CITY DIARY:Spirit of Scrooge moves in at Reuters

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Reuters has reacted decisively to the perceived slowdown in its markets announced last week. The international news agency has cancelled the children's Christmas party and prompted an immediate strike ballot by offering staff a 2 per cent pay rise.

With some reporters hinting darkly at a walkout on Budget Day the grievance was quickly put to an informal ballot to test the water. Lawyers have also been consulted on a formal ballot, although it is unlikely the law can be complied with in time to pull the plug on the Chancellor (more's the pity).

With third-quarter revenue up 15 per cent at pounds 677m and shares near their peak of pounds 6 staff were hoping that claims for a 7 per cent pay award would be treated sympathetically. But the response from management, led by chief executive Peter Job, is being viewed as less than magnanimous.

"The Christmas party for the staff's children has been going for years,'' sobs one journalist. "Santa Claus comes along and all the kids get a little present.''

God really is moving in mysterious ways. The Diocese of London has stepped into the unknown and put its monthly events calendar on the Internet, offering salvation to many an angst-ridden trader.

"People working long hours in the City can quickly check their monitor for lunch time music or a special church service,'' warbles Leigh Hatts, the Diocese's listings editor. Today, on All Saints' Day, for example, there is a choice of 21 church services, both Anglican and Roman Catholic.

The move should also further the church's hitherto unreported work with men behaving oddly. Suspicious personnel managers may care to pop along to St Mary Woolnoth in Lombard Street and see who turns up at a series of talks which include "Men's Inner Pain'', "The Search for Masculine Spiritual Wholeness'' and "Men: Quietly Desperate?''

The queue will probably stretch to the Tower.

The Rugby League World Cup notwithstanding, the Halifax has yet to embrace sponsorship in a manner befiting a major banking force. It will be a couple of months before the building society - which is in the process of converting to a bank - has fully evaluated the success of its association with the rugby tournament and there are no immediate plans to match the largesse of the big clearers when it comes to pumping money into sport and the arts.

"We do have pretentions to being an international force,'' a Halifax spokesman admitted, ''but we are still formulating our marketing mix.'' Until then the society will stick with backing the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival. Wimbledon will have to wait.

Ernst & Young has been quick to erect its defences following yesterday's High Court ruling in favour of Lloyd's names, which could see the auditors of the Merrett 418 syndicate liable for an awful lot of dosh. Ernst HQ has suddenly been festooned with Hallowe'en masks and symbols of the occult. The first name to sue gets a date with the forces of darkness.

Jacques Chirac may not find the new entente cordiale so easy to sell back home when the French find out about Britain's Business Links initiative. The all-singing, all-dancing one-stop shop for small business advice and services is reporting deep penetration of traditional Gallic markets. At the vanguard is Fosters Bakery in Barnsley. Its baguettes are going down a storm across the Channel. "You can buy baguettes made in Barnsley within 100 yards of the Champs Elysees," preens John Foster, Barnsley boulanger.

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