We trounce the Italians in the late-payment league

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Italian businesses, for long the worst payers in the European Union, have now overtaken British businesses in paying their bills more promptly, according to Dunn & Bradstreet, the business information company. The shaming figures, coming in the wake of Michael Heseltine's boasts about his own late-paying exploits, make embarrassing reading;

The percentage of UK companies that pay 15 days overdue or longer is 42.1 per cent. The figures then go: France 40.4 per cent, EU average 38.4 per cent, Italy 37.8 per cent and Germany 19.4 per cent.

The accountants Arthur Andersen are currently struggling to save Coal Investments' 1,400 employees from the dole queue after the banks pulled the plug last week. Not an unrewarding task for Andersen, which also advised the banks during refinancing talks, with the total administration budget put at pounds 3m.

CI's shares, you may remember, were suspended in December after planning permission was refused for a new face at one of its six pits, Hem Heath in north Stafforshire. A local landowner, James Hall, fought, by all accounts, an impressive rearguard action at Staffs County Council to stop the face.

Mr Hall's concern was possible subsidence at Barlaston Hall, a magnificent 18th century house built for Josiah Wedgwood which he picked up at a peppercorn price in 1992. Quite a bargain, after British Coal and English Heritage had spent pounds 1.3m between them restoring the house. It is now reckoned by CI now to be pretty subsidence-proof.

And Mr Hall's job? Coincidentally he works by day in London as a managing partner at Andersen Consulting, the accountants' separate management consultancy arm. The press release starting his anti-CI campaign last November was issued via Andersen's fax machine in London.

On a serious note, the publication yesterday of the Scott inquiry into arms for Iraq prompted the Co-operative Bank to take full-page ads in several newspapers, including this one. It wanted to show that "whilst other banks may have used their customers' balances to help finance arms, the Co-operative Bank did not participate in this trade."

A spokesman explained the bank had decided on this ad strategy on the presumption that banks would be criticised in the report However, nobody knew for sure what was in it, and yesterday afternoon the bank's ad people were furiously scanning through the 1,800 page , five-volume report to see if banks were mentioned.

Even if they weren't, a spokesman concluded last night: "We wanted to widen the debate. Hundreds of millions of pounds worth of arms were exported to Iraq and Iran, which must have meant UK banks were used."

True enough. He added: "We're not saying that other banks should follow our stance. But they should be more open about what they do with their customers' money left on deposit."

Most of Rugby Union in the UK may be going money crazy, but the Japanese still view it primarily as a social sport for thrusting executives. Witness last Monday's match between Nomura's London office and its Tokyo equivalent, at the Metropolitan Police ground at East Molesey, Sussex. The teams were competing for the Tonomura Trophy, set up in the late 1980s by Hitoshi Tonomura, then head of Nomura in Europe. The Japanese securities giant shifted Mr Tonomura back to Tokyo, and the rugby tournament languished in his absence. But when he returned last year interest picked up. The London office beat Reuters 34-0 a few weeks ago, and on Monday it thrashed Nomura's Tokyo office 70-15. A spokeswoman observed yesterday: "That was the score before we lost count."