PEOPLE & BUSINESS

IT'S hard to imagine a more ashen-faced and worried-looking group of people than the five members of the British Biotech board come to explain why chief executive Dr Keith McCullagh had resigned.

The former Shell supremo John Raisman told a hastily convened press conference that it was highly regrettable McCullagh had to go, given he had acted "honourably" all along. Raisman sidestepped any suggestion that he, as chairman, could have done anything to save the day. McCullagh himself was shaking and clearly unhappy at leaving the company he founded 12 years ago.

But the chief executive, who departs in September, avoided getting into a slanging match with the man he had earlier sacked and who brought about his downfall, Dr Andrew Millar. For his part, Millar was critical of McCullagh but said he was took no delight in his removal. "He did an amazing amount and had lots of courage but at a certain point he lost it. He should have been gently led away," said Millar from his Oxfordshire home. So what are the chances of Millar, as a self-confessed whistleblower, getting work after allegedly "betraying" his employers by telling top shareholders the company was not doing as well as the board said? He says: "I have had quite a few people ring me up and am about to go to Aberdeen to discuss a possible job. But it's impossible to know whether people (employers) want someone like me, with `belligerent integrity', as someone described it."

IT CAN be tough out there in the job market, which is why you do not want a new boss sweeping in and making everybody reapply for their own jobs. Latest group to be subjected to this procedure is made up of members of the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee. The Treasury Select Committee has set dates for confirmation hearings for its nine members, including Governor Eddie George, his deputies Mervyn King and David Clementi, the Bank's markets supremo Ian Plenderleith and four outside members, Sir Alan Budd, Charles Goodhart, DeAnne Julius and new boy John Vickers. They get half an hour each next month to tell the MPs just why they deserve the job of setting interest rates.

There is some comfort, however. The questions will be limited to issues concerning "the appointee's personal independence and professional competence". It would take a bold MP to question the competence of the MPC's eggheads. As for independence, it would be hard to form a less malleable group than the one the Chancellor has appointed.

IN AMONG all the allegations and counter-allegations at British Biotech, the one word that has not surfaced is the accountants' favourite: fraud. You might have thought the number-crunchers were more interested in the sharpness of the pencils but anyone who follows the accountancy profession will know it's fraud that turns them on now. Latest proof is Coopers & Lybrand teaming up with West Midlands Police to host a first seminar in Birmingham on the subject.

Coopers' rival, Deloitte & Touche, not to be outdone, is producing a gripping quarterly called Inside Fraud. Neville Russell, accountant to the good and the great plus the Lloyd's insurance market, also seems to be "into fraud" in a big way, if you get the drift.

He has just published a new report, Dealing with Fraud, which obviously took a bit too much time to prepare. In the meantime the firm has just been fined pounds 15,000 for failing to provide information by an Institute of Chartered Accountants deadline.

John Guinness, the mandarin responsible for privatising British Gas and the electricity industry, is retiring as chairman of British Nuclear Fuels, the state-owned nuclear fuel reprocessing group. He departs, he says, on a high note with a pounds 13bn order book and the merger with the nuclear generator Magnox Electric completed successfully. Of course the one triumph that eluded him in his six years at the helm of BNFL was persuading his political masters that it too was a suitable candidate for privatisation.

USING a sharp pencil is obviously a skill that comes easily to businessmen and women. For instance, there was the P&O chairman, Lord Sterling, writing about duty-free in yesterday's edition of the Sun. He is not quite up to Richard Littlejohn standards. About his meanest words were addressed to EU finance ministers, to whom he says: "We are not looking for hand- outs." Slightly more poetic stuff is believed to be on offer from Charterhouse Bank director Janet Neel. She has written a novel called A Timely Death, which sounds a bit more racy than Save Our Duty-Free.

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