When you took the King’s shilling, you made a contract. Accept the money, and you became a member of the British Army or Navy.
It was an archaic — and much-abused — method, particularly in the British Navy, to press new recruits into service. It became a popular myth that pewter beer mugs were given glass bottoms so that you could see if someone had slipped such a coin into your drink, before you drank and “accepted” service.
But the concept is worth remembering, even today — and it’s a concept that’s particularly worth remembering if you are a company seeking federal or provincial funding for your venture.
Last weekend, Liberal MHA Eddie Joyce pointed out that it was exceedingly difficult to find out any information about a wood pelletizing plant at Roddickton. The facility is supposed to produce 50,000 tonnes of pellets per year and, with the shutdown of some woods operations supplying the Corner Brook paper mill, it was touted as being a source for 200 to 300 direct and indirect jobs. The plant was part of a $10-million provincial government investment in Holson Forest Products in 2009-2010, and has been beset by problems, the latest being the lack of a deep-water port to ship the wood pellets to market.
With no port in sight, the plant has not been operating.
The plant’s general manager, Todd May, said Joyce’s inquiries were not only not welcome, they actually hurt his company’s ability to track down new funds.
“It’s actually raising doubts with investors,” May told The Western Star. “All of a sudden we are having to go out and spend time ending damage they have done with potential investors.”
You can understand May’s concerns — but at the same time, perhaps he should stop for a moment and consider just exactly what he is saying.
It is perhaps the other side of the coin when it comes to taking the King’s shilling.
Businesses that seek government assistance seem to misunderstand the nature of the assistance they actually get. When you accept the benefit of taxpayers’ dollars, you also assume an obligation — and that obligation is to be more forthcoming about your business operations than you would have to be if you were solely spending your own money. It’s something that plenty of business owners seem to have a difficult time grasping — to the point that, in the last round of tightening up access to information legislation in this province, the province’s own Department of Business argued that business would stay away from this province if details of their negotiations with government were made public.
But even with those concerns, the department maintained, according to the review commissioner, that, “Once negotiations are successful, the department supports the disclosure of the deal, including its scope, the amount of funding provided and the conditions attached to its funding.” The commissioner even said, “After all, this is a democratic society and I think business has to accept there will be a certain level of disclosure when dealing with the government.”
Here’s the point: we are your investors, too, and you’d better get used to the fact you have to reassure us, as well.
We’re not just strangers. We’re your partners, and we have a right to know what you’re doing.
If you don’t like that, we won’t force you to take the King’s shilling.