RUTH SUNDERLAND: Oxford Nanopore’s float puts Deliveroo’s in the shade  

Compare and contrast. Two high-profile floats in London: one a takeaway food business, shunned by several big investors because of its reliance on gig economy riders, the other an Oxford University spinout run by super-brains in lab coats.

The cultural gulf could not be wider between Deliveroo and Oxford Nanopore, the biotech business that yesterday announced plans to list in London.

The former is a low-margin, loss-making company whose business model, critics say, depends on exploiting workers by classing them as self-employed rather than staff.

Biotech champion: Oxford Nanopore’s success depends on brilliant scientific breakthroughs. It is founded and run by scientists and has played an important role in the war against Covid-19

The latter is a long-term business, whose success depends on brilliant scientific breakthroughs. It is founded and run by scientists and has played an important role in the war against Covid-19.

Delivering pizza may have been popular in the pandemic but gene-sequencing technology that can help scientists track new variants of coronavirus is likely to bring even greater benefits to humankind.

The key figures at Oxford Nanopore are not a bunch of young techies in pursuit of quick millions. 

Dr Gordon Sanghera, the chief executive, has been at the helm since 2005. Hagan Bayley, also in at the beginning, is professor of chemical biology at Oxford following a distinguished academic career in the US, and still sits on the technical advisory board.

Just like Will Shu, the founder of Deliveroo, they will make serious money from the float. In their case, the wealth is a happy by-product of lives in the laboratory, and not an end in itself. 

The married couple at BioNTech, the firm behind the Pfizer vaccine, are cut from similar cloth.

So too are inventor-entrepreneurs like David McMurtry, 81, who back in 1973 set up engineer Renishaw, now up for sale because he and his co-founder ‘are not getting any younger.’ 

The Deliveroo technology may be clever. But Oxford Nanopore is the best of British scientific brainpower combined with business acumen, and the fact it has chosen to float in London and not in New York is a real coup for the City.

The hope now is that the company will continue to perform brilliantly and resist overseas predators. A British biotech champion will be a real jewel in the crown.

Steel lifeline

In the debate over foreign ownership of key British assets, one aspect that is often overlooked is the problem it presents to ministers if the business hits the rocks.

This is what has happened with Sanjeev Gupta, whose steel interests have run into trouble with the collapse of supply chain finance house Greensill.

Governments are rightly reluctant to pour taxpayers’ cash into propping up operations owned by billionaires such as Gupta, who have opaque multinational empires.

The obvious fear is that the money might leak out overseas. This has been a sticking point in the past at Indian-owned Jaguar Land Rover and Tata Steel.

The leverage companies have is jobs: in the case of Gupta, 5,000 of them, largely in Red Wall areas. 

A request for £170million by Gupta’s Liberty Steel to keep its UK steel plants going has been turned down. 

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng is right to say the Government should not put money into a ‘black box’ and that the complicated Gupta ownership structure is ‘not helpful’.

Steel production in the UK is worth saving. It should be a core part of the planned green infrastructure drive. The Government needs to find a way to bail out the jobs, not the tycoon.

Greensill probe

Most of the heat and light around the interlinked downfall of Gupta and Greensill has been over the role of David Cameron.

The former PM, who has been cleared by a lobbying watchdog, faces a possible probe by the Committee on Standards in Public Life. 

This is juicy stuff at Westminster but there is far more to the Greensill affair than Cameron’s involvement.

The public, and the Gupta employees whose jobs are at risk, deserve to know why Greensill was allowed to operate virtually sans regulation in the UK.

They also have a right to understand why Gupta’s Liberty Steel was allowed to become so dependent on Greensill. 

At a miniumum, I would like to see Cameron, Greensill and Gupta explain themselves to a Treasury or Business Select Committee. Not all business failures merit an investigation, but Greensill and Gupta certainly do.

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