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Lord wakeham rothschild stooge { January 30 2002 }

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Master fixer who ended up in a fix

Critics have wondered how former Tory minister Lord Wakeham, no stranger to controversy, found time for all his business activities

Andrew Clark and David Hencke
Wednesday January 30, 2002
The Guardian

During his 20-year parliamentary career, Lord Wakeham became known as "minister for banana skins" for his sure-footed handling of potentially tricky issues.

Nicknamed "the chief", his reputation was as a "fixer par excellence" who acted behind the scenes providing invaluable advice to the prime minister. When he was chief whip he kept tabs on backbenchers and let those at the top know exactly what was going on.

Lord Wakeham's contacts with Enron began when he was appointed energy secretary by Margaret Thatcher in 1989 with the task of privatising the electricity industry.

An accomplished accountant, the minister had both to deliver a complex privatisation programme and create an electricity energy market from scratch. At the time, the biggest private energy market was in the US, and Enron was seen as being at the cutting edge of exploiting it.

Lord Wakeham oversaw the first contracts for Britain's gas-fired power stations - to British Nuclear Fuels and Enron. Enron won the contract for a large power station in Teesside, which would include providing energy for the ICI complex there.

In 1994, months after Lord Wakeham quit as leader of the House of Lords and two years after leaving the energy brief, he became a non-executive director of Enron.

At the time, his 80,000-a-year job raised few eyebrows - it was part of a long tradition of retired ministers putting their departmental expertise to lucrative use in the private sector.

Keen to fill the rest of his diary, Lord Wakeham cast his net wider in his search for lucrative roles. In January 1995, his business career caused angry protests in the Commons when MPs discovered that he had become a director of the merchant bank NM Rothschild.

NM Rothschild had advised regional electricity companies while Lord Wakeham was privatising them as a member of the government. The merchant bank had already signed up Lord Lawson, former chancellor, as a non-executive director. Gordon Brown, then shadow chancellor, wrote to the parliamentary standards commissioner, Lord Nolan, complaining: "The cabinet room is becoming a recruiting ground for the boards of privatised companies."

It later emerged that Lord Wakeham had awarded a contract to NM Rothschild to advise the government on coal privatisation.

More recently, NM Rothschild has taken the former minister into equally controversial waters. The bank advised the government on privatisation of Railtrack, and now faces lawsuits from shareholders, who claim the prospectus for flotation was misleading.

Lord Wakeham also sits on the advisory board of LEK Consulting, a management consultancy which is working with the German bank WestLB on Swiftrail, a project to buy Railtrack out of administration.

Critics have frequently asked how Lord Wakeham could devote sufficient time to all his business interests. At one point, he had a dozen different directorships.

Among his responsibilities is chairing the board of Vosper Thorneycroft, the shipbuilder. This appointment followed a familiar pattern - one of his first government jobs in the early 1980s was as a parliamentary under-secretary of state at the Department of Trade, then responsible for shipbuilding.

While Vosper has prospered over the last year, with its shares surging by more than 50%, Lord Wakeham's other substantial quoted company, the recruitment firm Michael Page, has had a terrible time. After floating last March with a market value of 650m, the company issued two profit warnings in quick succession. Michael Page's market value fell as low as 375m, infuriating investors.

Lord Wakeham, his wife Angela and another relative, Jonathan Wakeham, own a family company, Genner Holdings, a provider of "consultancy and management services".

According to filings at Companies House, Genner Holdings had investments of 1.3m in 2001. As directors, the three Wakehams drew a combined salary of 218,800 and received dividends of 140,000.

Man in demand

Director of Enron since 1994, drawing an annual salary of 80,000

Director of the merchant bank NM Rothschild, which is among the City's biggest financial advisers and deal-makers

Chairman of the press complaints commission

Chairman of recruitment company Michael Page, which specialises in filling jobs in accountancy, finance and law

Chairman since 1995 of Vosper Thorneycroft, one of Britain's biggest military shipbuilders

Director of the Bristol & West building society

Member of the advisory board of LEK, an international management consultancy

Director of Kalon, a paint company owned by the French group TotalFinaElf

Director of Genner Holdings, the Wakeham family's investment company

Director of the Carlton Club, recently boycotted by Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith for its refusal to grant full membership to women

Director of Cothill House, a preparatory school in Oxfordshire

Chairman of Alexander Rose Day, a charity which organises an annual nationwide flag day for good causes

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