People & Business: PIA runs into a personal difficulty over pensions

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The Independent Online
Since the Personal Investment Authority under Colette Bowe is charged with safeguarding the nation's individual finances, how fitting it is that its own staff pension scheme should be one of the most generous in the country.

This happy state of affairs has, however, prompted churlish comments from some observers that perhaps the PIA could turn some of the same energy to sorting out the long-running pensions mis-selling scandal. Even in its internal affairs, however, the PIA appears to be adopting a policy of "Do as I say, not as I do."

Under the new Pensions Act, set up to prevent another Maxwell-style rip-off, companies have to have a number of member-nominated trustees to oversee the company pension fund. There is one exception - if the existing trustees opt out of the provisions of the new Act, they can appoint anyone they want. So far the overwhelming majority of companies have opted for member-nominated trustees.

How strange then that the PIA recently tried to block its own staff from appointing their nominated trustee on to the PIA's pension board. The PIA was forced to back down after protests from staff, but not before some of the "ringleaders" were informally told by management that this would not look good for their career development at the PIA.

I normally think of the Investors Chronicle as an authoritative if staid institution. How shocking then to hear of open mutiny by a writer who occupied the editor's office yesterday morning, sent e-mail to fellow staff on the failings of the management, and was then handcuffed by police and escorted from the building.

Shocked fellow journalists watched as Conor Joyce carried out his own version of passive resistance when management called in the Bill to remove him.

Conor, a 38-year-old reporter, tells me he was leaving the IC at the end of the week anyway to continue his PhD on German art criticism in the early Twentieth Century. "I wanted to complain about the editorial management. IC made an operating profit of pounds 2.5m last year, but as a monopoly it could be making a lot more," he says.

"This was a way of crystallising discontent. When the management asked me to leave [the editor's office] and I refused, they over-reacted. They sacked me, but I wouldn't budge. The police were very professional. It was all very civil." He was led out of the building, and set free outside. He is not expecting any further action from the IC, part of FT Magazines. Phew. It makes a change from writing up Hammerson's interims, I suppose.

Compared to the IC fracas, yesterday's Shell agm was a model of decorum, despite the presence of 10 agitators from Friends of the Earth. The FoE people were backing a motion to improve Shell's environmental monitoring and human rights record. The greens hit a problem, however. Under the company's rules you have to have four shares before you can vote on a motion. The 10 FoE members all possessed a single Shell share so none could vote.

A series of anguished speakersasked if four single shareholders could club together and get a vote. They were told no. Tony Juniper, leading the FoE group, later admitted that their shares paled into insignificance beside the institutional block vote, which rejected the green motion.

This does not mean there were no misgivings on Shell's top table. Mark Moody-Stuart, who is set to succeed John Jennings as chairman in July, says his wife was quite sympathetic to the resolution, which had led to some interesting debates over the breakfast table. In the event, her husband's arguments swayed her and she voted against.

Christopher Heath, the former Barings trader who was once Britain's best paid man, has added a clutch of new signings to his Caspian emerging markets boutique. Derrick Williams joins from Lehman Brothers to become senior global position trader in New York. John Havranek joins from Rapid Data to become head of research in Indonesia, answering to Sean Hughes, head of operations in that country.

Richard Greer, a managing director at Caspian who describes himself as a " bag carrier" for Mr Heath, says the New York appointment is crucial as the US forms Caspian's main client base. Mr Greer first worked for Mr Heath in 1982, and has seen Caspian grow from a bright idea in 1995 to a group employing 250 people today.

Mr Heath has just completed a three-day tour of Asia, is now flying back to London for a three-hour stopover, before going on to New York. He returns to London next week. Mr Greer says it's not just a lust for air miles. "He likes to interview all key appointments to make sure he likes them." If he can keep his eyes open long enough.