Five questions answered on the current takeover bid for Severn Trent

UK water company in talks over bid.

Canada's Borealis, the Kuwait Investment Authority (KIA) and the Universities Superannuation Scheme have launched a takeover bid for UK water company Severn Trent. We answer five questions on the bid.

What has the consortium offered for Severn Trent?

The companies together are believed to be willing to shell out £23 a share, valuing the company, which supplies water to more than 4.2 million households in the Midlands and mid-Wales, at £5.3bn.

Is Severn Trent considering this offer?

All the company have divulged is that the business proposal is at a very early stage; however, the consortium has until 5pm on June 11 to make a concrete offer to Severn.

What else has Severn said?

Severn, which is the largest of the 10 regulated water and sewage businesses in the UK, in a statement said:

"No proposal has been made and there can be no certainty that an offer will be made or as to the terms of any such offer, should one be forthcoming".

If Severn was to be taken over by the consortium, what would this mean?

It would mean that it is the latest water company in the UK to be snapped up by foreign investors.

The others being, Thames Water, which was purchased in 2006 for $8bn by a consortium led by the Australian bank Macquarie

Yorkshire Water owner Kelda Group was bought out a year later for $6.3bn (£4.1bn) by a consortium comprising Citigroup, Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC, Infracapital Partners and HSBC.

What have the experts said?

Speaking to the Telegraph, Peter Atherton, an analyst at Liberum Capital, said:

"For a potential bid to be made in year three of the five-year regulatory cycle is surprising, and the bidder will be taking on considerable regulatory risk if they pay this sort of premium at this point in the cycle.”

While Severn Trent’s chief executive, Tony Wray, who announced he was stepping down just a month ago, last week told the paper:

“We are heading in the right direction,” he said. “We have more or less recovered from our dim and distant dark days. We are doing all the right things.

“It is time for me to go and do the other things I want to do in life which I have put on hold for the last eight years.”

Photograph: Getty Images

Helen Roxburgh is the online editor of Economia

Getty.
Show Hide image

On civil liberties, David Davis has become a complete hypocrite – and I'm not sure he even knows it

The Brexit minster's stance shows a man not overly burdened with self-awareness.

In 2005, David Davis ran for the Tory leadership. He was widely assumed to be the front-runner and, as frontrunners in Tory leadership campaigns have done so enthusiastically throughout modern history, he lost.

The reason I bring up this ancient history is because it gives me an excuse to remind you of this spectacularly ill-judged photoshoot:


“And you're sure this doesn't make me look a bit sexist?”
Image: Getty

Obviously it’s distressing to learn that, as recently as October 2005, an ostensibly serious politician could have thought that drawing attention to someone else’s boobs was a viable electoral strategy. (Going, one assumes, for that all important teenage boy vote.)

But what really strikes me about that photo is quite how pleased with himself Davis looks. Not only is he not thinking to himself, “Is it possible that this whole thing was a bad idea?” You get the distinct impression that he’s never had that thought in his life.

This impression is not dispelled by the interview he gave to the Telegraph‘s Alice Thompson and Rachel Sylvester three months earlier. (Hat tip to Tom Hamilton for bringing it to my attention.) It’s an amazing piece of work – I’ve read it twice, and I’m still not sure if the interviewers are in on the joke – so worth reading in its entirety. But to give you a flavour, here are some highlights:

He has a climbing wall in his barn and an ice-axe leaning against his desk. Next to a drinks tray in his office there is a picture of him jumping out of a helicopter. Although his nose has been broken five times, he still somehow manages to look debonair. (...)

To an aide, he shouts: “Call X - he’ll be at MI5,” then tells us: “You didn’t hear that. I know lots of spooks.” (...)

At 56, he comes – as he puts it – from “an older generation”. He did not change nappies, opting instead to teach his children to ski and scuba-dive to make them brave. (...)

“I make all the important decisions about World War Three, she makes the unimportant ones about where we’re going to live.”

And my personal favourite:

When he was demoted by IDS, he hit back, saying darkly: “If you’re hunting big game, you must make sure you kill with the first shot.”

All this, I think, tells us two things. One is that David Davis is not a man who is overly burdened with self-doubt. The other is that he probably should be once in a while, because bloody hell, he looks ridiculous, and it’s clear no one around him has the heart to tell him.

Which brings us to this week’s mess. On Monday, we learned that those EU citizens who choose to remain in Britain will need to apply for a listing on a new – this is in no way creepy – “settled status” register. The proposals, as reported the Guardian, “could entail an identity card backed up by entry on a Home Office central database or register”. As Brexit secretary, David Davis is the man tasked with negotiating and delivering this exciting new list of the foreign.

This is odd, because Davis has historically been a resolute opponent of this sort of nonsense. Back in June 2008, he resigned from the Tory front bench and forced a by-election in his Haltemprice & Howden constituency, in protest against the Labour government’s creeping authoritarianism.

Three months later, when Labour was pushing ID cards of its own, he warned that the party was creating a database state. Here’s the killer quote:

“It is typical of this government to kickstart their misguided and intrusive ID scheme with students and foreigners – those who have no choice but to accept the cards – and it marks the start of the introduction of compulsory ID cards for all by stealth.”

The David Davis of 2017 better hope that the David Davis of 2008 doesn’t find out what he’s up to, otherwise he’s really for it.

The Brexit secretary has denied, of course, that the government’s plan this week has anything in common with the Labour version he so despised. “It’s not an ID card,” he told the Commons. “What we are talking about here is documentation to prove you have got a right to a job, a right to residence, the rest of it.” To put it another way, this new scheme involves neither an ID card nor the rise of a database state. It’s simply a card, which proves your identity, as registered on a database. Maintained by the state.

Does he realise what he’s doing? Does the man who once quit the front bench to defend the principle of civil liberties not see that he’s now become what he hates the most? That if he continues with this policy – a seemingly inevitable result of the Brexit for which he so enthusiastically campaigned – then he’ll go down in history not as a campaigner for civil liberties, but as a bloody hypocrite?

I doubt he does, somehow. Remember that photoshoot; remember the interview. With any other politician, I’d assume a certain degree of inner turmoil must be underway. But Davis does not strike me as one who is overly prone to that, either.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

0800 7318496