City Diary: Saddling motorists with striking right balance

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The Independent Online
"Get on yer bike!" This is the message from the Government to British business with the launch of its national Cycling Strategy this week, which calls for a quadrupling in cycle use over the next 15 years.

A group of companies in northern Bristol have already pedalled ahead of the pack with their own Project Bike. US computer giant Hewlett Packard, British Aerospace and Rolls-Royce have signed up to Project Bike, which is dedicated to increasing the number of people cycling to work. Peter Andrews, co-ordinator, says: "Lots of new companies are signing up here, and it will be a nightmare if everyone drives."

Hewlett Packard is the Project's star, with over 10 per cent of its 1,400 staff pedalling in every day against the national average of 2-3 per cent. And Hewlett's in-house bicycle user group, or "BUG", is keeping the pressure on recalcitrant drivers.

Richard Purdey, chairman of Merrydown, is also a scion of the Purdey family which makes top-notch shotguns. Mr Purdey recalled yesterday that, when IDV launched the Purdey brand of fruit drinks five years ago, he wrote to the gun company suggesting that they ask for royalties. "I'm afraid it was all a fantasy," Mr Purdey lamented. "There's no trademark protection for the name."

I personally always associated Purdey with the New Avengers character played by the delectable Joanna Lumley.

Hanson has found that dreaming up new corporate names can be tricky as well. Now that Hanson is splitting into four new separately quoted companies, it needs a name for the energy division which includes Eastern Electricity.

Christopher Collins, Hanson vice-chairman, says that it has taken several weeks to settle on a name, since the first choice, Energy Resources, was found to have been taken already by an Australian company. They ended up with The Energy Group, which Mr Collins insists has the virtue of simplicity - it tells you what the company does. Its also a bit flat - hopefully, unlike the company's growth prospects.

Greg Hutchings, chief executive of Tomkins, explains that the company's sales of lawn mowers in the US were hit by bad winter weather which extended into the spring, the peak season for buying Murray mowers. There is a silver lining though, Mr Hutchings adds.

Tomkins has compensated with booming sales of snow blowers, noisy contraptions much beloved of Americans because they blow all the snow on your front path into your neighbour's garden. Such was the demand last winter that one blower was highjacked in New York.

Jim Heilig, chief executive at Scottish packager Low & Bonar, says his company was also hit by the severe US winter with a fall-off in demand for sacks, cement bags, glass seed bags and the like - but saw much higher demand for salt and grit bags to deal with America's snowed-up roads.

At the very least there seems to be a growth market in silver linings. Astronomers are currently reporting that sun spot activity is at a 30- year high. It all fits.

Lively scenes at yesterday's press conference to herald Standard Life's sale of its stake in Bank of Scotland. As journalists descended on the presentation, lawyers for Standard Life insisted that two writers be excluded - both from the FT. The company's reason was that the FT is published in the US, and under American securities regulations Standard Life would be unable to talk to the FT journalists on the record. To their credit, George Graham, the banking correspondent, and a chap from the Lex column marched resolutely in. Will the American side of the sale now be pulled? Watch this space.