UK: BLACKHURST'S DIARY - In which our diarist makes a plea to Bin Laden, marvels at Imelda Marcos' luck and ...

UK: BLACKHURST'S DIARY - In which our diarist makes a plea to Bin Laden, marvels at Imelda Marcos' luck and ... - BLACKHURST'S DIARY - In which our diarist makes a plea to Bin Laden, marvels at Imelda Marcos' luck and witnesses the advent of the a new br

by CHRIS BLACKHURST, deputy editor of The Express.
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

BLACKHURST'S DIARY - In which our diarist makes a plea to Bin Laden, marvels at Imelda Marcos' luck and witnesses the advent of the a new breed of entrepreneur - the venture catalyst.

DOWN AT THE MINISTRY NOT A MOUSE STIRS

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and it is always easy to look back and mock. Nevertheless, spare a thought for the Whitehall officials who in 1993 advised that Microsoft Windows would never catch on and the government should look at other software systems.

The result has been a complete fiasco, costing the taxpayer many millions of pounds. While the rest of the world has been simply clicking and drawing down, British civil servants have been following their own arcane procedures.

At the Home Office, for example, probation officers have been using a system that requires them to go through 10 different stages just to open and update a file. Now, at last, they are to get a Windows-based system.

Things are looking up in Whitehall, however. On the face of it, Tony Blair's appointment of Alex Allan as his e-commerce ambassador may look like another job for a faceless, grey-suited career mandarin. But Allan, a former principal private secretary to John Major, is no slouch when it comes to the world wide web. His favourite pastime is surfing for references to the Grateful Dead, the rock band. Indeed, he once created an internet site devoted to them.

Allan has his work cut out. I recently bumped into Alan Milburn, the new health chief, who told me how, when he became a minister in 1997, he was shown to his grand office at the heart of an organisation that spends billions of pounds of taxpayers' money each year. There was a desk and a phone but no computer terminal.

THE SMELL OF MONEY

A friend has an idea for a new business. But instead of approaching a venture capitalist he has been put in touch with a new breed of third millennium entrepreneur: the 'venture catalyst'. The idea is that these consultants take the pain out of the start-up funding application. They advise on which venture capital firms to talk to, who to contact, how to pitch, what to put in the documentation. Typically, they charge 3% of the venture capital raised. My friend is looking for £1 million and insists he is happy to pay £30,000 to achieve that. Me, I think I'm in the wrong job. Chris Blackhurst, venture catalyst - I can see the brass plate already.

WHEN YOUR IN-LAWS ARE OUTLAWS

A businessman pal confesses to a certain difficulty in dealing with America: he is married into the Bin Laden family, as in Osima Bin Laden, the world's most wanted man, thought by the CIA to be responsible for numerous acts of terrorism. Bin Laden's extremism is only fairly recent - for most of his life he led a respectable existence as a member of a large, well-heeled Saudi business family. Every time my friend tries to borrow money or go to the US, his wife's connection flashes up on the computer, clerks ring anxiously for their supervisors and he has a lot of reassuring to do.

Osima, if you read Management Today, give yourself up - if only for the sake of your relatives.

E FOR EXPECTATION

Of this year's Harvard MBA graduates, no fewer than half are going into new ventures in e-commerce. I am told this by an ex-McKinsey man who claims that the firm and others like it are struggling to fill their normal quota of business-school stars. He also tells me how, when he was recruited by McKinsey, he was interviewed by one William Hague. 'He asked me what I thought of politicians,' recalls my man. 'I said they were all tossers. I got the job.'

WHERE WILL BURNSIDE STRIKE NEXT?

Starter for 10. What is the connection between the Ulster Protestant workers' strikes which so brilliantly brought the province to a halt in the 1970s and the Barbour and tweed jacket-wearing Countryside Alliance?

Answer: David Burnside. Once a leading light in Vanguard, the Ulster party behind the strikes, and later public relations adviser to British Airways during Lord King's reign and the dirty-tricks campaign against Virgin, Burnside, a passionate grouse and pheasant shooter, is lending his genius to the Alliance. The Government, he says, has seen nothing yet. When others make such boasts I dismiss them - but not Burnside. Such is his reputation, I start to take the Alliance, a disparate collection of huntsmen and women, farmers and country dwellers, seriously.

SWISS HANG ON TO IMELDA'S BOOTY

Invited to attend a fraud conference in Cambridge, I listen in amazement as a Swiss delegate says the billions looted from the Philippines by Imelda Marcos will not be returned to the people of that poor country because she has not committed any offence under Swiss law!

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