Eurotunnel’s back on media agenda

The UK devotes more pages to money matters in its national press than any other country, including the US. But the result is a financial press, not a business press.

Pages will be devoted to the inconsequential share dealings of greedy men, but wider business issues concerning management, marketing or innovation get almost no serious discussion. Perhaps that is why Eurotunnel has almost disappeared from view.

French shareholders organised a vote and ousted the entire board. It is a highly expensive piece of infrastructure and it is tottering on the edge of bankruptcy. The firm may well not survive but, if it is going to have a chance, it will need a massive capital reconstruction that will involve persuading a lot of banks to write off its debts and become shareholders instead. Any such deal will be negotiated in London. If the firm is to have a chance, it needs to re-connect with the London-based financial and banking establishment.

That is what makes the mooted appointment of Dame Pauline Neville-Jones as chairman of the British end of Eurotunnel so intriguing. Years ago she was at the centre of power in Whitehall, and was there when Thatcher launched the channel tunnel project. But in the past decade she has been located further east, on the board of Natwest and chair of its spun-off investment bank Hawkpoint.

They are used to such people in France where top university graduates move from elite schools to government and the boardrooms of its largest firms. One can see why the French might look on Neville-Jones as near to being one of their own. They will be in for a rude shock, however, if they think she will be able to swing a French-style refinancing without provoking media attention.

British journalists may be narrow, but they are still a lot tougher in their examination of such deals than the business press in France.

anthony.hilton@haynet.com

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