People & Business

John Willcock
Thursday 04 June 1998 23:02

"ARISE, Sir Simon" ... It can't be too long before Simon Lewis, the suave, emollient spin doctor for Centrica, bags his knighthood, now that he's set to be the Queen's new spokesman.

Mr Lewis was unavailable for comment yesterday, but I understand from sources close to Buckingham Palace that the shortlist for a new head of communications has been whittled down and Simon's name heads the list.

Who better to "reposition" the monarchy for the new millennium? According to friends of his in the City, of whom there are many, Simon was already networking like mad whilst reading PPE at Brasenose College, Oxford, in 1978-81. Pals from that period describe him variously as "a terribly nice chap", "a fanatical Arsenal supporter" and "a terrible hypochondriac", in no particular order.

Happily married to Clare and a father of two, our hero resides in Highbury, and goes to the same church as Tony Blair did until the latter's progress to Downing Street. There are even suggestions that Simon shared the services of the future PM's cleaning lady.

Friends and critics alike are united in admiration of Simon's immaculate sense of timing. After a spell working for an American senator, Simon joined British PR firm Shandwick and was seconded to the SDP in its "Gang of Four" phase, when the centrist party looked like it might just achieve power. He then headed SG Warburg's PR effort, leaving before the investment bank fluffed a merger with Morgan Stanley and sold up to SBC.

He then went on to become Lord Alexander's bag-carrier at NatWest, again leaving before the solids hit the ventilation at its ill-fated investment banking arm.

Everything is going swimmingly at Centrica, of course, where Simon now enjoys an enviably gargantuan "package".

But one can't help fearing that Simon's eventual departure from his next job at the Palace will swiftly be followed by the declaration of a republic...

SAY WHAT you like about Howard Davies, the pugnacious chairman of the fledgling Financial Services Authority (FSA), but he certainly knows how to stir it. Mr Davies delivered a typically pungent speech at the London Arena in Docklands yesterday, declaring that London's financial community was expanding eastwards out of its historic boundaries in the Square Mile, and that the City fathers should welcome the new-found popularity of Canary Wharf as a home for financial institutions. The FSA, which was launched officially this week, is itself a recent arrival at Canary Wharf.

The speech should go down like a lead balloon with the Corporation. The City authorities are still smarting from the defection of HSBC, which is relocating over 8,000 employees from around the City to a single new tower block in Canary Wharf. Godfrey Bradman, the veteran property developer, led desperate last minute efforts to put together a rival scheme in the City, but HSBC preferred to go east.

Mr Davies took the opportunity of delivering the inaugural lecture for the Thames Gateway Partnership to rub salt in the wound. "We are content to be among the pioneers, in moving our staff to Canary Wharf", he declared. "I believe the City Corporation is now recognising that the expansion of the City's frontiers eastwards is a sign of the City's success, and not an indication of failure."

Perhaps. But I'm sure the Corporation is keeping a cell ready for Mr Davies in the Tower of London if he ever deigns to venture westward.

THE "shock" rate rise which caught just about everyone on the hop yesterday throws into sharp relief the struggle between the hawks and the doves on the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee (MPC).

Ian Amstad at BT Alex.Brown has sought to cast light on the matter by rating the MPC members on their hawkishness on inflation on a scale of one (most opposed to a rate rise) to ten (most in favour of a rise).

Eddie George, the Governor, comes out at 5/10, with Mr Amstad describing him as "tied to the status quo". David Clementi is "not a heavyweight" and his industry contacts "may make him instinctively dovish." He gets 4/10.

Mervyn King "is a heavyweight" and scores 7/10. Iain Plenderleith, in contrast, "has spent his career at the bank, and has backed his boss on every occasion." He accordingly gets 5/10.

Alan Budd fears a repeat of the "Lawson Boom", and takes on the mantle of head hawk with a mighty 8/10. Charles Goodhart, LSE professor and sheep farmer, scores 6/10, as does Willem Buiter. Deanne Julius emerges as leading dove with 2/10, and is tipped by Mr Amstad to be the first to call for a rate cut. Looking at yesterday's decision, she'll have to wait awhile.

Most intriguing is John Vickers, the new boy on the MPC, whose views on rates are a well kept secret. Mr Amstad suggest that, since he is good chums with Mervyn King, he is more likely to be hawkish than dovish.

Did the new boy swing the vote? We'll have to wait for the publication of the MPC's minutes in six weeks' time.

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