Scrap that old image, I'm on the Internet now; City Diary

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The Independent Online
Paul Sykes is Britain's 72nd richest person with a fortune worth pounds 220m, according to a recent survey. Mr Sykes also announced a couple of weeks ago that he is standing as a Conservative Parliamentary candidate in Barnsley Central.

Mr Sykes made his fortune selling scrap metal, and latterly helped develop the Meadowhall shopping centre in Sheffield. According to his spokesman, though, he would now like to be described as "chairman of Planet Online, an Internet service provider."

No more horrid scrap metal for Mr Sykes, whose new company claims to have the UK's largest ISDN network, a type of cable link which can transmit voice and video. No more muck, just brass.

Peter Wood, chairman of Direct Line, may have been smarting from the less than brilliant results he was reporting yesterday when he gave his own judgement on the recent Royal Life/Sun Alliance nuptials: "They were fighting like cats over the Halifax account (for reinsurance), they cut each others' throats on prices and they ended up merging."

Kinetica, the independent gas marketing company set up six years ago by Conoco (UK) and PowerGen, is recruiting. It advertised yesterday for "a number of key analysts to bolster our 24 hour operations team ... The work will involve the daily matching of supply and demand, market monitoring, demand forecasting..." and so on.

Some unkind rivals were suggesting yesterday that this must have been prompted by the events of Saturday 9 March. While everyone had gone home, including Kinetica, a cold snap sent spot gas prices soaring from 10p a therm to 140p and upwards.

Is this recruitment an attempt by Kinetica not to get caught short again? Nonsense, according to sources close to the firm. They had a team on duty throughout the cold weekend, and sold gas to other companies. Whatever else you say about the newly deregulated gas industry, it certainly sounds competitive.

An employee of WorldCover Direct, a travel insurance company, was on holiday in Thailand when he overheard a conversation in a Bangkok bar. A British drinker was boasting to his cronies that he was living with a prostitute and would claim the expense back on his travel insurance.

The boaster let slip that the company was WorldCover. Consequently WorldCover is now awaiting a bogus claim from a holidaymaker in Thailand.

"The only question is what category will it be under," says the WorldCover man. "Lost baggage, medical or false advertising."

Did you know that China produces 4 billion pairs of shoes a year? At least it did in 1994, according to the latest SATRA World Footwear Markets survey, and it probably makes more now. This dwarfs Western Europe, which produced a mere 1,139 million pairs in 1994, while the emergence of capitalism in the former Soviet Union has seen a positive collapse in production. The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) made about 730 million pairs in 1991, but only 220 million three years later. Imports by the CIS also fell. Which leaves one question: where do all those Chinese shoes go?

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