People & Business: A new job and new 'minder'. Sir David declares himself delighted

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The Independent Online
Spotted at Margaret Beckett's introductory drinks party at the DTI on Wednesday night - Sir David Simon, formerly of BP and now New Labour's Minister for Competitiveness in Europe. Also there was Lucie McNeil, the DTI's information officer for trade, who Sir David introduced as "my new Roddy Kennedy". This refers to Sir David's long-time press spokesman at BP.

Sir David caused a bit of a frisson when he went on to declare how delighted he was to have such a beautiful "minder". The delightful Ms McNeil blushed bright pink. The "trappings of power" are obviously going to the BP man's head.

Fascinating to hear Sir Iain Vallance of BT declare: "I wouldn't have voted Labour if I'd known BT would have been involved in the windfall tax." (See page 22). So the question arises - how long has Sir Iainbeen a dyed in the wool Labour voter? The blue-pinstriped telecoms big cheese refused to say.

However, in the hotbed of socialism that has become BT headquarters near St Pauls, Sir Iain did say he had "voted Labour before". Can he really have voted for Michael Foot in 1983, whose manifesto was famously described as "the longest suicide note in history"?

Subsequent research shows more deep-rooted links between Labour and the BT board. We can exclusively reveal that the great grandfather of Robert Brace, BT's finance director, was a minister in one of the first Labour governments

Sir William Brace was, according to Robert, "something in the Welsh office before becoming Inspector of Mines"

So when exactly was this, we asked. "Well," said Mr Brace, "it must have been in Lloyd George's time, before the First World War."

Hang on a minute. I thought the first Labour Government was formed in 1924. Never mind. I'm sure Mr Brace's understanding of accountancy vastly exceeds his knowledge of history.

Rupert Murdoch's BSkyB may have courted controversy by buying up the TV rights to every sporting event in sight, but there is another less famous company doing the same thing for sports catering. Compass made $1bn worth of acquisitions last year, and while most of it concerned companies that provide catering for business and industry, there was another side.

This was highlighted yesterday when Compass bought National Leisure Catering, which provides food and drink for Wembley stadium and the Oval cricket ground. Compass's UK chief executive Francis Mackay, an old pal of Granada's Gerry Robinson, can now lay claim to the catering for Twickenham, Ascot, Aintree, Cheltenham, Arsenal and Spurs, as well as yesterday's additions.

So is Compass worried about being scrutinised by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission? "No," replies, Ron Morley, Compass company secretary. "There is a lot of competition still. There are a large number of companies prepared to do this kind of catering."

While Compass can provide beer at Twickers, escalopes at Ascot and burgers at Spurs, it still hasn't got its hands on strawberries and cream at Wimbledon. Any plans there? "That's done by a firm called Ring and Brymer," says Mr Morley. "It would be a nice one to have, but we have no plans for it at the moment," he adds, wistfully.

Accountants are usually a pretty grey bunch. Not so Richard Hall, the partner from Binder Hamlyn who is due to take over as director of finance at the Royal Opera House in July.

Mr Hall says he fell in love with opera and ballet at a young age. For instance, he became fascinated by La Boheme at the age of 12. "I also spent a couple of years working in Milan, so there were visits to La Scala," he says,

The Opera House is involved in its own drama at the moment. It has lost its chief executive Genista McIntosh after just four months, with Mary Allen of the Arts Council stepping into the breach. Mr Hall says he was appointed before Ms McIntosh's surprise departure, but denies he has cold feet over the new job. "I'm very excited. There is an awful lot that needs to be done," he says.

Most recently Mr Hall has been working with the Church of England and Westminster Abbey. Perhaps now's the time to pray for a bit of divine intervention.

Mining really is a more exotic world than the rest of business. Take Jim Ainsworth. He's just been appointed chairman of Gold Mines of Sardinia (GMS) having recently retired as chairman of Sons of Gwalia, while he was also a founding partner of Warrior International. They sound more like Spielberg films than gold mining companies.