Pilot project launches gas competition

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The Independent Online
If residents living near Exeter look out of their windows next Monday at ten o'clock they may catch sight of a micro-light plane on a special mission. Monday is the first day that households will be allowed to receive gas from alternative suppliers in the South-west - the pilot region for gas competition.

One supplier, a joint venture between Total and London Electricity called London Total Energy, is flying in its managing director, Mark Petterson, on a micro-light to meet his first customer, Liz Hodges of Woodbury. Mr Petterson will have a pilot to drop him off.

Readers of Roof, Shelter's housing magazine, may remember an interview with Christopher Sharp, chief executive of Northern Rock Building Society, published in the mag nine months ago. He passionately attacked societies that were ditching mutuality in favour of plc status: "Why do some societies feel impelled to relinquish 200 years of tradition?" he asked.

They "are being forced to use the ultimate bung - cash or free shares on conversion to plc - to persuade an otherwise unconvinced membership". And so on. Strange then that Northern Rock announced its intention to convert to plc status earlier this month. I await my "bung" in keen anticipation.

Malcolm Horsman, a former acolyte of the legendary Jim Slater, is joining USM tiddler CRP Leisure as an executive director. The company has had a subdued history of late - the shares closed unchanged yesterday at 3.5p - but with Mr Horsman on board things may brighten up. This shell firm has been involved in pub maintenance and property, but its one remaining business is theatrical agents, an area where Mr Horsman's interest in the arts may come in handy.

It will certainly be a long way from Mr Horsman's experience in the 1970s with the likes of Bowater and Ralli Brothers.

Michael Hardern, who has angered so many building society chiefs with his ginger group, "Members for Conversion", has added a new feather to his hat. The self -employed butler has joined Second Age, a pressure group formed this spring:

"Second Age is dedicated to the aims of those lucky enough to be over forty ... Our aim is to combat ageism and prejudice against age at all levels and in any way that it is displayed, whilst offering our members the benefits of their Second Age through (amongst other things) group purchasing and negotiation." Mr Harden has joined to become its aims director. On Wednesday he was at Britannia Building Society's annual meeting, urging the board to opt for plc status and trigger cash payouts for the members. Mr Hardern says: "The board warned me that greed goes before a fall. I replied: 'Why should I go without my windfall to pay for someone else's cheaper mortgage?' "

Just one problem with Mr Hardern's new role in Second Age.

He's only 39. "I'll be 40 next February. You've got to prepare in this life."

Anyone who wants to read "Who Killed Polly Peck?", the gripping tome written by Asil Nadir's former colleague Elizabeth Forsyth, will not have much longer to wait. The original publication date of 2 April had to be ditched, when Forsyth's trial on charges of money laundering went against her. Forsyth then had to set to work with a ghost writer to write a last chapter, and publication was postponed until 19th April. Although that date has gone, the publishers are today sending out review copies of the tome, although they wouldn't say yesterday what the last chapter contained, or even what it was called. Meanwhile Forsyth awaits sentencing.

Those witty chaps at ING Barings' corporate finance department had a good chortle yesterday when this large tombstone-style ad appeared in the FT: "ScottishPower has acquired Manweb. Baring Brothers acted as lead financial adviser to ScottishPower in this transaction." The ad is dated October 1995, the time of the transaction. Sources within Barings confirmed that they put the ad in simply because of the Government's rejection of the two outstanding bids for electricity generating companies. "It's a little bit of opportunism," one source commented. Nose-thumbing, more like.

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