Grouse are the losers in the corporate crossfire

City Diary
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The Independent Online
MPs' outside interests are under scrutiny as never before. One Westminster insider was recently perusing the latest list of members' interests when he came across the entry for Jim Paice, Conservative MP for Cambridgeshire South-east. "November 1995: One day's shooting courtesy of Littlewoods. Two days' shooting courtesy of Bass." Instantly our spy's thoughts turned to Nicholas Soames, the jovial Minister for the Armed Forces, who is a well known figure on the grouse moors and lists his hobbies in Who's Who as "country pursuits." Had the minister enjoyed similar corporate largesse without listing it? Yesterday Mr Soames himself found the suggestion hugely amusing: "I've never been on a corporate shoot in my life. You have to be very grand to be invited on one of those.

"I prefer my conservation species lightly grilled."

City rumours of a link-up between PowerGen and British Gas Energy, the supply arm of British Gas, proved wide of the mark, but punters were intrigued as to where the idea might have come from. The rumour went that electricity boss Ed Wallis had discussed the idea informally with Stuart Andersen, British Gas director of corporate strategy. This may have been prompted by the fact that Mr Andersen is married to Jennifer Andersen - who works for PowerGen's in-house gas and fuel marketing business. Sadly this vision of fireside corporate deals is mere fantasy.

Congratulations to cricket-mad Peter Butler, until last year finance director of HI-TEC Sports, who beat 250 other applicants to get the top corporate governance job at Hermes Pensions Management. Hermes chief executive Alastair Ross Goobey, who has spearheaded the drive by institutional fund managers to gee up underperforming companies, created the role to make Hermes even more active in the area. Mr Butler has been finance director of British Sugar and Berisford, but his first love is sport. He is a member of the marketing committee of Essex County Cricket Club and the MCC. He will have to play with a straight bat in his new role, however, as some other institutions are "confused" about Hermes' plans. "Are they seeking to divorce corporate governance from fund management?" one asked. "We prefer to make a single judgement on how well the company is run." Time to put on the pads, Peter.

As British ministers battle to persuade their Continental counterparts that the ban on British beef exports should be lifted, the BSE crisis continues to turn up winners and losers. One winner is a North Yorkshire farmer who sells beef direct to the public by mail order.

David Holmes, of West House Farm, Birstwith, near Harrogate, launched Farmtrust Direct on 2 April at the height of the crisis, offering humanely farmed beef, chicken, lamb and pork from animals that have not been penned or caged and only fed natural produce. He's selling twice as much beef as any other meat, to private customers as widespread as Dorset, Surrey, Wrexham and Caithness.

Meanwhile Nordale County Foods, based in Hunslet near Leeds, is having a bad time of it. Nordale is being forced to sack 45 of its 240 employees because the market for their frozen Yorkshire Puddings has collapsed.

Hanson is calling its newly demerged American chemicals arm Millenium Chemicals. Announcing the name-change yesterday, Bill Landuyt, former head of Hanson US, said that one definition of millenium in Webster's Dictionary is "a period of great happiness". "This is the state of mind we are looking to deliver to future Millenium Chemicals shareholders," said Mr Landuyt.

Since Hanson's shares have underperformed the market over the last five years, if Mr Landuyt can do any better than that, investors will be happy indeed.

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