Murdoch eyes the prize as BSkyB profits soar

BSkyB profits up 26 per cent as Murdoch remains in London to negotiate with Culture Secretary.

As Rupert Murdoch remains in London to lead negotiations personally with Jeremy Hunt over News Corp's attempted takeover of BSkyB, here's a reminder of why he's so keen to seal the deal.

BSkyB has today announced that profits rose by 26 per cent to £467m in the last six months of 2010, with revenues up 15 per cent to £3.2bn. Sky has also now passed its target of ten million subscribers, set by James Murdoch in August 2004, when subscriber numbers were at 7.4 million. The graph I've put together below, based on data from Enders Analysis, shows what a full merger between News International and the broadcaster would mean for media plurality.

Media companies by revenue

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In revenue terms, BSkyB is already the country's largest broadcaster, with an annual income of £5.4bn, comfortably ahead of the BBC (£3.6bn). A pair-up between News International and BSkyB (Murdoch at present owns a 39 per cent stake) would produce a UK media company with revenues of £6.4bn.

As Mark Thompson argued in his impressive MacTaggart Lecture, Murdoch's bid, if successful, would lead to a "concentration of cross-media ownership" that would be unacceptable in the United States or Australia, News Corp's other two key markets. Once the deal is complete, we can expect Murdoch to bundle his newspapers with Sky subscriptions in an attempt to offset falling circulation.

As the media analyst Claire Enders has predicted, by the middle of this decade, the News Corp head could control 50 per cent of the newspaper and television markets, a concentration of ownership that would make even Silvio Berlusconi blush. Regardless of the "undertakings" Murdoch is expected to offer to Hunt, there is an unarguable case for referring the bid to the Competition Commission.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.