Choppy seas await Saga despite De Haan’s return

Linda J. Dodson

But compared to borrowings of more than £800m, it isn’t. Indeed, strip out £10m of associated costs from the outset and the £104m that is going towards immediate debt repayments, and the company is left with just £36m from a discounted cash call that dilutes long-suffering shareholders. 

True, there’s £27m sitting in the bank already but given that its travel arm is burning through around £8m a month as it sits idle, isn’t there a real possibility that Saga will have to tap long-suffering shareholders again in the not-too-distant future? Not according to boss Euan Sutherland: “We’ve obviously thought very hard about whether £150m is enough and the answer is yes.” 

Finance chief James Quin says the insurance side generates more than enough to offset the shortfall, meaning “fewer people” think Saga is an “odd combination” of businesses, Sutherland quips. But what does Sir Roger bring apart from a hefty slice of his substantial fortune? 

“A great understanding of Saga’s customers and DNA” apparently, which may not sound like much, but it’s more than can be said for the previous regime.

Sir Roger says that private equity owners Charterhouse, CVC and Permira, by the time it floated in 2014, “made some bad decisions”, a fair assessment, but isn’t it also true that he bears some responsibility for its predicament, having sold it to one of those firms in the first place? 

Not so, it would seem. Saga was “growing strongly and doing brilliantly well” but the company subsequently “lost its way”.

There’s a new strategy in place, and one that seems sensible, at least on the surface. The question is whether digitising a company with Saga’s demographic is realistic, despite Sutherland’s rather vague claims that the baby boomer generation have been “innovating the world since they were teenagers”. 

And that’s before you get to the question of when the travel market will return. Still, it will be an experience, if nothing else.

Firms lost in tangle of messaging

“Stay at home. Stay alert. Help the NHS. Eat out to help out. Go to the pub too. Get back in the office and save Pret a Manger but don’t kill your gran.” And now the “rule of six”. If only ministers cared about the rule of law too. 

Government messaging is now completely out of control. Even if businesses felt compelled to “do their bit” and lean on their employees to go back to work, they won’t now because the guidance no longer makes any sense at all, if it ever did in the first place. How can you avoid groups of six people at home if there’s a risk that you get to work to find there are more individuals than that sitting close to your desk?

There is little compunction to get behind the “get back to work” campaign, if indeed there ever was one in the first place. 

One FTSE 100 boss I spoke to this week laughed at the suggestion. “Employee safety” comes first, he replied.

It probably doesn’t matter anyway. The reality is there is no love lost between business and this government. The idea that a prime minister who said “f— business” has any moral weight with chief executives is laughable. 

They have been comprehensively ignored on Brexit, ditto business rates, planning laws, and every other issue of importance. So why should they listen to anything the Prime Minister says now?

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