View from City Road: Dropping the line on fishy perks

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In fishing parlance this is 'Duffers Week', so called because any old fool can catch trout at this time of year; the trout are so desperate for the Mayfly hatch that you only have to cast your line on the water to make a catch. No skill required. Presumably, then, Portals will right now be entertaining huge numbers of foreign bankers, officials and politicians. As the Independent on Sunday revealed at the weekend, Portals owns Laverstoke House which has some of the best trout fishing in southern England. Its chairman, Julian Sheffield, lives in it (as did his father before him) as if it were his own. The company insists he occupies it on a 'caretaker basis' - a bit like having a 'tied cottage'. Some cottage with its 4,000 acres of prime Hamshire countryside sweeping down to the beautiful River Test. The primary purpose of the estate, the company claims, is for entertaining the clients. Yes, sure.

It usually takes a bid to flush out executive perks like this that escape normal disclosure provisions. Remember Hanson? It was not until its doomed assault on ICI that we got to hear about the co-chairman, Lord White, running a team of race horses on the business. He was another one living in a 'tied cottage' - this time in Beverley Hills. It is no coincidence that the Portals revelation coincides with an approach from De La Rue. Portals should have been rather easier to spot, though. Hanson prided itself on being lean and fit. Portals, by contrast, has always been run in a highly paternalistic way in the manner of a country squire, its independence until quite recently protected by the Bank of England. It is not, however, alone in owning fishing rights on the Test. So did Ferranti, the defence contractor, before its collapse. There must be others too. If so, they have just a few weeks to own up; otherwise we will expose them. Moles are not hard to come by among all those duffers.

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