The bank that likes to say: Yes, ex-minister

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The Independent Online
David Howell has become the first former senior Tory MP to get a City job since the election - as advisory director of SBC Warburg. The former chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee has been cannier than his colleagues - he announced he would not be standing for re-election back in April and thus escaped being tainted by defeat.

"I've been a member of SBC's international board of advisers for 10 years," says Mr Howell, who swaps his occasional brief for a full time job which will involve a huge amount of globe-trotting. He will be using his experience as Minister for Energy (1979-81) and for Transport (1981-83) to seek out deals and mandates in emerging markets.

"I thought after 31 years in Parliament it was time to move on. Before I announced [I was standing down] I got this job and things moved together," he says. This puts Mr Howell in a far cosier position than the members of the Cabinet who fought to the end and are now getting a distinctly lukewarm response from City headhunters.

He admits to some sympathy for "the saddest cases who didn't plan to move" from government. Does he know if any former colleagues are having luck with their job searches? "I don't know - although I don't want to seem to sound distant from colleagues who have found themselves outside Parliament, perhaps unplanned."

Simon Lewis, head of communications at Centrica, was pleased as punch on Monday night. As President of the Institute for Public Relations he had the honour of presenting an achievement medal to George Stephanopoulos, Bill Clinton's former director of communications who steered Clinton to his 1992 election victory.

Mr Lewis tells me of the incident: "It enabled him to utter those immortal words to me, 'Thank you, Mr President.' Now I can die a happy man."

Impressively, Charles Anson, head of PR at GrandMet, also managed to make it to the bash, fresh from briefing the press on the proposed pounds 20bn merger with Guinness.

Is the new Government too paranoid about releasing information? City economists certainly think so. The teenage scribblers have been in the habit of ringing the Treasury press office for the clarification of policy details or interpretations of economic statistics.

But some who telephoned last Tuesday to discuss the finer points of Gordon Brown's announcement that he was making the Bank of England independent were redirected to the public enquiries department for the first time. The paper-shufflers there were not even aware that there had been an announcement. This particular episode of Whitehall bungling did not go down well in the Square Mile.

David Kendall, the recently installed chairman of Wagon Industrial Holdings, has lured Nick Brayshaw from Caradon to be its new chief executive. Mr Brayshaw will certainly have his work cut out. Wagon issued a profits warning in March, and the auto-parts maker was in the throes of a restructuring when former chairman Paul Taylor and chief executive John Hudson left the company.

Mr Kendall says: "We will be saying a lot more about the restructuring with our preliminary figures in July. We aim to narrow the focus and become a more high-quality engineering group. I see Nick as the man tobuild a strong future for the group."

Mr Brayshaw, 41, is also a regular runner in the London Marathon. "With the weight of the job he's facing that might have to go," warns the chairman.

James Noble, who in February unexpectedly quit his job as finance director of British Biotech leaving behind share option profits of pounds 2.8m, is to become a non-executive director at Oxford GlycoSciences.

This is the second non-exec position Mr Noble has picked up since February, the other being Innovative Technologies Group. While many observers expected the former Kleinwort Benson corporate financier to go for another big job, he seems happier to collect non-exec jobs and tend his bank balance.

And what a balance it is. Mr Noble and other directors of British Biotech caused a rumpus two years ago when they exercised options after the shares had shot up on the back of early results for an anti-cancer drug. Mr Noble made pounds 1.7m on that deal and exercised further options which netted him another pounds 2.5m.

A spokesman for Mr Noble says there was no falling out with the British Biotech management, rather that he lost a bit of his interest in the group once it got the pounds 143m right issue away last year.