12 AUGUST 1972, Page 18

Skinflint's City Diary

In The Spectator of July 15 I suggested that new Embassies might be built as British Commercial Centres on the outskirts of capital cities. These centres would be permanent emporia of British goods and provide facilities for visiting British business men.

A British consul general from a European city has taken me to task in a stiff letter which unfortunately he forbids me to publish (it is odd that the stiffest letters of rebuke I receive are not for publication). He makes the point that an emporium of British goods was considered very seriously by a distinguished British businessman some years ago but it was decided it would not work if for no other reason than that a shipping or dock strike would denude the store of goods. If this is a reason, little exporting would be done— certainly to this country.

Our consul general goes on to say that embassies and consulates provide space for the visiting businessman to consult directories, make telephone calls and so on, if he prefers this to his hotel room. He argues that British businessmen do not want to be based on the outskirts of capital cities. He wonders: " ... if Skinflint knows what a business man does when he goes abroad?" Needless to say Skinflint does and has had rather too close experience of working in countries which are served by embassy personnel as reactionary to change as this correspondent. Finally, businessmen who deal in goods rather than services are used to working on the outskirts of capital cities. They are the people who choose to use trade shows at Hanover, Olympia and so on and not used to the international equivalent of Grosvenor Square.

Trade shows

The problem for a businessman on initially attempting to enter a market is finding agents not already representing his rivals, working out channels of distribution etc. Trade shows are used to find these people as much as the ultimate buyer. The ground a businessman travels bas been crossed before and the difficulties are well known to commercial attaches and businessmen long based in the country. It is for this reason that a British commercial centre for research, the exchange of talk, semi-permanent office accommodation, and as an occasional exhibition and commercial centre would be so useful.

My correspondent draws attention to the British Trade Centre set up in 1966 in New York which closed eighteen months later because of lack of support from British companies. He says that "our export battles will not be won with gimmicks or by expecting the official services to do what they have not been created to do. They will be won by dedicated businessmen making calculated market decisions; and thank God, they exist." The British Trade Centre failed because it was in a smart small centrally based location — it wasn't made to sell anything but Fair Isle sweaters.

Younger men

As often as not the company trying to enter a market is small, having less than 1,000 employees. It knows very little about the country both financially and economically and the preliminary visit of investigation is usually made by the managing director on a flying visit as part of a continental or world tour. He is not able to get down to "making practical marketing decisions" since he hardly knows if there is a potential market. I remember well the great help of the Foreign Office commercial services in Johannesburg some years ago. They promoted and partly subsidised a well attended British exhibition.

The exhibition was judged a great financial success, and at least two companies to my knowledge used the fortnight of the show to acquire industrial land for future development and visited customers whose names had been collected by the enthusiastic and hard working Foreign Office staff. To our staid old Foreign Office friend sitting comfortably in Europe their efforts would be dismissed as gimmicky. The sooner such old stick-inthe-muds are retired and some of the younger Foreign Office men, like those in South Africa, come into their own, the better.

Savoy gift

The Savoy Hotel Group is said to be somewhat more immune to takeovers now that Miss Bridget D'Oyly Carte, granddaughter of the founder of the Savoy Group, has given a large part of 'her Savoy holdings to a charitable trust which can be counted on to vote her shares the way the board would like.

The Chairman of the Savoy Group, which includes Claridges and the Connaught, is Sir Hugh Wontner who is reported to be pleased with Miss D'Oyly Carte's gift, which will help the Savoy management to stifle criticism and meet outside attempts to gain control. Some of his relief is possibly connected with the use he has of Claridges' penthouse suite which is reported to be so magnificent (to the chagrin of Claridges' guests like Stavros Niarchos) that newspaper photographers are forbidden entry so that small shareholders do not become disaffected and want bigger dividends.

Trafalgar House Investments run by podgy Nigel Broackes still have a 12 per cent 'holding in the non-voting capital and 7i per cent of the voting control. Having looked over Broackes's latest effort, the Hotel Bristol opposite the Ritz, one can only hope Sir Hugh Wontner remains in charge of the Savoy, Claridges, and the Connaught. Without fear of contradiction I declare that they are, and will remain, London's best hotels — as long as they are not 'redeveloped.'

Miss Sweet Lips

I know it is hard to believe but London Weekend Television has taken great strides since Cyril Bennett has been responsible for programming. This said, how does he justify the former chairman's daughter, Miss Harriet Crawley, having her own programme? Did Bennett have to bid for services against the keen interest of the competition? On Saturday pale Miss Crawley's laboured interview with Clive Jenkins made it difficult not to believe that some aftermath of nepotism is at work within the organisation. At any rate one can be sure that neither Miss Crawley nor anyone else at LWTV has to undergo the threat of showbusiness's full starlet treatment to have work. In the words of the American joke, before getting a spot there is no need for London Weekend performers to be "clipped, capped, cupped, couched and cast ... !"

Amin's threat

General Amin's threat to expel 45,000 Uganda Asians with British passports needs examination with an eye unclouded by sentiments of first in the queue, fair play, equity or humanitarianism. The' fact is that these Uganda Asians make good citizens, lack religious bigotry, have a good knowedge of English and keen commercial aptitude. They should be snapped up by the Foreign Office before any other country takes them, or General Amin has another dream. Needless to say, the question of mainland Indians, Pakistanis and West Indians is very different, and their entry should be resisted for the very reasons the Uganda Asians should be encouraged.

Chateau for Sir Charles

Sir Charles Clore anticipated the extraordinary rise in farm prices years ago by buying the 16,000 acre Guy's Hospital estate in Herefordshire, at what now looks to have been an extremely keen price of E21 million. Sir Charles, usually one jump ahead of the competition snapping at his heels, is now buying an old chliteau and estate in Normandy. There is no doubt that he is an odd, brilliant man. A couple of weeks ago I heard a friend say to him that he was thinking of using Slater Walker to help him float his small business, since Slater had the reputation of not seeming to mind if others also made money. "There are lots of other people. What, are you in love with him or something?" was Sir Charles's reply.