CITY DIARY

If Nick Leeson is looking for a safe haven in his hastily planned travels he can strike Edinburgh off his list.

Or at any rate the offices of Scottish Widows, where the news of Barings' woes was met with disbelief.

Barings is, in theory, the tenant at a 235,000 sq ft office block on London Wall owned by the institution.

In theory, that is, because the bank is yet to move in - the carpet-fitters' contract is just another headache for Ernst & Young to sort out.

The plan, no doubt subject to revision now, was for Barings to consolidate its Bishopsgate and America Square operations on to the one site, leased from Scottish Widows for just over £8m a year.

The institution had agreed to take on the lease for America Square in return for the letting, so one thing is for sure - the lawyers will be busy for the next few weeks sorting it all out.

While the search for a tenant goes on, Scottish will remain grateful for the scraps that it earns renting the building out to film companies and advertisers, principal source of income so far.

It's rather appropriate I suppose that "All or Nothing At All", Hugh Laurie's portrait of a young City whiz-kid, was filmed in the building.

For those who missed it, Laurie's character gambled mind-boggling sums of other people's money (on the horses in his case) and lost the lot.

Sound familiar?

The troubles at the venerable merchant bank also impinged on the press conference announcing the latest results from Midland Bank parent HSBC. Drooping eyelids and even the odd snore were the order of the day, my informant tells me, since many on both sides of the microphone were involved in the weekend's frenetic attempts to save Barings.

A medal, though, should go to John Bond, HSBC's chief executive, who performed with aplomb despite being detained at the Bank of England well into Sunday evening.

Their City brethren generally keep low after the failure of a merger, but the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales is on the offensive in the wake of the collapse of the latest attempt to rationalise their somewhat overcrowded profession. Roger Lawson (below), institute president, was yesterday up bright and early and - suitably attired in a Monty Pythonesque bowler - helping unveil the first of a series of posters to promote the value of the chartered qualification. The institute, which is reputedly spending £230,000 on the campaign, hopes the humourous ads will bring home the dangers of using unqualified accountants and polish up their tarnished image. But, being accountants, they are not blowing the money willy-nilly. The effectiveness of the "radical new departure" will be monitored and members are being urged to pass on feedback on the campaign.

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