Former Foreign Secretary goes in to bat for Britain once more

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The Independent Online
Lord Hurd of Westwell, the former Foreign Secretary, is going into bat for British Invisibles as its new chairman. At the same time BI is proposing to merge with another body which promotes the country's financial sector abroad, CEENET, the export promotion company run by the Corporation of London.

BI is a creature of the Bank of England, so the new organisation would represent a marriage between two big boys in the City. The nuptials depend on the respective members giving the go-ahead to the two bodies, although not much is likely to stop this arranged marriage.

Whether this will give Lord Hurd more clout than his other job as a director of NatWest Group depends on your point of view. In fact the bespectacled Old Etonian is already deputy chairman of BI. He will replace Sir Brian Pearse, about whom I have already written an inordinate amount this week.

Over in Threadneedle Street, Eddie George is happy to give his blessing to the marriage, saying that BI and CEENET together will provide "a solid foundation on which an effective and efficient promotional effort for the financial services sector can be based".

BSM, the company that used to be called British School of Motoring, is launching the country's first commercially available learner driver simulator, which will teach novice drivers the basic skills before they are unleashed on the public highway.

Now learners can run over virtual dogs, reverse on to computer-generated pavements and attempt to drive off with the handbrake still on to their hearts' content, secure in the knowledge that the rest of us are safe.

BSM's chief executive, Richard Glover, is euphoric: "The new simulator is great news for learner drivers. It takes away those nervous moments when you are sitting in the driver's seat for the first time faced with what seems like dozens of controls and the daunting challenge of actually getting the car moving."

The machine was designed by the French aircraft simulator specialists Faros. The makers claim you get a real sensation of driving, with instructions fed in by an "intelligent" voiceover. Does this mean the person behind you still gets car sick? Will the machine inform you smugly that "you just missed the turnoff"? The five-hour course for pounds 75 might help reverse Britain's soaring divorce rates.

"Raising the Bar" is a talk by Ken Clark to be delivered next April, according to a brochure that has just plopped on my desk. Something about drinking it dry, perhaps? No, it's not Ken Clarke, the former Chancellor and new chairman of UniChem, but Ken Clark, a personal financial adviser of 40 years' standing, who is delivering the speech to the Life Insurance Association convention in Birmingham next year.

Mr Clark's speech will deal with knotty issues including "How competitive are you? Do you set yourself goals? Do you raise the bar of your own expectations?" I suspect Mr Clarke's talk would have been more fun.

Lonrho has appointed Roger Phillimore as a non-executive director, in a move which will no doubt confirm former chairman Tiny Rowland's dark suspicions that Anglo American Corporation is stalking the jewel in Lonrho's crown, the Ashanti gold mine. Mr Phillimore held positions in Anglo American prior to joining Minorco in 1981, where he was joint managing director from 1982 to 1992. Since he left Minorco Mr Phillimore has advised various companies on international strategy.

Railtrack is moving to plush new offices at London's Euston Station over the next fortnight, an excited press spokesman tells me. The privatised company has spent pounds 7m on the refurbishment of the office block. The move will bring together 900 staff from eight former sites around the capital, and its 14 floors will all be open plan - apart from the offices of Sir Bob Horton and his fellow board directors, of course.

With the EBRD "gold taps in the loo" scandal obviously in mind, the Railtrack spokesman added: "We will have no marble walls or waterfalls. It will all be tastefully decorated in pastel shades. It will reflect our status as a FTSE 100 company. "

United Biscuits is legendary in its generosity as far as freebies for journalists and analysts are concerned, as the food manufacturer proved once again yesterday when it announced its results at City PR outfit Brunswick. Lucky journos tucked into packets of "Phileas Fogg Authentic Tortilla" chips, biscuits, cake and "Go Ahead" low fat products (very suitable).

Coincidentally Booker, the cash and carry group, were also announcing their results at Brunswick. Charles Bowen, chief executive, obviously got a bit peckish as he was spotted paying one of the analysts pounds 2 for his UB nibbles box.

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