Rose on pay and VAT
What should happen to business leaders' remuneration in this downturn?
Well Sir Stuart Rose, the chairman of Marks & Spencer, was characteristically blunt when I interviewed him earlier today.
"I certainly won't be taking a pay rise" he told me. "It would be inappropriate for me to do so...I am 99.99% certain there won't be a bonus. I certainly won't be getting anything over and above what my staff will enjoy."
As for the example that should be set by Britain's executive class in general, Rose said there must be absolutely "no payments for failure."
Which most of you may well say is common sense, at a time when almost every company tells me that it's either reducing job numbers or is about to do so.
But as we've seen over many years, common sense doesn't always rule in the board room when remuneration is being decided
I also asked Rose whether he agreed with Simon Wolfson, the chief executive of Next, that the government's emergency VAT reduction had been a waste of time and money (see my note this morning, "M&S: no ordinary downturn").
Rose, who is a member of the prime minister's Business Council, started by saying that he "doesn't do politics". But he then added that the VAT decrease has "not made a material difference to our sales."
Which some will see as a criticism of the Treasury, although Rose was at pains to point out that he felt the government was acting with the best of motives.
As for the Treasury and Number 10, they believe that criticisms of the VAT cut miss the point.
They say that the point of the reduction in the VAT rate from 17.5% to 15% - which lasts a year and will lead to a £12bn reduction in tax revenues - was not to boost the sales of M&S or any other individual retailer.
It was to put money into the pockets of consumers and businesses, at a time when households are feeling strapped for cash and when companies' profit margins are under pressure.
The VAT reduction has done that - but, perhaps, only as an uninteresting matter of definition.
Where retailers pass on the VAT cut in the form of lower prices, that represents an increase in the real value of our disposable income. And where firms have maintained their VAT-inclusive prices (and loads of restaurants and leisure groups haven't passed on the cut), that's a boost to their profitability.
Either way, there are cash benefits to households and businesses from the VAT reduction.
But what's much more interesting - and what's hotly debated - is whether the VAT cut is the best possible use of that precious £12bn for the purpose of dampening the magnitude of the economic contraction we're experiencing.
And that's where the remarks of Wolfson and Rose are relevant.
The Treasury cut VAT partly to stimulate economic activity in the private sector. It hoped that the £12bn of foregone revenues for the Exchequer - and the corresponding increase in public-sector debt - would generate incremental revenues for business and would therefore protect jobs.
If substantial retailers like Marks and Next say the VAT cut hasn't stimulated trade to any noticeable extent, that matters (although it is not beyond the realms of possibility that Marks and Next are wrong).