People & Business: Life's a gas for former defence minister

Michael Portillo has got a new job at Kerr McGee, the giant American oil company based in Oklahoma, I hear. Senor Portillo has bagged a "senior management position in the exploration department" because, according to a source close to the company, the former defence minister is "an expert in gas".

Quite so. Mr Portillo worked for Kerr McGee in the 1980s. His new job gives him responsibility for international business development.

Hang on a minute. How does this square with Mr Portillo's oft-reported remarks this week that "I have politics in my blood - I want to get back to help Hague"?

He can't stand for election and prospect for gas in Alaska at the same time. Or can he? It would certainly make a change from his current job as part-time commentator for a TV series on English country houses.

Sunday Business is about to be sold and could very well end up back in the hands of its original founders, Tom Rubython and Anil Bhoyrul.

Since its launch 16 months ago the paper has gone through a number of owners and settled on a circulation of around 20,000, as opposed to the 150,000 envisaged by Mr Rubython at launch.

Its latest majority owner, Gordon Brown, a businessman from the North, has problems of his own. His company, Group 2000, went bust two weeks ago, and receivers Coopers & Lybrand have now found a buyer for his 75 per cent stake in the paper.

Edward Klempka, an insolvency partner in Coopers' Leeds office, said yesterday: "We are at an advanced stage of negotiations and hope to announce a sale later this week. It is likely to be a share sale which will preserve the jobs of all 60 staff at the paper."

I hear from other sources that last Friday there was no cash to pay the journalists or the printers, and it was the founding duo, messrs Rubython and Bhoyrul, who came up with the pounds 100,000-plus needed to get the paper out and pay salaries.

As for Luke Johnson, son of the right-wing columnist Paul Johnson, who owns the other 25 per cent of Sunday Business, some people think he wants to sell out. But anything could happen in this tangled tale.

To De La Rue's offices off the Strand, London, for a talk by the company's security paper guru, John Haslop, titled "Banknote Substrates".

Contrary to its unpromising title, Mr Haslop's thoughts on the future of making banknotes counterfeit proof were fascinating. For one thing, the cashless society is a myth and will probably never happen, according to Mr Haslop; banknote use is increasing by 3 to 4 per cent a year in the UK. Cheques are being replaced by credit and debit cards, but many people still prefer old-fashioned cash.

Well, I suppose De La Rue, which supplies the paper for 150 national currencies, would take that line. But Mr Haslop could be right. He illustrated his talk with Australian banknotes, which for years have been made from very un-De La Rue plastic. Apparently forgers have found ways of removing the print on the plastic and replacing it with the image of higher-denomination notes.

This criticism gets short shrift from an Australian colleague of mine, who says plastic notes are cleaner and last longer than paper notes. Oh, and "you can scrape the Queen's head off them with a coin". Disgraceful! Let's hope for a few nasty bouncers from Darren Gough.

Here's a spot of shameless puffery for a former colleague; David Bowen has launched his own monthly newsletter titled net profit - untangling the internet for business. The newsletter's title is in lower case in order to resemble an Internet address. Either that, or David's keyboard has a dodgy caps key. Anyway, the July issue ranks a number of new corporate web sites in order of usefulness, and gives a five-star rating to Persil.

More worryingly, the newsletter reveals that 71 per cent of Internet users in Britain are men. Is the information superhighway just an excuse to access swimwear catalogues? You can find out more on net profit's web site at http://www.net-profit.co.uk.

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