PEOPLE & BUSINESS

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The Independent Online
Congratulations to Phillip Bassett, former industrial editor of The Times, who this week moved into Number 10 to help launch a new strategic communications unit for the Government.

The high powered unit, consisting of half a dozen special advisers and civil servants, is due to be officially unveiled next week and will answer directly to Tony Blair.

The Mountfield Report published last November recommended that the Government Information Service should set up a body to communicate ideas and strategy across the whole of government, and Mr Bassett's new unit is the result.

Mr Bassett is already well known as a cheerleader for New Labour. His wife Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean speaks on behalf of Labour in the Lords as Undersecretary of State at the Foreign Office.

Which reminds me that almost exactly two years ago Mr Bassett was the cause of a spat in the House of Commons between Michael Portillo and Harriet Harman.

Mr Portillo, then Employment Secretary, flourished a fax of an article Mr Barrett had written for The Times, not yet published, which predicted that Mr Portillo was about to introduce a more emollient method of measuring unemployment. Mr Portillo alleged that clearing articles with Labour was Mr Bassett's habit, quoting a note from him on the fax: "I'd be grateful if you could keep this under your hat."

An indignant Ms Harman said that the piece was an exclusive sent so that she could make a comment for publication. Mr Portillo drily regretted that he did not receive the same service. He had got his hands on the fax because Mr Bassett had sent it to Philip Oppenheim, the Employment Minister, by mistake.

I trust Mr Bassett won't make any similar mistakes in Number 10. Mr Campbell would have his head on a spike.

Dr Alan Gillespie, a managing director of Goldman Sachs International in London, is to head up the Northern Ireland Industrial Development Board (IDB).

The work will involve two days a week for Dr Gillespie, a native of Northern Ireland, who is based in Goldman's investment banking services division, dealing with client relationships. He recently worked on the BAT merger with Zurich.

Described by a colleague as a "genial golf fanatic," Dr Gillespie joined Goldman in 1986 after 10 years with Citicorp.

Speaking yesterday, Dr Gillespie emphasised that economic and political development in Northern Ireland walked hand in hand: "Right now, and in the light of events which have occurred in recent days, it is essential that all political, community and business leaders engage with each other. They should do so with urgency and a commitment that the political process should be advanced by exclusively peaceful means."

Nestle, the Swiss based confectionery company, said yesterday that it deeply regretted the death on Wednesday of David Harris, former chairman and chief executive of Nestle UK, after a fight against cancer which began in the late summer of 1996.

Mr Harris headed the UK subsidiary until last September when he asked to step down. Peter Blackburn, current chairman and chief executive of Nestle UK, said yesterday: "We would like to record the company's deep appreciation of the contribution which David has made over almost 35 years."

Mr Harris joined Nestle in 1963 and was heavily involved in the coffee side of the business in the 1970s and 1980s, and helped bed down the acquisition of Rowntree. He attained the top job in February 1996.

The Government could be forced to rename its individual savings account (ISA) or face the anger of British Muslims, according to Financial Adviser magazine.

Some Muslims are concerned that the acronym ISA has an identical pronunciation to Issa, the Koranic name for Jesus, whom Islam reveres as a prophet.

Under Islamic law using an ISA would be prohibited anyway, since usury is forbidden. The Muslim parliament in Britain has made representations to the Treasury, which says that "people are entitled to put forward their views in line with the consultation process."

The consultation process for ISAs ends on 30 January.

There will soon be over 3,000 people in this country who have lived in three centuries, according to the actuarial profession. Not many people know that.

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