The City Diary

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Accountants take leading roles in a tale of political intrigue at City Hall

Oh dear, PricewaterhouseCoopers has found itself embroiled in the murky world of political scandal. Accusations are flying from the Labour quarters of City Hall that the (impartial) financial services firm could be a little too close to the Tories.

The twisting tale of political intrigue begins at the start of the year when PWC was contracted by the board of the London Development Agency (LDA) to review its practices in the lead-up to the mayoral elections. No problem with that, but the delicate nose for controversy of LDA's Labour group leader, Len Duvall, began twitching soon after the new Mayor, Boris Johnson, announced a forensic audit panel to look into financial management at the LDA.

The panel, which is headed by the former 'Sunday Telegraph' editor Patience Wheatcroft, is unashamedly pro-Tory, so Duvall says he was "surprised" to see that a certain Andrew Gordon, head of forensic investigations at PWC, was among its members. And he was even more surprised to see PWC had been commissioned to do the work.

Conflict of interest? Duvall appears to believe so and is now asking some tough questions of PWC.

"Are you happy that your firm should be seen so publicly to be engaged in supporting this political witch-hunt in an organisation you are under contract to?" he demands to know in a letter to the firm's chairman, Kieran Poynter (right).

PWC refused to comment.

All this political drama makes solving complex, cross-border tax issues seem a mere trifle.

Oyster slows down the progress of an Olympian

Our thanks to Lord Coe for showing journalists around the Olympic site last Tuesday. But we do feel Seb's handlers could have prepared better on his behalf. Dropping us off at Stratford station – traffic was too heavy to drive to London 2012's Canary Wharf HQ – Seb was left to queue up for an Oyster card to take him back to work. It seems even an Olympic legend is expected to use public transport these days.

Go, man, go: Seb still has what it takes

OK, this isn't really a business diary story, but what the heck ... Lord Coe – that is, the 52-year-old Lord Coe – also told us that he has timed himself running 400m in 53 seconds in the past couple of months. To put that into context, the time equates to 1 minute 46 seconds for 800m – the British team's qualifying time for the 2004 Athens Olympic Games.

Out of the mouths of babes...

Bedraggled insurer Friends Provident has plenty of problems at the moment – not least a lack of buyers for its three businesses F&C, Lombard and Pantheon. But things could soon get worse. The rumour mill suggests that incoming chief executive Trevor Matthews could be planning on a very short stay at the group. Matthews starts his Friends role at the end of next month after six months on gardening leave. But insiders tell us: "Apparently Matthews' kids are going around telling everyone who'll listen that 'Daddy has said we're going back home to Australia next year.' "

Under the mattresses of Norfolk

They might be the butt of jokes most of the time but those bumpkins in East Anglia could be set to have the last laugh in the coming months, according to research from the Halifax.

Apparently the residents of north Norfolk are a frugal bunch, putting more than half their earnings aside for a rainy day. In comparison, profligate Londoners save the lowest percentage of their salaries by a significant margin – just a fifth of their money – while spending the rest on wine, women and song. And those women, on average, save more of their salaries than men.

Fund manager hopes to see a New Star rising

Could beleaguered investors in New Star Asset Management's UK commercial property fund be in line for a much-needed boost? According to the financial publisher Citywire, the fund has lost more than a fifth of its value over the course of the past year as the credit crunch has bitten hard.

In July last year New Star changed the pricing on the fund to a bid basis, as opposed to the bid-offer method used by most funds, a move prompted by the need to stop the outflow of cash. But apparently the powers-that-be at the group, which is led by John Duffield (pictured), could be about to reverse what is in effect a penalty charge intended to stop investors leaving.

Do they know something we don't? Maybe now's the time to get back into property? Probably not.

Bid bets for Mr Bradford and Mr Bingley

Nice to see that the Texans at TPG, the private equity house battling to win control of Bradford & Bingley, are retaining a sense of humour as Clive Cowdery attempts to crash their party. City insiders tell us that Pelham, the Square Mile PR outfit advising TPG on its spin tactics, has been running an internal book on who's likely to table a bid for the ailing buy-to-let lender next. What's the betting that list is getting longer by the second?

Cowdery hasn’t lost his Resolution

Clive Cowdery may have lost out to bitter rival Hugh Osmond, who snaffled his company away from him last year, but at least he managed to keep hold of his beloved "Resolution" name. Apparently, the old Resolution, now owned by Osmond, is just weeks away from unveiling its new moniker. In the meantime, expect lots of confusion, including the possibility of Resolution fund managers criticising Resolution's bid for Bradford & Bingley.

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