Barclays goes ballistic on card 'con' claims

"I think it's outrageous, extraordinary - I'm almost stumped for words." This was the sulphuric reaction from a Barclays Bank spokesman to a press campaign, launched yesterday, that branded Rowan Atkinson's TV adverts for Barclaycard a "complete con".

Jonathan Biles, chief executive of WorldCover Direct, an insurance company, issued a five-page press release that blasted: "With rubber-faced comedians advertising the 'free' travel insurance cover available though credit card purchases, WorldCover Direct warns travellers to read the small print before relying on their blandishments."

It quotes Mr Biles saying: "It's a complete con. The impression is being given that there are high levels of cover when in fact there are none. Barclaycard Visa's travel insurance, for example, only provides cover for up to pounds 50,000 in the event of death, provided you bought your holiday on the card, and that's it!

"Anybody relying on their credit card to provide travel insurance wouold be well advised not only to check what cover they have, but also to carefully check excesses on items like carpets or binoculars, which can often be so high as to undermine the whole value of the cover."

A Barclays spokesman who was shown the statement went ballistic: "I think the whole tone of it is outrageous. It really is a bit strong describing free extras as a con. We've always said you should get separate travel insurance." So will Barclays sue? "I couldn't comment - we'll have to look at it."

How to incentivise a workforce: Ashstead, which claims to be the biggest self-operated plant hire group in the UK, has a monthly profit share scheme in which employees are paid according to the money they have collected from clients.

Ashstead rents out dump trucks, air compressors and the like to builders and industrial sites. Peter Lewis, chairman, announced two big acquisitions and a rights issue yesterday. He also observed that since it was the end of the month all the employees would be scouring the country seeking to collect cash from their clients. "Generally we get the cheques because they're quite big lads," he said.

Alliance & Leicester customers may have been grinning over their pounds 2.5bn share bonanza, but at the Council of Mortgage Lenders press conference yesterday morning there were only scowls.

As the CML big-wigs sat down to disclose the latest repossession figures, a spokeswoman had to explain that the CML's new chairman of one week's standing could not attend. He is Peter White, chief executive of Alliance & Leicester, who had other things to announce.

The CML spokeswoman explained huffily: "The chairman does not always have to appear and often doesn't." Across town at the Alliance's own press conference on its flotation, not everything was sweetness and light, either. They had to hurriedly convene a second conference as they had forgotten all the Sunday paper journalists.

The Right Honourable Christopher Chataway of four-minute mile fame yesterday retired as a non-executive director of BET, the industrial services conglomerate, having hit the 65 barrier. Mr Chataway set the pace for Sir Roger Bannister when he broke the four-minute mile back in 1954. Yesterday he said he still keeps in contact with Sir Roger and the other racer that day, Chris Brasher.

Mr Chataway will remain as chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority, but his 22-year stint at BET ended as a result of a 65-year age limit for non-execs which he helped to introduce eight years ago. "Norman Tebbit is a month younger than me or something, and he will be retiring from the BET board in the next month or two," he added.