PEOPLE & BUSINESS

City people think they are overpaid. It's official. This startling example of turkeys voting for Christmas emerged at that most illustrious of locations, the Mansion House, scene of the 1998 City Debate.

The topic up for discussion on Wednesday night was City pay, with free marketeer George Cox, head of Unisys, proposing the motion: "This House believes City salaries are totally fair and justified".

There is something just a little surreal about a couple of hundred well- paid City folk discussing the morality of Square Mile pay whilst quaffing fine wine and port, but the debate got off to a good-natured start nevertheless. The BBC's John Humphrys, moderator for the evening, hit a chord with the largely True Blue audience with a couple of digs at New Labour, and the affable Mr Cox set the ball rolling with a 10-minute speech extolling the virtues of astronomical salaries.

"If Nicola Horlick had left Morgans to join the Spice Girls, becoming Very Posh Spice, her press would have been far better," claimed Mr Cox, clearly gunning for the relatively youthful in the audience. Possibly, I suppose. It is just a little difficult to imagine Mrs Horlick wearing a skimpy Union Jack dress and gadding around with young footballers, but stranger things have happened.

The debate took a rather more serious tone when Brian Willamson, chairman of the Gerrard Group, took the floor. The spectre of Mrs Horlick was raised once more, as Mr Willamson seconded Mr Cox's motion. "The case of Nicola Horlick was embarrassing," he declared, "but it was her behaviour that was embarrassing, not what she was paid." Ouch.

"Brian Williamson is a very difficult man to ignore, but I find it well worth the effort," responded Andrew Winckler, former chief executive of the SIB, speaking against the motion and determined not to be outdone in the cattiness stakes. In the end the puritans outnumbered the hedonists, with just over half the audience voting against Mr Cox's motion. A second vote also came to the conclusion that bonus payments were not a fair reward, but rather were a dangerous incentive.

Perhaps the most interesting result of the night was Mr Humphrys' survey of salaries in the room. A third of the audience, it transpired, earned between pounds 100,000 and pounds 200,000 each year. A further third earned more than pounds 200,000. All totally fair and justified, of course. What is that they say about pots and kettles?

Tim Eggar, former Tory oil minister, will be turning his governmental expertise to good use as chief executive of Monument Oil and Gas, an exploration company with operations in Pakistan, Algeria, Columbia, Laos and western Turkmenistan.

Tony Craven Walker, Monument's chairman and founder, has lost a number of senior executives recently, so the company could use some more talent. Whether two such monumental egos will work harmoniously, only time will tell.

Mr Eggar is slightly miffed that people seem surprised at this full-time post. "I went into the oil industry as soon as I qualified as a barrister [in 1975]. It's the industry I know," he says. After stints as an investment banker and director of Charterhouse Petroleum, he entered the Commons, and decided to give up politics two years ago, after around 16 years as an MP.

"I decided I wanted a full time career in business - that is the genuine reason," he insists. One of his former colleagues, Malcolm Rifkind, has also dived into oil since leaving government, with non-executive directorships at BHB and Ramco. "I do bump into him now and then," says Mr Eggar, but laughs at the suggestion that the former Scottish Secretary is a rival.

Not contenting itself with bankrolling Nicola Horlick's new fund management outfit, Societe Generale has gone out and hired five new members for its City-based acquisition finance team.

Grant Gardner has joined from bank of Scotland's structured finance division, and Nazar Sharif comes in from Coopers & Lybrand's corporate finance side. SocGen's European acquisition finance team has taken on Dougal Bennett from Bank of Scotland as a director. He will be joined by Guillame Dovillers from SocGen's Paris office and Susan Coll, who recently joined the firm from Bank of Nova Scotia.

Woolwich has appointed a trio of non-executive directors, including John Nelson of Lazards , but denies this means it is going into corporate finance. The other new boys are Stephen Russell, joint group managing director of Boots, and David Ure, who handles marketing and technical policy for Reuters.

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