People and Business: Pitt's unhappy returns

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THE INLAND REVENUE is about to hold a 200th birthday party to mark the introduction of income tax.

Together with the Chartered Institute of Taxation, the Revenue is preparing a special bash at Somerset House - exactly a double century after William Pitt the Younger introduced income tax on 3 December 1798 in order to fund the Napoleonic Wars.

Celebrating such a tax may seem a trifle odd to you and me, but Dawn Primarolo, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, and Nick Montagu, chairman of the Board of the Inland Revenue, will be leading the revels. All the Chancellors from Lord Callaghan onwards have been invited.

There will also be an exhibition charting the history of the tax, which will start with a video image of William Pitt, whose opening lines are: "I introduced income tax 200 years ago. I didn't expect you still to be paying it today."

Nor did anyone else, I'm sure. The whole thing is being sponsored by EDS, the American consultants that run most of the Revenue's information technology systems, as well as ICL, the Royal Mail and BT.

I wonder what William Pitt would have made of a bunch of ex-colonists paying to celebrate his war-waging tax?

GOLDMAN SACHS' director of media relations in London, David Woods, is leaving for personal reasons after two-and-a-half years with the bank.

Mr Woods has had enough of commuting to the Smoke from his home in Geneva, where his wife lives, and is returning to Switzerland to set up a magazine covering world trade and international trade negotiations. This reflects his former incarnation as a director of information at the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Although Mr Woods was unavailable for comment yesterday, sources close to Goldmans pooh-poohed the suggestion that his departure had anything to do with the scrapping of Goldmans' float just over a month ago.

Peter Sutherland, now European head of Goldmans, first recruited Mr Woods to the WTO's forerunner, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) for which the former used to work in Geneva. Mr Sutherland later helped transform GATT into the WTO.

Mr Woods then followed the high-powered Irishman to London to beef up Goldmans' PR effort in the run-up to the proposed IPO.

WOOLWICH has plucked a former top mandarin from Whitehall to be its latest non-executive director. Sir Peter Gregson, who retired as permanent secretary at the Department of Trade and Industry two years ago, joins the board of the former building society this week.

It should certainly be a quieter life than his civil service career, which kicked off in 1961 and reached an early peak when Mr Gregson served as private secretary to two Prime Ministers in succession - Lord Wilson for two years and then Sir Edward Heath for another two.

Sir Peter approves of new Labour's campaign to improve productivity in British business - something he worked long and hard on with Michael Heseltine at the DTI back in the 1980s. "I'm sure it's the right thing to concentrate on," he says.

Sir Peter, 62, was also permanent secretary at the Department of Energy, where he was responsible for the flotation of British Gas and the legislation permitting the privatisation of the electricity industry.

As a former "Sir Humphrey" himself, what did he think of the lampooning of mandarins in the TV series Yes, Minister?

Sir Peter's diplomatic skills leapt to the fore. "It was a brilliant series, but it was a caricature. Most civil servants - and politicians - are not self serving, but try to do their best."

THE ECONOMICS trio at Nikko Europe - Simon Briscoe, Julian Jessop and Eric Fishwick - are looking for pastures new following the Japanese investment bank's decision to close its operations in London.

Mr Fishwick said yesterday that it is not certain that the team will stick together, and he admits it is "bad timing" to be looking for a job in the City, not least as hiring tends to dry up as Christmas approaches. Hopefully "we'll all resurface in the spring," he concludes.