CITY DIARY

Stuart Wheeler, managing director at IG Index, is a happier man now that the Government has decided that spread betting on sport should remain under the regulatory authority of the Financial Services Act.

The Government's drive to do away with red tape led to a move by the Treasury and the Department of Trade and Industry to consider placing spread betting on sport, rather than on financials, under the watchful eye of the Gaming Act only.

It does not take a financial whiz kid to work out why spread-betting is attracting a growing team of supporters. Being able to place a live bet, change it during a match, or even win money on the losing team and then not pay any tax on the proceeds sounds like manna from heaven.

Opponents to its removal from the FSA's authority said smaller betting outlets might not have the financial clout to handle the risk.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer has changed his mind, however, and now financial companies which offer the service, such as IG Index, will not be suffering from an influx of competition from the high street.

Richard Branson, no virgin at the marketing game, is at it again. From the man who brought you an airline, a cola, record label, record stores and personal financial services as well as a questionable taste in knitted sweaters comes the ultimate challenge: drink until you drop.

The beverage is Virgin Vodka, and the challenge is all in the name of research. A number of strong-stomached volunteers will be invited to consume as much of the spirit as they can, in order to ascertain if its advertised extra pure nature will reduce - or even alleviate.- that morning after feeling.

The event is to be strictly monitored and drinkers will be required to report to the Virgin hotline the following day on the state of their health. Transport home is provided.

Mystery deepens over the fate of that now infamous carpet at the Bank of England. Two high-level sources have told us that, since the departure of Rupert Pennant-Rea, the floor covering in the Governor's dressing room has been discreetly removed. So discreetly in fact that the Bank itself will not admit that anything has been changed. A tireless official at the Bank insists that he has twice been down to look and that the carpet there is exactly the same as it was. Our sources continue to insist that the story is true. Can this conundrum be resolved? Are there two carpets of the same material and design? Over to you, Holmes.

Sir William Purves, the businessman's businessman and chairman of HSBC Holdings, had to leave a lot behind when he decamped from Hong Kong. The loss of the reportedly luxurious office and the chairmanship of the immensely powerful and prestigious Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club, plus a cut in his substantial pay packet when he moved to the UK may have left Sir William slightly down in the mouth. The one thing he has not lost, however, is his luck. When not playing golf or watching rugby, Sir William likes to go to the races, preferably to watch one of his own horses. Success came his way over the bank holiday weekend, when his horse, Overbrook, romped home to win the 3.10 at Kempton.

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