London `should be rescue capital'

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The Independent Online
Senior insolvency specialists at top UK accountancy firms are planning to turn London into the global capital for international corporate rescues, by revamping the "London Approach" pioneered by the Bank of England in the 1980s.

The Bank introduced the London Approach, an informal set of guidelines on how to prevent multi-banker companies from going bust, in reaction to the spiralling numbers of banks involved in restructuring talks. Where companies had previously used a handful of lead banks, by the 1980s companies like Polly Peck and the Maxwell empire were borrowing from hundreds of banks from all over the world.

This made co-ordinating refinancing talks increasingly difficult. Under the London Approach a single lead bank would be appointed, usually a UK clearing bank, to liaise with all the overseas banks and work with insolvency specialists towards a rescue. The Bank of England would use its clout to bring recalcitrant banks into line.

Colin Bird, head of corporate recovery at Price Waterhouse, now wants a new London Approach that will incorporate the interests of two other groups that can potentially destabilise international rescue attempts - bond-holders and debt-traders.

Both groups often have completely different agendas from the banks. Some debt-traders in the US are called "vulture funds" because they buy up debt in troubled companies on the cheap and then attempt to make a turn by influencing the rescue talks to their own ends.

Mr Bird said: "Two opportunities exist. First, to create an approach that works for all stakeholder groups and which makes reconstruction possible. Secondly, to make London the place to undertake international rescues and restructures."

Chris Barlow, a senior insolvency partner with Coopers & Lybrand, and the man winding up Polly Peck, agrees that the emergence of aggressive American debt-traders means a new approach is needed which will involve them in the rescue process.

Mr Barlow said: "The London Approach has worked very well so far. There have been over 40 successful work-outs of companies with debts of over pounds 100m in the last six years. Companies like Stakis Hotels, Tiphook, Gateway and Queens Moat Houses were all dealt with using the approach."

Mr Bird intends to press his proposals for a new approach at a conference for international insolvency specialists in New Orleans this March.