People & Business: NatWest snaps up former head of No 10 Policy Unit

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The Independent Online
NatWest Group has snapped up Norman Blackwell, former head of John Major's No 10 Policy Unit, to succeed Mark Aston as the bank's top strategist. Speaking as someone who tipped NatWest's shares last Christmas, I trust that the bank will do rather better than John Major did in May. Anyway, as NatWest's director of group corporate development, Mr Blackwell will whisper directly into the ear of chief executive Derek Wanless.

He will be responsible for thinking up new strategy and translating it into action.

Mr Blackwell is certainly well qualified for the job. He got a first in natural sciences at Trinity College, Cambridge and an MBA from Wharton Business School in the US. He also has a PhD in finance and 17 years of experience with McKinsey, much of it in banking and financial services. Our man succeeded Sarah Hogg at No 10 in February 1995 and got a life peerage in John Major's resignation honours list.

Which brings us to another figure in the last government, Malcolm Rifkind, who joined Australian mining and trading company BHP following the election defeat. BHP has been having a rough time of it lately, and now brokers T Hoare have decided to really put the boot in with a "strong sell" note on the company.

Mark Horn, the analyst at T Hoare responsible for the note, writes: "The shares will continue to underperform relative to major equity benchmarks; the recent dissension in the ranks of management has eroded the `management premium' of BHP; the problems faced by BHP are a combination of size, structure and management."

In fact Mr Horn couldn't have been more negative if he had written "the sky is falling"." Poor Malcolm. Perhaps Mr Blackwell can find him a desk at NatWest.

The fur is flying in the lucrative world of City legal journalism. The uncrowned queen of the genre, Catrin Griffiths, and her sidekick Dominic Egan, have quit the lawyers' glossy Legal Business as editor and deputy editor respectively.

To add insult to injury, the duo have joined with legal headhunters Quarry Dougall to launch a rival publishing venture of their own. Their departure follows a bust-up with John Pritchard, the mastermind behind the Legal 500 directory of lawyers, as well as a string of legal magazines. Legal Business has made boatloads of dosh for Mr Pritchard, concentrating as it does on advertising from the fat-cat end of City law, and chambers across London are agog as to how his flagship organ will fare without his two stars.

La Griffiths, a flame-headed Welshwoman, is expecting her second baby, and is at home sunning herself in Highbury, north London.

She and Mr Egan will be joined by Mark Brandon, formerly editor of the Legal 500 and another Pritchard refusenik, to produce what Quarry Dougall enigmatically describes as "a range of products new to the legal market".

Gareth Quarry, chief executive of Quarry Dougall, says: "We have no intention of competing with Legal Business or Commercial Lawyer. We believe there is a great demand for a radically different sort of product."

Mr Quarry refuses to be drawn on what the new product will be, although he is pleased as punch having recruited a "formidable team."

Meanwhile Mr Pritchard has appointed a part-timer on Legal Business, Martha Klein, to hold the reins as editor while he goes on holiday.

If you understand the phrase: "I'm mad for it. I'm having it large," then you'll be saddened to hear that the Hacienda, Manchester's most famous nightclub, is up for sale after its owners went bust.

The round red brick edifice has only just celebrated its 15th anniversary, having originally been founded as a home for bands like New Order and The Smiths.

It has also seen the rave movement and the Manchester scene come and go, with bands like the Inspiral Carpets and Oasis treading its beer-soaked boards.

Now Bruce Poizier of property agents DTZ Debenham Thorpe is looking for bids of around pounds 1.2m for the building. Bruce says there has been a huge amount of interest in the site, with proposals to turn it into offices, residential schemes, even an art gallery.

"The company that went into liquidation, FAC 51, owns the name `Hacienda', while the firm that owns the building, TGP 225, has put it on the market," says Bruce. The latter is owned by Rob Gretton, a former manager of New Order.

You won't catch Bruce himself raving in the club. "I'm a bit too long in the tooth - I haven't the energy," he confesses.