CITY DIARY

Yesterday's criticism of Northern Foods' management by William Waldegrave carried all the superiority of a man whose family background is steeped in rural industry.

After all, the agriculture minister does jointly own with other family members a 1,000-acre dairy with 400 prize Friesians, which supplies milk to the family cheese business run by his brother, Lord Chewton.

However, his politically sensitive criticisms against Northern Foods' management, led by the Labour supporter Chris Haskins, are not directed against a grey man unused to dairy issues. Mr Haskins, like his Irish father before him, owns a dairy farm himself. The 200-acre estate in County Wicklow has a 120-cow business and is run by his younger son, Daniel.

Mr Haskins has been on a dieting drive recently, substituting pasta for pork pies, he tells me. But this bout of modern vegetarianism will not dent the special place the dairy industry has in his heart.

"It is a 52-week-a-year business, which depends on the love of long-lasting, living assets and is like no other in the world," he told me.

The Ministry of Defence's disastrous attempts to privatise 70,000 of its service homes have led to a bonanza for a former Laing director, Mark Taylor. Mr Taylor joined the Crown Housing Trust last year with the aim of leading its attempts to raise £1bn in private finance to repair the married quarters of the three services. The plan was a failure and, instead, the MoD is merging the three housing departments into one from next week.

This decision was sadly not made before the department spent £5m on various advisers' fees. These now include £170,000 given to Mr Taylor, who had a three-year contract, for a job he never started.

The board of Wolverhampton-based Manders can take solace from the defeat of local team Wolves to Crystal Palace in an FA Cup quarter-final replay.

Manders backed the team during its remarkable ascent from fourth division to first over the past four years, but was outbid by Goodyear, which became lead sponsor last year. Since then Graham Taylor's injury-stricken team have often been less than scintillating and Goodyear's hopes of Cup glory this year have been dashed.

Manders' chairman, Roy Amos, a Birmingham City supporter, must be having a quiet laugh on his own.

The success of a travel bookshop in central London could lead to a windfall for a group of investors from JP Morgan and several Notting Hill worthies such as John Julius Norwich, Thomas Pakenham and Sir Tim Sainsbury. Six years ago, James Daunt, then a 26-year-old banker at JP Morgan, quit his job to set up a specialised bookshop. He found the ideal location in a Victorian bookstore designed by Francis Edwardes, the antiquarian bookseller, which features a high-domed skylight that evokes a temple atmosphere. High rents and recession hit trade initially, but now Daunt says it earns a handsome profit on its £1.5m turnover. The original BES financing matures next month and the investors are trying to decide whether to sell the business, encourage a management buyout or fund further expansion. "It's been one of the most satisfying investments of my career," said one shareholder.

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