Scrooge rules at the PIA

People and Business
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The Independent Online
WHAT IS it about Christmas parties? Hard on the heels of the announcement that Merrill Lynch has axed its yuletide knees-up at the Natural History Museum comes news of penny-pinching and splits at the Personal Investment Authority's planned celebrations at the Waldorf.

Last year the PIA held a lavish party at Canary Wharf in London Docklands which caused quite a stir. A large number of staff and their partners were flown down from Scotland to London at the PIA's expense, on the grounds that they were attending a training session on the preceding afternoon. The party was also something of an unofficial leaving do for the then head of the PIA, Colette Bowe.

In June the PIA's staff were swallowed up by the new super regulator, the Financial Services Authority (FSA), which with a total of 2,000 staff is far too large to have its own Christmas party.

Therefore this year the PIA will still be having its own revels - at the Waldorf Hotel in London's West End. But gone will be the Irish line- dancing and Scottish reeling at the PIA's expense. Predictably, when news of last year's bacchanalia-on-expenses leaked out, the press coverage was pretty scathing.

So this year the PIA has executed a U-turn and is doing a fair imitation of Scrooge. No partners will be invited. Each staff member attending will have to cough up the full pounds 80 for a ticket.

And just to rub salt in the wound, each attendee will have to write down the names of five people they would like to sit next to, and the names then go into a hat. The PIA's chairman, Joe Palmer, is probably the only chap who can be entirely sure of sitting next to the person he wants to.

According to my spies, ticket sales have made Accrington Stanley at home on a wet Wednesday look healthy. Even worse, the PIA's Monitoring and Enforcement Team is organising its own breakaway party.

Crisps, anyone?

MARK BOLEAT surprised a lot of people yesterday by declaring that he wants to stand down as director-general of the Association of British Insurers (ABI) after five years at the helm, in order to go off and do something else.

Mr Boleat, 49, has helped build the ABI into a highly effective lobbying unit for Britain's institutional investors. Surely he must have some idea of his next move?

"No, I certainly don't have anything lined up. I have a completely open mind. I have been running trade associations for over 12 years and I want a new challenge," he says.

Before the ABI, Mr Boleat worked for 19 years at the Building Societies Association (BSA) , the last seven years as its director-general.

Does he regret the recent demutualisation of so many former societies and their transformation into banks?

"I never had any particular attachment to mutuality," he says, with remarkable sang froid.

A former colleague of his describes Mr Boleat as "extremely hard working, very devoted, a prodigious output - he wrote several books on housing finance - he's a very good speaker - and he's very aware of his own abilities".

The ex-colleague added that his only real failing was that some people did think he was a bit full of himself.

Be that as it may, Mr Boleat does not lack a sense of humour. He was fond of telling a joke about his attempt to be elected a Tory councillor for a local authority in the 1970s when a political career briefly beckoned.

Although there was a huge swing to the Tories, Mr Boleat narrowly lost. He subsequently joked that if he had won he would have demanded a recount, as he had by then decided against a political career.

He is due to leave the ABI by next April at the latest, and headhunters have been appointed to find his successor.

I AM delighted to report that British Airways has won the prestigious "major project award" at the British Construction Industry awards this week for its state-of-the-art pounds 200m Waterside head offices near Heathrow.

Bob Ayling, BA's chief executive, picked up the award. Strangely there was no mention of the office's popular nickname: "Ayling Island".

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