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Business News

The City Diary: Still squabbling But James Caan't make up his mind

Slackbelly exposes The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of The Square Mile

James Caan and my old friend Duncan Bannatyne, the warring stars of the BBC's Dragons' Den, fell out when Bannatyne accused Caan of muscling in on his health club "manor" by unfairly exploiting the "non-dom" tax loophole.

Possibly in retaliation, Bev James, Caan's partner in Entrepreneurs' Business Academy has launched an attack on TV's "bully bosses" – a line that is thought not only to be aimed at Simon Cowell and Sir Alan Sugar, but also Bannatyne. Kids, kids.

However, I wonder if Caan has suddenly tired of silly spats and, instead, is concentrating on ingratiating himself with all and sundry?

On Thursday evening, when appearing on BBC's Newsnight, he told Jeremy Paxman that Labour's 1 per cent increase in National Insurance would not be "material" to most businesses, nor would it harm recruitment. But that's not quite what he'd said earlier that day, when praising the Tories' NI pledge, as an initiative that would "protect jobs in the private sector". So which is it?

Has Diamond's business lost its sparkle?

Lord Mandelson may have got his sums wrong when accusing Barclays' Bob Diamond of being the "unacceptable face" of the banking sector for trousering £63m in pay (it was a far more thrifty £23m, last year, says the bank). But, whatever the figure, I'm told Diamond is snubbing his own bank's Barclays Wealth division. So who's managing the banker's undisputed fortune?

"He has an account with Barclays Wealth," insists Diamond's mouthpiece, confidently, after spending a few hours considering the question. So how much of his money is managed there, I ask? "Oh, I've no idea," he stutters, "but he has an account. Definitely."

Still – maybe Diamond's business isn't as sought-after as you'd think. Barclays' star player's personal staff seems to be shrinking of late – he even let his personal chef go when he moved back to the US. "No," says his spokesman definitively, before softening his stance. "Well, I don't think so. I didn't even know he had a chef. That's never crossed my desk."

Could Mrs Diamond now be donning the pinny?

What a happy coincidence for Laura at the FSA

Fund manager Gartmore is under scrutiny after suspending its No 2 trader, Guillaume Rambourg. The move followed consultations with the Financial Services Authority, although Gartmore insists it's nothing to do with the ongoing insider-trading investigation in the City.

Anyway, it strikes me that one FSA employee who may be able to help with this case is Laura Schramm. She joined the regulator in September after previously spending four years as head of corporate risk at, er, Gartmore. What propitious timing.

Please, keep talking about Balls and his 'Portillo moment'

The speculation that Ed Balls – wannabe Chancellor/Labour leader – might suffer a "Portillo moment" by losing his Morley and Outwood seat, should be heartily encouraged. Balls and his self-regarding MP missus, Yvette Cooper, are among the MPs dogged by recurrent allegations that their expenses were enhanced by "flipping" the designation of their main home, while it's always worth retelling how the pair financed their own wedding celebrations at the Cavendish Hotel, Eastbourne, in 1998. Back then, it was reported that Ed and Yvette arranged with the venue for an extra £9 to be added to their guests' overnight hotel bills, thereby saving the newlyweds £2,520 on the cost of the reception. Charming couple.

Clever old Thurso – he knows our Gordon so well

John Thurso, the Lib Dem's hirsute business spokesman, has recorded a nice little coup. On the day that Gordon Brown (finally) made it into Number 10, he placed a £5 bet on the new PM calling the General Election for 6 May, 2010. Apparently, having read Brown's biography, Thurso correctly guessed that the rookie First Lord of the Treasury would wait as long as possible before testing his popularity at the polls – which seems a shrewder piece of work than settling for the rather stingy odds of 20-1. Anyway, now he's on a winning streak, will Thurso put his winnings on a Lib Dem victory? A long shot, I'd say.

Will Kate Swann into top job at Royal Mail?

Rumours continue to circulate the City that Kate Swann is to succeed ITV-bound Adam Crozier as the next boss of Royal Mail. Personally, I wouldn't bet on it.

Pressman plays his cards close to his chest

More on my favourite film producer, Ed Pressman, the man behind Wall Street and Thank You for Smoking. He's long had another financial film in the offing, based on Charles Slack's book Hetty Green: The Genius and Madness of America's First Female Tycoon. So what's happening? Green – the so-called Witch of Wall Street who competed with the Rockefellers and the Vanderbilts, and died, aged 81, in 1916 – was a noted miser (despite being worth about $35bn in today's money), and Pressman isn't giving much away either, other than saying that the project will require period locations and costumes, and that it's attracted the attention of "a major American actress".

Naturally. But what's taking so long? "The problem is getting the script right," he says. "We are going through a new draft now".

Footnote: Pressman's other main projects, Money Never Sleeps and Lies Have Been Told: An Evening with Robert Maxwell are also taking an age to hit the screen.

Let's drink to pub landlords – and a fair vote

An opinion poll for The Publican trade magazine might reveal more than was intended. The survey claims that 46 per cent of publicans plan to vote Tory at the election (no surprise there), 12 per cent will plump for the Lib Dems and just 2 per cent will stick their cross in the Labour box. But what about the rest? Thirty one per cent are undecided between the main three parties, leaving 9 per cent who will be voting for some other party.

Far be it for Slackbelly to make sweeping assumptions about the leanings of British publicans, but might a sizeable chunk be voting for UKIP or the BNP?