Waste-busting committee hits the road for Britain; City Diary

Click to follow
The Independent Online
The MPs investigating the sacking of former Stock Exchange boss Michael Lawrence have been stern critics of incompetence wherever they find it. The Treasury and Civil Service Committee also have a reputation for criticising money-wasting ideas. How strange then that they are planning two overseas trips, the first in June to Washington and New York, in order to see how the Americans run their stock exchanges. As committee chairman Sir Thomas Arnold, Conservative member for Hazel Grove, puts it: "The Americans are way ahead of us." The second trip, planned for the autumn, will take the MPs to Paris and Frankfurt. It is not yet clear which members of the committee will be lucky enough to go on the junkets. Will Brian Sedgemore, Labour member for Hackney and Shoreditch and scourge of the Bank of England, be packing his bags? Nicholas Budgen, Conservative member for Wolverhampton South-west, told Mr Lawrence when he appeared before the committee that it had "as much a right to investigate the sacking of Stock Exchange cleaning staff" as it did of him. Indeed, said Mr Budgen, the whole investigation was a "waste of time and money". He says now that while he has heard about the trips, "I honestly haven't thought about them." Hmm.

Sir Richard Greenbury, the chairman of Marks & Spencer, always has something interesting to say, whether about his company's annual results or corporate governance. But his views on bra sizes may still come as a surprise.

M&S has been recruiting extra staff in certain areas to meet demand, such as people to advise on men's suits and home furnishings. Another area is bras. Sir Richard tells us that between 1,000 to 1,500 women a week seek advice on bra measurements from M&S. In an attack of political incorrectness, the chairman says: "Forgive me, but I do find it strange that women need that kind of help."

Everybody's doing it. Accountants Price Waterhouse and Ernst & Young now have the final all-clear to move offshore and register as limited- liability partnerships in Jersey. This protects them against many of the spiralling professional indemnity claims that are now in vogue. The firms even helped Jersey to draft the laws under which they are now registered.

The US investment bank Goldman Sachs has done the American equivalent, for similar reasons, by re-registering in the state of Delaware.

Big UK law firms like Linklaters & Paines are considering their own stampede to Jersey - a nice little earner for the island, which charges a pounds 10,000 registration fee per firm.

A senior PW partner recalls the accountants' plan last December to fly to Jersey to wine and dine the island's officials, in order to thank them for providing them with such an agreeable legal framework. On the morning of the flight Heathrow was fog-bound. Showing their true ability as problem- solvers, PW chartered the last plane out of town and made lunch with minutes to spare.

John Major's threat of non-cooperation with European Union treaties may win plaudits from little Englanders, but it has drawn a howl of protest from UK corporate recovery professionals. The first casualty of the boycott will be the EU Bankruptcy Convention, due to be signed on Thursday. The convention has taken more than a quarter of a century to negotiate. A senior reciever says: "This is adding Mad Ministers to Mad Cow Disease."

Lawyers were practically blinking back tears last night as they saw their final triumph, a code that will save jobs on a Continental scale, being snatched from them at the last minute. Most large companies now have extensive overseas operations, yet agreements on how to handle cross-border insolvencies are thin on the ground. When the UK-based Lancer Boss forklift truck business went bust and a receiver was appointed, a minor German lawyer took over the German operation and nearly scuppered the whole rescue operation, endangering hundreds of jobs. The Bankruptcy Convention would never have allowed this problem to arise. Never mind. I'm sure the Government knows what it's doing.