Jeremy Warner's Outlook: In the end, Sir Gerry's Rentokil retreat was so ragged he didn't have time to fold his tent

Calling Sir Gerry: Compass needs you; Alan Johnson's terrible week

Sir Gerry has done himself few favours in attempting to lay siege to Rentokil. The assault always looked greedy, arrogant and less than serious. He never managed to articulate a vision for the company, still less justify the outrageous £79m fee he and his advisers were demanding for coming aboard. Nor in truth was there ever any intention of making a full-scale bid, though from the start he dangled this possibility before shareholders.

Sir Gerry waltzed on to the battlefield with an almost laughable air of puffed-up self-importance, expecting, apparently, the keys to the city to be presented to him on a plate. In this endeavour he admittedly had the backing of Rentokil's largest shareholder, Franklin Templeton, but there was never any evidence of wider support.

If Sir Gerry thought he could spin his way to eventual success he was sadly disappointed. The world doesn't work that way any more, and a PR campaign that was as disingenuous as it was inept only served further to alienate any residual support he might have had.

Like an old cart in a muddy lane, the endeavour became progressively bogged down in its own absurdity. The charitable thing would have been to wade in and lend a hand - one doesn't like to see such humiliation - but on second thoughts, best not to get one's boots dirty.

Sir Gerry hoped to trade on his reputation for value creation. In the event, his assault only served to focus attention on his failures - ITV Digital and the now-discredited merger of Granada and Compass. He said he wanted to bring the techniques and rewards of private equity to the publicly quoted arena, yet there was never any evidence of private-equity interest in Rentokil and it may never have been suitable for such treatment.

I hope and trust that Sir Gerry bounces back from his bloody nose. He's a self-made man from a poor background; he's earned and deserved all the success he's achieved. Yet it plainly went to his head, and if ever there were a lesson in the dangers of vanity, this is it. Sir Gerry needed neither the money nor the glory of conducting the Rentokil turnaround. His mistake was in believing the City needed him. He's now had his answer, and an unflattering one it is too.

Calling Sir Gerry: Compass needs you

Forget Rentokil. The company that really needs some assistance right now is Sir Gerry's old stamping ground and the origin of his wealth, Compass Group. Sir Gerry left Compass years ago, so he can hardly be directly blamed for the disaster zone this company has become, yet he played his part, nonetheless. The rot dates back almost exactly to the merger Sir Gerry engineered between Compass and the catering and hotels rump of Granada, where he was chief executive. The share price has been in freefall almost ever since.

One disappointment has followed another, so it should really come as no surprise to learn that the company is now being accused of winning contracts by devious means. The Compass chief executive, Mike Bailey, has acted against these allegations - from the United Nations no less - by suspending the head of his UK, Ireland, Middle East and Africa division. He's also asked the City law firm, Freshfields, to conduct an investigation into the affair.

This hardly seems likely to put the lid on matters. Already the reputational damage is considerable. The case has also raised new concerns about the effectiveness of internal controls as well as apparently confirming the suspicion that the company has been pursuing contracts at almost any cost. Rock bottom confidence in the board is further undermined. A change of regime has already been flagged, but the new chairman, Sir Roy Gardner, is not due to take up his post until next summer, and Mr Bailey is hoping to hang on in there until at least then while the headhunters find him a successor.

Time, perhaps, for Sir Gerry to ride to the rescue. Compass's largest shareholder is the same American fund management group, Franklin Templeton, that backed Sir Gerry in his assault on Rentokil. So here, potentially, is a chance for Sir Gerry to redeem himself. There are few who know the business better, and on the face of it, few who are better qualified to put it back on its feet again. Then again, he may know the business only too well.

Alan Johnson's terrible week

Was it a good or a bad week for Alan Johnson, the still relatively new face of the Department of Trade and Industry? To union bosses, he seemed like hero of the hour after unceremoniously ditching plans to increase the retirement age for public sector workers from 60 to 65 and then later announcing proposals for extended paternity leave. To business leaders it all seemed depressingly familiar.

Not for nothing is the DTI known as the Department of Temerity and Ineptitude. Yet I doubt Mr Johnson will be worrying much about what business leaders think of him. Rather, he'll be filled with the warm glow of assumed electoral gain. Among many of his supporters, these were popular things to do.

Unfortunately, what may look like good politics is nearly always bad long-term economics, and by ducking pension reform in the public sector for fear of a disruptive confrontation with unions, the Government has all but destroyed any credibility it might have had in tackling the wider crisis in retirement provision.

How can the Government credibly enact policies to extend working life - expected to be a key recommendation of Lord Turner's Pensions Commission - while at the same time excluding public sector workers, who already enjoy both superior pension rights and an earlier retirement age than their private-sector counterparts?

By what right too do ministers cajole private-sector workers into saving more and working longer while at the same time maintaining a tax-funded haven of pensions privilege for those in the public sector? As the name implies, civil servants are there to serve, and there is something odd when the servants get to enjoy better pay than the masters. Picture the scene: the impoverished 70-year-old forced to shelf stack at B&Q to pay for nookie and sangria on the Costa Brava for the 60-year-old public servant. It's hardly the social equality Labour aspires to. In the meantime, government policy has all but destroyed private-sector pension provision.

The superior pension arrangements of the public sector used to be justified as a quid pro quo for generally inferior rates of pay. Yet the pay differentials have been much narrowed in recent years, and with the transfer through outsourcing of large numbers of low-paid jobs from the public to the private sector, the average may now be about the same.

For the time being, the public-sector pension promise is just about affordable. With improving levels of longevity and an ever increasing ratio of aged dependents to working population, it very likely won't be in 10 to 15 years. Alan Johnson himself described the case for raising the retirement age as "irrefutable". Well, he's just refuted it.

How dare the Chancellor lecture our European neighbours about inadequate economic and structural reform when his own Government refuses to grasp the nettle back home. Even France has increased the number of years civil servants have to work to gain full pension rights, making the system more affordable and narrowing the differential of privilege between public and private sector. Back in Britain, we are hurtling at breakneck speed in the other direction.

j.warner@independent.co.uk

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