The City Diary: Publicity spotlight turns now to the Duke of York
Slackbelly exposes the good, the bad, and the ugly of the Square Mile
Sunday 30 May 2010
The sophisticated tabloid sting that outwitted the brilliant mind of Sarah Ferguson last weekend is causing a bit of annoyance in the world of commerce.
You'll recall how the Duchess of York was kindly offering to take a small stipend of £500,000 for introducing businessmen to her ex husband, Prince Andrew, the UK's Special Representative for International Trade and Investment. The news caused some to study the Duke of York's schedule more closely, and the research has thrown up some absorbing entries.
For example, BG Group (British Gas, in old money) met with the Prince on three separate occasions in the five weeks between 25 March and 28 April this year. That packed programme included a rendezvous in Kazakhstan where the Duke of York has contacts through his friend Goga Ashkenazi the socialite-cum-oil executive who has a child with Timur Kulibayev, the son-in-law of Kazakhstan's president. Kulibayev also bought a home from the Duke, some say for an inflated fee.
But why did BG – and in particular its chief executive, Frank Chapman – need to see the Prince quite so frequently during the spring? A spokeswoman waffles about keeping "in close touch with the Duke of York over a number of years in his capacity as the UK's Special Representative" – but three meetings in five weeks?
"I am not going to provide a full running commentary on all our contacts with the Duke of York," the mouthpiece snaps. Thank you.
The kiss of death in business
Meanwhile, the 2010 diary of our Special Representative for International Trade is packed with other meetings. First there's Ian Livingston, the chief executive of BT Group, the telecoms giant which has since seen its shares slump and is currently being threatened with a strike. Then there's Tidjane Thiam, the boss of Prudential, who has cocked up almost every task that he's attempted since. And there's Peter Sutherland, the chairman of Goldman Sachs International, part of the investment bank which has since been charged with fraud by the Securities and Exchange Commission. and we mustn't forget Shashi Ruia, the chairman of Essar Group, which has since had the worst flotation debut in eight years.
Might it be worth paying £500,000 to avoid a meeting?
Civil service jobs for the composting and traffic technologists
As we keep being told of imminent public-sector cuts being planned by the Lib-Con coalition (anag: colonic libation) Government, it is time for one of my occasional probes into the depths of the civil service recruitment website. There you can apply for such essential roles as a "Policy and Programme Manager (Quality of Life)" at the Forestry Commission; a "Disinfecting and Composting Business Development Manager" at the Veterinary Laboratories Agency; a "Senior Traffic Technologist" at the Highways Agency; and a "Senior Land Use Change Scientist" at the Food and Environment Research Agency. Holes that need filling, perhaps?
Following in Lord Black's footsteps?
I see that Guy Black, the director of Telegraph Media Group, has been made a Conservative peer. Let's hope he has better luck than the previous Lord Black of that parish ...
The best defence is attack ... er, perhaps a subtler response
Faced with fraud allegations from the SEC, investment bank Goldman Sachs said on 16 April: "The SEC's charges are completely unfounded in law and fact and we will vigorously contest them and defend the firm and its reputation." Four days later, the position had been finessed, with Goldman's co-general counsel, Greg Palm, observing: "It's going to be a factual dispute about what he [suspended trader, Fabrice Tourre] remembers and what folks remember on the other side."
Now Goldman looks to be hoping to avoid the fraud charges by reaching a settlement with the SEC on a lesser offence and agreeing to a fine of hundreds of millions of dollars.
Hmm. You'll recall how there was a the difference of opinion within Goldman about how to handle the response to the allegations, with UK boss "Fat" Mike Sherwood pushing for a punchy retort, while PR supremo Lucas van Praag wanted a subtler approach. Considering the gently shifting position, has old smoothy-chops van Praag won the argument?
And some jokes inevitably fall on stony ground
Surveillance: former chancellor Ken Clarke strolling into the Garrick on Thursday evening with George Osborne, current occupant of No 11, and greeted by eurosceptic MP Bill Cash, who droned: "Oh, it's father and son." I'd stay off the parent-child gags if I were Cash. Last year, the MP had to repay £15,000 of taxpayers' money after it emerged that he'd milked the expenses system by renting a flat from daughter Laetitia – while his own property closer to Westminster was occupied (rent-free) by son Sam.
Royal Mail: New boss Moya Greene takes letters seriously
A big welcome to Canadian Moya Greene, 56, the post-mistress who is to succeed Adam Crozier as the boss of Royal Mail. Greene comes to the UK from running Canada Post, an organisation that faced many of the same challenges new engulfing Royal Mail. She still looks to have a first-class reputation after five years of profitability (even the unions don't hate her that much).
Still, her career is perhaps best remembered for two pranks: one when she overreacted by calling in lawyers after she was teased by a satirical website for joining the board of a doughnut company because she wanted to be first in line for morning coffee. The other was when Canada Post's replies to children who had sent letters to Santa were intercepted by jokers who replaced them with letters in which Father Christmas described himself performing lewd acts.
Greene was forced to make statements about taking the search for the saucy elf "very seriously" and ended up blaming a few local minors. Let's hope she has more joy with Europe's Santa in Lapland than the Canadian one on Baffin Island.
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