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Outlook: Reed-Elsevier

ANOTHER CHAPTER in the Anglo-Dutch potboiler now gripping the world of corporate governance. The story so far; Reed-Elsevier, the publishing giant with homes in London and Amsterdam, decides to dispense with its cumbersome four-person management committee and move to a unitary board with a single chairman and chief executive.

Unfortunately, the two most obvious candidates for the job - joint chief executives Nigel Stapleton and Herman Bruggink - decide for reasons of their own not to apply for it, thus leaving Reed in the lurch and in need of an outside successor.

In the meantime there has been precious little good news to report elsewhere. First there was a profits warning, then a 6 per cent drop in profits accompanied by another trading statement confirming that things aren't going to be much better this year. All the while there were persistent rumours of a boardroom bust-up between the Dutch and English camps.

Now it transpires that Messrs Stapleton and Bruggink are to be paid pounds 140,000 each as a special reward for staying on while a replacement is found. This one-off bonus, to be paid on top of their already healthy pay packages, was apparently necessary because they could technically have walked out the minute the new management structure was announced. Reed is not saying whether they will both receive handsome pay-offs when they finally do depart.

While this is corporate largess on a relatively minor scale compared to, say, SmithKline Beecham's Jan Leschly, it must still stick in shareholders' throats. In retrospect, everybody bar Messrs Bruggink and Stapleton would probably have been better of if they had left back in August.