The IoS Diary: Solid gold and plenty of nuggets

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As high-profile Texans keen on making loadsa money, Sir Allen Stanford and George Bush have much in common. Indeed, before Stanford was charged over a £6bn fraud, the two were, it seems, rather matey. When Stanford expanded his financial services firm by building a new office complex on the US Virgin Islands, Dubya sent a heart-warming memo on White House notepaper. "I send greetings to those gathered in St Croix, Virgin Islands, to celebrate the expansion of Stanford Financial Group," it reads. "By providing investment and wealth management services, companies like yours are helping more Americans build a solid foundation for the future. Laura and I send our best wishes ...." Charming, even if the bit about solid foundations has turned out not to be quite right. But why no letters of support from Laura and George now?


It's only a matter of weeks since Alan Milburn, below, stepped back into the spotlight to chair a review for Gordon, and already he seems set to embarrass the Government. Last week the Office of Fair Trading slammed a debt-collecting agency, 1st Credit, for failing to meet "satisfactory demands", and ordered it to stop sending threatening letters. 1st Credit is owned by private-equity firm Bridgepoint, which pays Milburn £30,000 a year to sit on its advisory committee. That's just one of several lucrative jobs he has accepted since standing down as a minister to "spend more time with his family". Now that he is back, shouldn't he rethink these perks?


Lib Dem MP Lynne Featherstone is incensed over pay equality at Cambridge University. "Cambridge – bastion of male dominance – still! So – I've referred the buggers to the Equalities [sic] and Human Rights Commission for investigation," she shrieks on her blog, referring to a report showing male staff are paid on average a third more than women. But what of her party's own board? The Lib Dem website shows that of its five directors, four are male. Chief executive Chris (Lord) Rennard says there are two other women with directorial salaries who are not listed, although one is the leader's press secretary. A case of motes in the eye?


How nice for Amyas Morse, the newly appointed head of the National Audit Office, to have already found favour with the Commons Public Accounts Committee before even starting his job. In an informal meeting last week they expressed their approval when he defended the role played by auditors in the banking crisis. But he hasn't always been so favourably regarded. In his current post as commercial director at the Ministry of Defence, Morse has been at the centre of what has been branded a £16bn "fiasco", overseeing the MoD's procurement programme, about which the Commons Defence Committee published a withering report. But as of June, when he switches jobs, all that will be in the past. Phew.


A new magazine called Communicate, which calls itself "the single voice for stakeholder relations", has a splendidly cock-eyed piece in its latest issue. Someone had the bright idea of compiling a list of firms ranked by corporate social responsibility. And which bank, which lost £28bn last year and will be shelling out nearly £700,000 a year to its disgraced ex-chief exec, comes in at No 2? You guessed it – RBS. Gives social responsibility a whole new meaning.


Hot on the heels of its decision to convert acres of manicured parkland and lawns into allotments, the National Trust is hosting a debate on the subject "Britain is indifferent to beauty". The talk, at the Royal Geographical Society on 19 March, is part of a drive to make people "rethink their lives". Lined up to propose the motion are Roger Scruton and David Starkey, while naysayers are Germaine Greer and Stephen Bayley. But I'm surprised Bayley has agreed to take part. His hatred of the National Trust is well documented. "The damage it has done to national intelligence has been immense," he once said. "Bussing often uncritical grannies into country houses tends to suggest that architectural excellence existed only at one moment in time and that moment was, in most cases, an indeterminate point in the 18th century."

Expect fireworks.

Matthew Bell

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