Column Eight: Taking a bite out of tradition

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The Independent Online
Drastic cuts, we hear, at Union Discount, the venerable discount house. It has shut the top three floors of its City premises on Cornhill to reduce its rates bill. Among the casualties is the directors' dining room - scene of decades of legendary troughing.

Those lucky enough to have lunched at Union recall how the directors could stay au courant with the money markets while in mid-feed - the wood panelling by the groaning drinks cabinet concealed a handy trading screen.

A streamlined dining room will eventually be reopened, confides George Blunden, the chief executive who has decided against selling the well- stocked wine cellar. But future lunches will be 'for the development of the business'.

Fingers crossed at the Poole and Bournemouth offices of the accountants Grant Thornton, where Adrian Stead, a trainee number- cruncher, is off to the Olympics to compete in the Flying Dutchman class yachting event.

His boss Steve Hall, a keen sailor himself, says Stead is in with a chance of a medal. 'He came sixth in the world at the final trials in Cadiz.

'And he's only been in to work for five weeks since January,' he adds happily.

Another setback for industrial democracy. Outside North West Water's shareholders' meeting in Manchester yesterday protesters demonstrated against the 31 per cent pay rise to pounds 189,000 of Robert Thian, chief executive.

Inside, the attempt by David Murphy, a NWW employee and GMB union member, to gain a seat on the board was defeated on a show of hands.

GMB will try again at the Thames Water and Anglian meetings next week.

Sir Bryan Nicholson, the pounds 170,000 head of the Post Office, is to join the board of Varity Corporation, the US group that makes Massey Ferguson tractors ('Buffalo London Tokyo,' burbles the Varity letterhead).

Wisely, Varity used PO staff and resources to announce the appointment. You don't get to be a dollars 3bn corporation by overlooking the potential of the British taxpayer to foot your petty expenses.

British Gas has split the roles of chairman and chief executive. Cedric Brown becomes chief executive, leaving Bob Evans with the sole title of chairman.

Mr Evans, whose head-to- head rows with the industry watchdog, Sir James McKinnon of Ofgas, were notorious, has had enough. Ofgas talks will now be handled by Mr Brown, who met Sir James for the first time on Monday.