“Huge jumps in car prices have outstripped modest pay rises”

Mike Rutherford thinks it’s time for famously rich global businesses to think less about corporate wealth, more about citizen health


Wednesday 2 November: I step out of my car and almost trip over a bloke ‘dressed’ in a blanket sitting on the wet pavement outside a Costa Coffee.

Politely, he asks if I have spare change… for a cuppa! I have little cash, but hand him the two £1 coins in my pocket. He’s thankful and says he’ll put them towards the hot drink he craves. You’ve guessed it: Costa charges £2.25 for a paper cup filled with hot water, a tea bag and dash of milk. The collective cost of those raw materials is pennies (below 10p, I’d estimate), so the mark-up is massive. 

  • ‘We know inflation is high but car prices are going crazy’

The clearly vulnerable bloke is needy, Costa is plain greedy. Its parent is America’s Coca-Cola Company – mission statement: “Refresh the World. Make a Difference”. But fewer slogans and greater generosity are required from the giant whose latest annual gross profits totalled almost $25billion (£22.3bn).

Another global company adversely impacting needy folk is BP. In March, I revealed that some BP stations were charging £2 a litre. Yet now, with prices easing, numbers remain high on some BP forecourts. Surprise, surprise – the oil giant’s latest quarterly profit is $8.2billion (£7.3bn). Greedy enough for you, dear beleaguered, ripped-off energy consumer?

Several car firms are more hungry for profits, too. An old friend proves the point by tearfully reminding me that throughout his long working life he’s needed and bought new, reliable, mid-sized family cars. But he can no longer afford such vehicles – despite still working. Huge jumps in showroom prices have outstripped the modest pay rises he and millions of others have received.

Another major concern for him is that, apart from needing a suitable car for his high-mileage day job, his evenings and weekends are dominated by his comparatively new, part-time (but unpaid) additional roles as a carer for his disabled son and 80-something mother. Public transport users enjoy state support via subsidised trains and buses. How about similar subsidies from the state and wealthy car companies?            

It’s time for rich global businesses to think less about corporate wealth, more about citizen health. Perhaps they should follow the examples set by three (of many) UK-based charitable organisations. BEN (Motor & Allied Trades Benevolent Fund) offers everything from financial to mental health support for motor trade/industry folk. Also linked to the car business is WOMAC (Women on the Move Against Cancer), which does a great job raising funds. And via its Dream Rides initiative, the SBMC (Sporting Bears Motor Club) has not only raised millions of pounds for children’s charities and foundations, but has faithfully delivered those millions to kids wherever they need help.

The likes of Coca-Cola/Costa, BP and certain car companies really need to acquire the skill of taking less and giving more. This they can do by first looking at, then learning from, the likes of BEN, WOMAC and SBMC, who give, give, give… and then some.

Mike has asked that his fee for this column is given to the Marcus Rutherford Foundation Kitchen at Paul’s House, the London ‘home from home’ for young cancer patient.

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