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The Independent Online
Just another rail commuter

JOHN O'BRIEN'S job as franchising director of Britain's rail network is being replaced by the new post of chief executive of the shadow Strategic Rail Authority.

John Prescott, the Minister for Transport, Environment and the Regions, has let it be known that he wants "new faces" to regulate the deeply unpopular privatised railways.

Asked yesterday whether he was applying for the new title, Mr O'Brien acidly replied: "It would have been embarrassing if I had applied because I would have been a good candidate for the job. But if they wanted me to do the job they would have approached me."

For good measure, the spurned Mr O'Brien added: "It would have been churlish to have applied for the one job where the Deputy Prime Minister said he wanted to see a change."

Incidentally, commuters might like to know that Mr O'Brien takes the train in each day to work from his home in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire.

In the latest performance assessment published yesterday, Mr O'Brien awarded the company that operates his service, Silverlink, (on a scale of A to E) the lowest mark of E.

Casual Brits

AMERICANS LOVE "dress down Friday" but many of their British colleagues are dressing down all the time, according to the Department of Trade and Industry.

"One employee in two - equivalent to 13.5 million workers - is no longer required to wear a suit and tie," according to research commissioned by a DTI body, Inside UK Enterprise.

"Three in five bosses now help employees to combat work-related stress, offering benefits ranging from rest and relaxation rooms to free massage sessions," it says.

And to round off this picture of a land of milk and honey, the DTI adds that only 16 per cent of companies still ask staff to clock on and off.

Weight watching

MEDEVA THOUGHT it was onto a winner when it developed the anti-obesity drug Ionamin. Sales of the slimming pill took off in the US, but then slumped when worries about side-effects appeared. Yesterday Medeva admitted there was "no recovery in sight" to the drug's sales.

Not to worry. Medeva has just opened its doors in the US to Weight Watchers, who are advising staff across the company on how to lose weight. Without using pills.

No doubt to take their minds off such matters, Medeva's chief executive Bill Bogie, and three of his Medeva colleagues, including Garry Watts, finance director, bought a racehorse a cuple of years ago.

"Irish Frolic" has only raced a few times since then, but this year they are planning to give him a run out, somewhere in the south of England. Cheltenham, perhaps?

Grab Berlitz

THE MERGER between Societe Generale and Paribas has got London-based employees of the two French banks sweating about a possible 500 job cuts in the City.

Anxieties have been fuelled by a questionnaire from Paribas to its London staff which gives no less than six opportunities for employees to state whether they can speak French. Quick, where's the "Berlitz"...

FT promotions

CONGRATULATIONS to Philip Stephens, who has been promoted from political columnist at the Financial Times to become the pink'uns' UK editor.

The previous incumbent, deputy editor Andrew Gowers, has gone to Hamburg to head up the FT's new drive into Germany.

This ambitious idea involves hiring around 100 journalists to produce a completely new newspaper paper in German.

If the plans get the go-ahead, the FT aims to launch "at the end of this year or next spring", according to Richard Lambert, the FT's editor.

Kremlin-watchers within the FT Lubyanka are split as to whether this means Mr Stephens is now a more likely successor to Mr Lambert as editor in chief than Mr Gowers.

Tantalisingly, Mr Lambert refused to be drawn on any possible succession debate.

London garage

THE LUCKY directors of South African Breweries are each being given a pounds 100,000 London housing allowance in the run up to their listing on the London Stock Exchange next month.

Graham Mackay, chief executive of the world's fourth largest brewer, says that "the price of a four-bedroom house with an acre of land in South Africa would get you a garage in London".

I will keep a sharp eye out for Mr Mackay or any of his fellow directors selling the Big Issue outside Waterloo Station.