Column Eight: The going is good at Budgens

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The Independent Online
There's no shortage these days of sacked bosses picking up generous pay-offs. Budgens, the small supermarkets group which came within a whisker of collapse last year, has paid pounds 526,000 to three departing directors.

They are John Fletcher, the former chairman and chief executive who quit after institutional pressure, and his two lieutenants Keith Clarke and Derek Pretty.

The sums are chickenfeed beside 'a McCrickard' - the pounds 750,000 unit coined this week as Don McCrickard cleared his desk at TSB, or 'a Horton' - the estimated pounds 2m paid to the ex-BP chief.

But the 22,000 shareholders of Budgens, who have yet to see a dividend since last year's rescue, could do without the expense. Still, there's one compensation in the annual report, mailed this week: a pounds 10 money- off voucher.

The reports are being carefully rationed, I'm told. According to Graham Rigby, finance director: 'My secretary has strict instructions on who to give them to.'

Across the high street at the struggling Ratners jewellery group, chief executive Gerald Ratner, a cowed man since his infamous 'total crap' gaffe, has taken a pounds 41,000 pay cut. His salary for the year to 1 February was down to pounds 574,000.

That's equivalent to 115,000 sherry decanter sets. Or 580,000 Marks & Spencer prawn sandwiches.

Sir Ian MacGregor's departure from HunterPrint has breathed new life into stories that the printer is desperate for a sizeable slug of cash.

Tony Caplin, chief executive, played the old 'market sensitivity' card when refusing to discuss it yesterday. Nor was he any more forthcoming in explaining discrepancies in the reports of Sir Ian's departure: did he leave because of ill- health, as new chairman Sir John Wheeler MP suggests, or was he pushed?

'I don't like this line of questioning,' Mr Caplin riposted. Apart from refusing to discuss either his company's finances or its management, Mr Caplin was a model of openness.

Some things do get cheaper. When this organ looked earlier this week at the comparative international prices of a McDonald's Big Mac hamburger, Russia came out ahead of the field - a Big Mac in Moscow cost a measly 9p.

Since then the rouble's turmoil has made that trip to Russia you always promised yourself even more worthwhile. A Muscovite burger will now cost you a bite-sized 7p.

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