People & Business : Chairman fails to keep up with changes at Pace

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The Independent Online
Pace, the makers of receivers and decoders for satellite and digital television, have had a certain amount of management turnover recently. Perhaps this explains a clanger dropped yesterday by the company's chairman, Peter Morgan.

Mr Morgan was introducing the Pace board to journalists and said at one point: "I think you'll know Steven Barnes, our finance director."

The finance director shifted uneasily in his seat, and murmured: "Er, Steven Jones, actually."

Mr Morgan excused himself, saying: "There are so many Stevens in the company."

Perhaps the headhunters recently appointed by Pace to find a new chief executive and finance director should make sure no "Stevens" are interviewed.

What is it with Gordon Brown and clothes? Fresh from his controversial decision to attend the Lord Mayor's Banquet in a lounge suit rather than black tie, the Chancellor again caused a stir yesterday, this time at the House of Commons.

The Chancellor had just sat down in front of the Treasury Select Committee, to be grilled on his recent Budget. The day was sweltering, the House has no air conditioning to speak of, and Mr Brown's three flanking Treasury minders were visibly wilting.

Giles Radice MP, being a reasonable chap, suggested that Mr Brown and his henchmen should follow his example and take off their jackets. The Chancellor sternly refused. His three underlings all followed suit, as it were.

Then it was Alistair Darling's turn to be interviewed, in his capacity as Chief Secretary to the Treasury. Mr Darling immediately took his jacket off. And the same three underlings then removed their jackets as well, in unison. Who says obsequiousness is dead?

Marco Polo House, the post-modern office block in Battersea, London, which used to house The Observer before the paper's move to Farringdon Road, has been the cause of recent manoeuvrings between TV companies, I hear.

The black and white striped building became the home of British Satellite Broadcasting back in the distant days when beating Rupert Murdoch still seemed like a real possibility. When Mr Murdoch's Sky subsequently bought BSB out, it retained Marco Polo House. Coming up to date, Sky has just been forced to leave the British digital terrestrial TV combine, BDB, following concerns expressed by regulators.

The remaining members of BDB have had to pay Sky pounds 75m in compensation for its enforced exit. Sky responded by offering to throw in Marco Polo House as part of the settlement.

The BDB people have agreed, and are preparing to take up residence at Battersea. There is a sting in the tale, however. They have asked Sky to pay pounds 1.2m towards refurbishing the now-ageing post-modern edifice. And wonder of wonders, Sky has coughed up. Perhaps Murdoch is losing his grip.

Something of a civil war seems to be brewing up in the accountancy profession, with the publication of a survey today which says that nearly three quarters of British finance directors think that receivers' fees should be capped.

The survey of 200 financial directors by Reed Accountancy Personnel follows the much publicised criticism last week by Lord Justice Ferris of Buchler Philips, the insolvency firm which wound up the late Robert Maxwell's estate. Buchler Philips submitted a bill for insolvency fees of pounds 1.63m, leaving only pounds 400,000 of the tycoon's pounds 1.67m estate.

Criticism by a judge is one thing, but to be attacked by fellow accountants is quite another. According to the survey, which appears in today's Accountancy Age, 73 per cent of finance directors believed some form of capping of fees is required. One FD said: "It is almost a licence to print money and very often prevents real `creditors' from getting anything worthwhile returned."

One suggestion from the FDs, that their insolvency brethren should charge a percentage of what they recover for creditors, drew a withering response from the receivers - since this was the system in place years ago under which "cowboy liquidators" flourished.

Chris Barlow, the Coopers & Lybrand partner, has been an administrator of Polly Peck for the past five years. He said: "People made far more money on the old `percentage' system. In most insolvencies the insolvency practitioner already has to get the consent of an elected creditors' committee to the level of fees."

Nigel Hamilton, a partner with Ernst & Young, who took a leading role in the administration of Canary Wharf, said that the banks who are the main creditors in business collapses already scrutinise receivers' fees very closely. Whatever transpires, accountancy sherry parties should be frosty occasions for some time to come.