Michael Harrison's Outlook: The Equitable solution would be for Vanni to spend more time as a smart City lawyer

Eddington's parting salvo; To do the splits or not at BT; A tale of two car makers
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E&Y crow that they have been completely vindicated and say they hope Equitable's climbdown will deter similar opportunistic claims in future.

It's not that simple. The case collapsed because it relied upon the evidence of Equitable's former directors, who themselves are being sued by Mr Treves, to establish that E&Y's negligence had led to the society's losses.

A smart City lawyer might have concluded that this was a highly dangerous thing to rely upon since Equitable's failure to win its case against E&Y now makes it almost certain that it will have to abandon its action against its former directors as well.

In any event, the pursuit of Equitable's former actuary and chief executive Christopher Headdon and 14 of his fellow directors, has always looked futile. Mr Treves may have had a duty to pursue the auditors and an incentive to do so because of their deep pockets. But what is the purpose in bringing a £1.7bn claim against 15 individuals whose professional indemnity insurance has already been soaked up in their own legal fees?

Mr Treves should now consider his own position. As for his policyholders, their last hope lies in the Parliamentary Ombudsman, Ann Abrahams, ruling that the Government was derelict in its regulation of Equitable before the balloon went up. Her final report is due in January. Will it be a late Christmas present or another slap in the face with a wet fish?

Eddington's parting salvo

Sir Rod Eddington has had more farewells than Frank Sinatra as he prepares to hand over the joy stick at British Airways and retire from full-time executive life. But he managed to save the best for last yesterday. His excoriating critique of the US airline industry was a tour de force of everything that is wrong in the land of the free - or the free ride as he rechristened it.

As an Aussie, Sir Rod does not need to concern himself with the supposed special relationship between Britain and America. But as the chief executive of BA, he is better placed than most to understand what a one-way street it has become, at least as far as aviation is concerned.

If it is right that airlines exist because of political and not consumer demand, then there is no better example than America, where four of the six big flag carriers are in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Would anyone notice if half those airlines, or even all four of them, ceased to exist? Open skies would allow the market to decide, but successive US administrations have refused to sanction any deal which gave US and European airlines access to one another's domestic markets on anything approaching equal terms.

Alternately, a healthy bout of consolidation might also do the trick, but the US is the cheerleader in chief when it comes to supporting an archaic system which grants landing rights according to the nationality of the carrier. It is the reason BA found it impossible in the end to buy KLM and fly passengers from Amsterdam to New York.

There is, of course, more than a touch of hypocrisy in the attitude of America, which lectures the rest of the world on free trade but applies the most protectionist barrier imaginable around its airline industry. The fact that it is not working is self-evident from the $9bn loss that the US airline collectively recorded last year.

Like two bald men fighting over a comb, the sterile argument between the US and Europe over open skies looks destined to continue until one day they open their eyes and discover the world has moved on - or rather east to the new superpowers of China and India. It's later than we think, is the valedictory message from BA's departing pilot. But is anyone in Washington listening?

To do the splits or not at BT

Openreach may sound like an initiative by the Penal Reform Society to rehabilitate ex-jailbirds. In fact, it is the name BT has chosen to give its ring-fenced local networks business which, henceforth, is supposed to ensure that rival telecoms operators get access to its exchanges and copper cables on equal and transparent terms.

Its 25,000 engineers climb the equivalent of Mount Everest every day shinning up and down telegraph poles. Whether their daily tea intake is the equivalent of an Olympic-sized swimming pool, we have not been told. But you get the idea. Openreach is a big business - it has 22,000 vans, assets of £8bn and looks after 120 million kilometres of copper cable.

What no one can yet know is whether it will work. Openreach was BT's answer when the regulator Ofcom came knocking on Ben Verwaayen's door and asked him what he thought about being being broken up so that BT's retail business was totally separate from its wholesale arm.

When British Gas was asked the same question, it jumped before it could be pushed and demerged its retail supply business Centrica from its gas pipelines division Transco. Mr Verwaayen thinks he can keep the regulator and the City happy with the half-way house of a ring-fenced business which remains wholly-owned but with its own management board.

He says this should end, once and for all, the debate about whether BT should do the splits. In reality, it has only just begun. The more investors come to understand about Openreach, the greater will be the pressure to extract maximum value by demerging it.

A tale of two car makers

It is a year since BMW's top man in Britain, Jim O'Donnell, called the owners of MG Rover the "unacceptable face of capitalism". Since then, things have moved on. Phoenix Venture Holdings has been reduced once more to ashes, taking the Longbridge car plant with it. But BMW's UK operations have gone from strength to strength and are providing real jobs for more than 6,000 people. The Mini factory in Oxford will sell a record number of cars this year and its German owners are so pleased they are planning an encore - a brand new Mini a couple of years from now, even bigger output and the production of engines for the new models inside the UK.

The Germans, it seems, may not own the rights to the Mini marque but they have come up with a name for the phenomenon which has seen a vibrant new car industry grow up between Oxford, Swindon, where body panels for the models are pressed, and the Hams Hall engine plant. They call it the Mini Triangle.

Longbridge, by contrast, is disappearing like the ships that enter the Bermuda Triangle. Its new Chinese owners have already ripped out the engine line and taken it back home and the rest of the kit looks like being sold for scrap while Nanjing Auto and Shanghai Auto continue their unseemly fight over who has the rights to the Rover models. The chances of any jobs being salvaged from this Chinese takeaway look more remote by the day. Presumably, Mr O'Donnell would call this the unacceptable face of communism.

m.harrison@independent.co.uk

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