a larger play to make profits, yet in that game there is always a victim, it is close to a given, I merely want to make sure that British defense is not that victim.
I believe that Cobham grew well beyond the vision of Sir Alan Cobham and that is fine, but I reckon that in this case the UK government did not really “meticulously thought over” several factors and it worries me, whenever greedy firms get into a defense branch defense, the defense group tends to lose and that is never good.