PEOPLE & BUSINESS

Forget the EMU bust-up between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. I can reveal that the real rift in New Labour lies between Nigel Griffiths MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Competition and Consumer Affairs, and Austin Mitchell, the maverick MP for Great Grimsby.

On Wednesday night Mr Griffiths delivered the first ever Bernard Phillips Memorial Lecture to the Insolvency Practitioners Association(IPA), the trade body for Britain's receivers, gathered in the Great Hall of Grays Inn, central London.

Mr Griffiths was just launching into his plans for strengthening the DTI's powers to disqualify rogue directors when he mentioned Mr Mitchell, a former TV journalist who has earnt a waspish reputation as a critic of the insolvency and accountancy professions since entering Parliament.

"I know we all have a soft spot for Austin," said the puckish Minister. "It's a bog in the north of Scotland."

How the gathered receivers laughed. Amongst them was the president of the IPA and host of the evening, David Sapte, who was recently appointed receiver to Sunday Business, Tom Rubython's failed venture. Also there was Chris Swinson, deputy president of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales, and possibly the largest man in a suit I have ever seen; and Ian Bond, a senior insolvency partner with Coopers & Lybrand who is a fortnight away from retirement.

Mr Bond says that he has somehow fallen into the role of marriage broker for professional bodies. He is currently trying to negotiate a merger between two insurance associations, egos permitting. Perhaps he should turn his attention closer to home. As Mr Sapte pointed out, the insolvency profession, which has only 1,900 licensed members in the UK, has no less than nine self regulating bodies.

If Manchester- based car parts maker Turner & Newell does succumb to Federal Mogul's bid, then T&N's chairman Sir Colin Hope better learn some new tricks. The Americans, led by Fed's chairman and chief executive officer Dick Snell, want Sir Colin to be an "international adviser" to the newly merged group. Sir Colin himself insisted yesterday that: "I don't want to play second fiddle to Dick Snell." Some scope for friction there, I think.

Mr Snell's company really goes in for all that inspirational touchy-feely stuff: It's slogan is "BHAG: $10bn by 2002." Translated into English, this means it's "Big Hairy Audacious Goal" is to increase in size by five times by the year 2002. It also aims to achieve "Positive EVA" , or "Economic Value Added".

It will be fascinating to see whether the lads on T&N's shop floor in Manchester will appreciate Fed's "Core Values: We are driven toward mastery in all we do."

There have to be some compensations for all those hundreds of Labour MPs who haven't been invited to join the Government. Stuart Bell, MP for Middlesbrough, is filling in the odd day each month with accountancy giant Ernst & Young, which has just hired him as a "special adviser".

E&Y senior partner Nick Land is delighted. Mr Bell's "knowledge and experience on a range of subjects affecting the economy and businesses will be a great asset to the firm and our clients," says Mr Land. But how will Mr Bell get on with the firm's other two Parliamentary advisers? Step forward Christopher Chope, Conservative MP for Christchurch, and former Tory Minister David Mellor.

Mr Mellor, an E&Y spokesman tells me, "adds a dimension we don't have ourselves." I hope this doesn't have anything to do with wearing Chelsea football shirts to bed....

A former Independent journalist has popped up as the managing director of Europe's first online auction house. Tim Jackson, who also used to pen the odd word for the Economist, is heading up the launch of Quixell, which offers "the thrill of the auction house from the comfort of your PC."

Tim explains: "(The company) will enable you to buy computers and software using your credit card over the World Wide Web. The main point is that the customer sets the price."

All you have to do is key into Quixell's website and choose a product you want from its catalogue. When the relevant product is auctioned you enter your bid by phone. An auction can last from three to seven days, then if you're successful you get the product shipped to you for an average postal cost of under pounds 3, says Tim.

"Typically we will be selling stuff at well under half the high street price," he says. Private sellers can also flog their old computers and software via Quixell free of charge, he adds.

Tim's four collaborators on the project include Alan Skea, the company's technical expert who has worked for Credit Suisse First Boston and DE Shaw Securities.

A British head-hunting firm, Goddard Kay Rogers, is merging with an American equivalent, Pendleton James Associates, which has American Presidential connections. Mr Pendleton "Pen" James is a former election adviser to both Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.

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