Between a takeover bid and a Hard Rock

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The Independent Online
So terrified are the City's information disseminators that Richard Power, Forte's director of communications, has taken to ringing the Takeover Panel before he even sneezes. Forte, you understand, has not been embroiled in a bid for 25 years and this is nerve-wracking stuff.

On Wednesday Mr Power rang the panel for permission to go to the Hard Rock Cafe. The event was the Christmas party of the top-rated Kleinwort Benson leisure team. "Not on your own,'' came the reply (or words to that effect), "you had better take along a financial policeman.'' It eventually fell to Kevin Feeny, the amiable corporate broker at UBS (Forte's advisers) to chaperone him.

Just in case any one missed the point Mr Power bought a pair of handcuffs from a toy shop and the cheeky pair arrived at the festivities manacled together.

Lawrence Lindsey of Clifton, Virginia, has been turned down by the Bank of New York for a credit card at Toys 'R' Us. Mr Lindsey is 41 years old and earns $123,100 a year. He is also a member of the US Federal Reserve Board which, among other things, regulates banks.

Only now is the extent of the panic that gripped the building society movement on Wednesday fully apparent. At 10.13am Nationwide Building Society, the country's second-largest, contacted the news agencies to say that it did not believe a 0.25 per cent cut in the base rate justified a reduction in the cost of home loans. At 10.23am Halifax dropped its main mortgage rate, prompting a Nationwide capitulatation by midday.

"The Halifax is apparently running the economy,'' snaps a leading building society figure.

A triumph for market forces after all. Local authorities are winning back contracts for council work from the private sector. According to the current edition of Privatisation News, a newsletter of the public services trades unions, two water companies have have lost five contracts between them - namely Brophy's (part of Thames Water) and Onyx, owned by France's Generale des Eaux.

Brophy's, however, claims this is only part of the story. In one case it says it was unfairly excluded from consideration, and in the other two instances it lost only marginally on price. What is more, it insists it gained pounds 14m of contracts last year, losing only pounds 1m .

But figures released this week by the Local Government Management Board do show that local authorities are beginning to win back some of the contracts they have lost to the private sector, and are generally more successful in larger contracts than in small ones.

"Local authorities are sharpening up their bidding,'' reflects Allen Challender, divisional director of Brophy's grounds maintenance division.

Notice at Safeway's in Scarborough. " Go mad this weekend - buy some beef.''

Justin Urquhart-Stewart, the irrepressible marketing director at Barclays Stockbrokers, has received a clip round the ear from a British Airways stewardess for messing around with his laptop computer on a flight from Edinburgh to London (apparently they interfere with the aircraft's sensitive electronic navigation systems). The sequence of events appears to have gone something like this.

Captain: "Ladies and gentlemen, we are about to land, please fasten your seat belts."

JUS: Tap tap tap "corporate bond Pep, Tessa, blah'' tap tap ...

Stewardess: "I'm afraid we will have to have it off, sir''.

JUS: "I really don't think we have time.''