Column Eight: Lambs to a lively slaughter

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The Independent Online
The Small Business Bureau's 16th national conference, which happens next Wednesday, does not promise to be the jolly of the year.

Michael Heseltine and Gillian Shephard, the guest speakers, will join 700 small business entrepreneurs in what the organisers promise will be a 'lively open discussion'. Since around 46,000 small businesses have failed so far this year, you bet it'll be lively.

And yesterday John Major told the Tory conference that Mr Heseltine now has special responsibility for helping those self-same small businesses to cut through the red tape that so afflicts them.

'Come on, Michael,' cried Mr Major exuberantly. 'Out with your club, on with your loincloth] Swing into action]' Could be very timely advice.

So, the City loses confidence in another Lamont. Norman's lacklustre conference speech failed to impress - and yesterday shares in Lamont Holdings, the textiles company, took the biggest fall on the markets, tumbling 65p after interim profits slumped by 44 per cent and the company spoke of an uncertain outlook.

Company secretary Michael Lamont said he favoured a cut in interest rates to help business. How long will he be the only Mr Lamont to think so?

Nautical metaphors have littered conference speeches in Brighton. Boats have been storm-tossed and there has been endless stormy weather - even the Governor of the Bank of England caught the virus, banging on this week about the danger of a too- short anchor chain. Even the term 'balls-up' qualifies: two balls hoisted from a ship means it has run aground. . .

Anxious to swot up on German domination, City types have bought all the copies of David Marsh's new book on the Bundesbank at Waterstone's in Leadenhall Market.

And does the publisher, Heinemann, know something we don't? The publishing slip included in review copies bore the subtitle: The Bank that Rules the World. In Marsh's actual subtitle, the bank has only conquered Europe.

They do things differently in Norwich. Philip Scott (general manager, finance) was not in his office at Norwich Union at 3.30pm yesterday. A secretary explained: 'They've just finished a board meeting and it's such a lovely sunny afternoon I think they've decided to go home early.'

Bad news from Ireland. A provisional liquidator has been appointed at Sullivan Bluth, the animation studio responsible for the cartoon hit An American Tail (anyone with access to a young child should know of Fievel Mousekovitz, the film's rodent star), Rock a Doodle and the seminal work, All Dogs Go to Heaven.

The schlocking news is that three films in production are now in jeopardy: Thumbelina, A Troll in Central Park and Romeo and the Rockhopper. Sob.