Hello, partner: Sugar ups ante in 'Apprentice'

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The Independent Online

It's time to stop moaning about the banks and start your own business, Lord Sugar has declared, after launching a new series of The Apprentice in which he will set up a new joint venture with the winner.

The thrusting entrepreneur hired by Lord Sugar at the conclusion of the latest BBC 1 series won't merely be a minion in the boss's technology-to-property empire – as has been the case with previous winners of the reality television show. "It's useful to start blaming the banks for all the doom and gloom we have here in the marketplace," he said. "When no one is helping you, you've got to help yourself."

Lord Sugar will form a 50/50 partnership with his apprentice, which will advance the winner's own business idea. The Labour peer will inject £250,000 of his own "capital and value" into the new company. His new business partner will share in the profits – and possibly be liable for any debts if the company fails.

"They won't be liable for any debts because there won't be any," claimed Lord Sugar. "I will be choosing a person capable of running a business. I'll be there to steer it on to the rails if it's going in the wrong direction. We'll have to shut the business down if it doesn't work."

The abrasive Lord Sugar, famed for his "You're fired" catchphrase, criticised an "expectancy culture" in which young people demand wealth and fame without putting in the hard work.

He said: "Everyone's moaning about the banks not helping them doing this, not helping them doing that. The tasks [in the new series] will show them how someone can start a business on their own."

The peer said he had decided to change format for the show's seventh series to avoid becoming bored with his role. He denied that the new twist could turn it into an imitation of Dragon's Den.

Speaking to the contestants, Lord Sugar set out the deal: "Don't expect me to be doing all the work because I'm not looking for a 'sleeping' partner. I'm not Saint Alan, the patron saint of bloody losers."

A former cycling champion and a trained actress are among the contestants battling to work alongside Lord Sugar in the new series, which begins next Tuesday.

Apprentice 2011: The ones to watch

1. The Over-Achiever - Melody Hossaini

Already the winner – of the all-important opening episode catchphrase competition, at least. "Don't tell me the sky's the limit when there's footprints on the moon," bleated Hossaini. The 26-year-old, who was born in Iran, is director of her own social enterprise, InspirEngage.

2. The Kook - Tom Pellereau

Every series needs its airy-fairy eccentric. Tom Pellereau, a dead ringer for Michael Sheen, should fit the bill. A 31-year-old inventor from London, his claim to fame is to have created "the world's first curved nail file".

3. The new Stuart Baggs - Edward Hunter

Whatever you do, don't call Edward Hunter an accountant. He is, though, an accountant, "with one of the world's leading accountancy firms", as the voiceover keeps reminding us. Still, in his own head at, he's a "wheeler dealer who accidentally became a finance professional and wants out". At 25, he is the youngest male and also, he notes sulkily, the shortest.

4. The Argumentative OneEdna Agbarha

Oh goody, a business psychologist. Agbarha's day job, dispensing words of wisdom: "A limp handshake is unforgivable!" – should make for some boardroom fun. At 36, she is the oldest candidate and is already showing promising signs of irritation with her younger cohorts.

Alice Jones, Deputy Arts Editor