People & Business

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THE DINNER for European finance ministers last Friday evening at the Ecofin bunfight in York brought a fascinating insight into the politics of smoking.

Eddie George, Governor of the Bank of England, and Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, were co-hosts for the dinner at the National Railway Museum. Eddie got there first and proceeded to light a cigarette, as is his habit.

Whereupon an official appeared from nowhere and told the head of our Central Bank: "You can't smoke in here, you know. It's a non-smoking venue."

Suitably chastised, the Governor sneaked off to a balcony to finish his fag in peace.

Imagine Eddie's reaction as he returned to the banquet, only to see practically all 15 European finance ministers puffing away on ciggies as if they were auditioning for a Humphrey Bogart film.

What does this say about the Governor's relative place in the European power structure? Who knows. Anyway, local York functionaries hailed the Ecofin meeting as "the biggest thing to hit York since the Vikings".

Perusing the local council's brochure for the event, you can see why. Among the events laid on by the Council were "Euro-Square Dancing at Bishopthorpe Village Hall", or failing that "the Euro Barn Dance at the Blacksmith Arms, Rufforth".

There was even an "Ecofin Song Contest" at Fibbers Wine Bar, with its very own Terry Wogan impersonator. "Come and and watch would-be stars miming to their favourite Eurovision hits," trilled the Council's brochure. Who could refuse?

And lest any pesky Euro-sceptics thought that the meeting was nothing more than an excuse to waste vast amounts of rate-payers' money, the brochure added: "This leaflet cost 1.3p per resident to produce." If only Brussels worked like that.

THERE were other bean feasts going on in Europe last week, not least Mipim, the annual jamboree in Cannes for the property industry. No estate agent worth his salt can afford to miss this orgy of deal-making. This year the tone was raised considerably by Nacore, the corporate real estate association, which acts for property occupiers.

The Nacore stand at the Mipim exhibition was honoured with a visit from Royalty; A tea party with Her Majesty, the Queen, no less.

The Royal visitor, who flew into Nice Airport for the day, did a walkabout round the exhibition with Nacore's European Board president Geoffrey Lander, a senior partner in the property department of London law firm Nabarro Nathanson.

Her Maj obligingly cut the ribbon on the Nacore stand and declared it open. At this point the tea urn swung into action and no more property deals were done, as the stand was drowned in wide-eyed visitors all wanting to be photographed alongside Her Majesty.

Amazingly, few of the property boys twigged that the so-called Royal was in fact Elizabeth Richard, a professional Queen impersonator hired for the occasion by Nacore. Still, everyone went home happy.

THIS WEEK seems to be popular for appointing new bosses. The Federation of Small Businesses has elected Ian Handford as its seventh National Chairman, while the Institute of Management has appointed Mary Chapman to be its next director general.

Mr Handford is a self-employed businessman from Torquay, Devon, who has been a member of the FSB since 1975. He's worked for the Federation's policy unit, and his declared aim is to convince the nation at large that "the small business sector is truly the engine room of the economy".

Meanwhile, over at the Institute of Management Ms Chapman, currently chief executive of Investors in People UK, will succeed Roger Young, who has spent over six years at the helm. The IM is well know among journalists as supplying a seemingly limitless supply of press releases and topical surveys. Perhaps they should go into publishing full time.

THIS must surely be a sign that we've reached the top of the cycle: Britain's imports of vintage champagne nearly doubled in 1997, and we now buy more of the stuff from France than any other country in the world. Germany and the US are left trailing in our wake on the bubbly front.

Last year our share of vintage exports from France rose from 6.8 per cent to 12.8 per cent, meaning that one in eight of all bottles of vintage bubbly made in France are swigged by Brits. Quite an entente cordiale.

When it comes to all champagne, we bought 22.2 million bottles last year, against 19.5 million by Germany and a mere 15.5 million by the Americans.

Francoise Peretti, director of the UK Champagne Information Bureau, puts our prolific consumption down to the strong pound, the restaurant boom, and the "millennium effect".

Apparently, lots of people are laying down vintage champers in order to celebrate the millennium in style. And it'll come in handy to drown their sorrows if the millennium bug wreaks havoc.