CITY DIARY : Left in the air by the party conference

With Tate & Lyle turning distinctly pinkish on the corporate donation front, the Tories will not be pleased to learn that Michael Heseltine has got up the nose of another businessman. The Deputy Prime Minister yesterday delayed David Whelan, chairman of the independent sports retailer JJB Sports, by one and a half hours on his way in to London.

The problem was that Mr Whelan - the former Blackburn Rovers footballer who was stretchered off the field in the 1960 FA Cup final - was circling RAF Northolt in his executive jet at the time with the pilot looking nervously at the fuel gauge. Worse still, he brought glad tidings to the City in the shape of a stonking set of figures.

Air traffic control were unmoved. The Cabinet minister was flying up to the Tory party conference in Blackpool and he was clearly a priority.

Still, Mr Heseltine can console himself that his "stacking'' of Mr Whelan is unlikely to result in any further haemorrhaging from Tory party coffers. The only donation the Wigan entrepreneur has ever announced is pounds 40,000 to the first person living within a 13-mile radius of his home town to win Wimbledon

Meanwhile Michael Whelan, international yachting bore and founder chairman of Aran Energy, the Irish oil exploration company under siege from both Arco of the US and Statoil of Norway, points out that the Americans have a poor track record against his fiefdom.

It turns out that Mr Whelan's son, Roger, did his work experience with Arco while studying at the Wharton Business School in Philadelphia. So impressed were the Californians with the lad that they offered him a job once he had finished his course.

Unaware of the lengths to which Arco would subsequently go to get their hands on a Whelan, the son declined, opting instead for Amoco in Chicago.

While it was undoubtedly grateful for the financial assistance at the time, Britain's oldest merchant bank is not embracing the Dutch flag with much enthusiasm. A fierce pocket of resistance has been flushed out in the corporate finance arm of the recently refinanced ING Baring.

They may be paid in guilders but the Euro-sceptic financiers - who are advising Lloyds Bank on its merger with TSB - flatly refuse to have anything to with their Dutch overlords or their acronym. "Make sure that you call us Baring Brothers,'' warned one nationalist.

Expect Nick Leeson to be sprung from jail shortly.

Never one to give up the driving seat lightly, Sir Nicholas Goodison, art historian and chairman of TSB, will nevertheless adopt a more ceremonial role when the Lloyds Bank-TSB merger is announced today. The job of convincing the City falls mainly to the chief executive dream team of Sir Brian Pitman and Peter Ellwood, the hard man who joined TSB from Barclaycard.

Mr Ellwood shares Sir Brian's passion for cost-cutting, giving some credence to union warnings of huge job losses. Analysts still quiver with excitement when they recall a visit to a Barclaycard centre where Mr Ellwood unveiled his vision of a high-tech, low-wage factory.

Profile points all round for the staff it may be. But Sir Nicholas is unlikely to be robbed of TSB's impressive collection of modern art. "It will probably stay where it is,'' a spokesman reassures.

The dinosaurs of the Eighties, who could rack up a pounds 600 lunch bill at the Savoy during three hours of gluttony, are all but extinct. The typical business lunch now takes just one and three-quarter hours and costs pounds 35 a head, according to a survey for Air Miles.

One of the problems of selling Brazilian electricity privatisation to the City has been the high level of wastage. The system is prone to unauthorised tapping from ingenious consumers who would rather not pay for their power. It is known as the "dead cat problem'', according to Jose Carlos Mendonca, of the Brazilian brokers Garantia (readers may find the next paragraph distressing).

It works like this. Impoverished Sao Paulo resident needs some juice to heat up the family supper. He goes out on the street, picks up a passing stray cat, and throws it on to the overhead cables. The result is a short circuit, which allows the power thief to clip on his personal jump leads before the current is restored.

Sadly, it's curtains for the cat.

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