People & Business: Lawson adds his weight to an ad campaign

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The Independent Online
Nigel Lawson, Lord Lawson of Blaby, is about to star in a pounds 2m TV ad campaign for M&G PEPs, marking the 10th anniversary of his introduction of such tax-free schemes when he was Chancellor.

This is the first time the dieting expert and former editor of the FT has appeared in a television commercial.

While PEPs have been a great success, attracting over pounds 33bn from private investors since their launch in 1986, Lord Lawson is also famous for the Lawson Boom and subsequent Lawson Bust. Could this association damage the campaign?

"Not at all," says an M&G spokeswoman. "We are appealing to potential PEP investors, particularly in the 30-45 age bracket, using the Chancellor who introduced the scheme. People will think: `If they've got Nigel Lawson, they must be big'."

The first ad goes out in the middle of the Channel Four news at 7.40 next Monday evening. The spokeswoman describes Lord Lawson's role: "He's sat in huge room, there's lots of gravitas, he's a weighty character - ah, or not so weighty, as the case may be," she adds quickly, remembering Lord Lawson's recent, much publicised, decrease in volume.

Today British Rail ceases to exist in name, and the InterCity West Coast line will be run by Stagecoach.

This may come as a surprise to some people, as officially Virgin, National Express and Stagecoach are all still waiting to hear who has won the licence for the line. The answer is due in May.

The British Rail buffet attendant who served my colleague this week on the InterCity run from Manchester had other ideas. Asked who he should make his cheque payable to, the attendant replied: "British Rail. But from Wednesday you'll probably be writing them out to Stagecoach."

Is this inside information? Or is the buffet attendant working under cover for a merchant bank to spread disinformation?

You can tell the battle for Scottish Amicable is hotting up - the mutual that wants to demutualise has just run an advert on page 35 of the Financial Times's company section, in which the company tells its members that its non-executive directors have no financial "interset" (sic) in the outcome.

Be that as it may, a lot of people in the City are ScotAm policyholders and it's a hot topic in the wine bars of the Square Mile.

Charlie Toner, Abbey National's own deputy chief executive and a ScotAm policyholder, is going to vote for the Abbey National offer - pounds 400m for ScotAm's goodwill plus up to pounds 1bn for embedded value.

Roman Cizdyn, insurance analyst at Merrill Lynch and another policyholder, is more sanguine. "I've seen the letter in the FT. I'm waiting for ScotAm to contact me - just like everyone else is."

As for Abbey National's pounds 1.4bn offer, he says: "Let's see what's on the table first. There's no urgency."

Charles Lander, insurance analyst at SG Strauss Turnbull and also a ScotAm member, is more bullish. He describes the Abbey National offer as a "no- brainer" - unless a better deal comes along, that is.

The launch of the Bank of England's racy new monthly journal, Monetary and Financial Statistics, has got off to a wobbly start. On the spine of "Volume 1 Issue 1" it describes the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street as the "Bank of Englnd." I'm sure this abbreviation is a commendable effort by Eddie George to save paper.

Gus O'Donnell, John Major's former press secretary, is leaving his job at the Treasury to become the head of economics at our Washington Embassy. Mr O'Donnell's job as deputy-director of macro-economic prospects is being filled by John Cunliffe, head of debt and reserves management. On being asked for a CV of Mr Cunliffe, a Treasury spokesman told me: "We don't have CVs for faceless bureaucrats like ourselves." I am delighted to hear from a fellow mandarin, however, that Mr Cunliffe is "quite highly regarded".