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PM Ditches Banker Trade Envoys In Shake-Up

(c) Sky News 2012

Two of the figures most closely-associated with the reputational crisis at Britain's banks are being quietly dropped as international flag-bearers for British business.

Sir Victor Blank, architect of the disastrous merger of Lloyds TSB (LSE: LLOY.L - news) and HBOS in 2008, and Marcus Agius, who stepped down as chairman of Barclays (LSE: BARC.L - news) following its £290m fine for Libor-fixing, are to end their roles as British Business Ambassadors, I have learned.

People close to the situation said that Lord Marland, the Government minister who chairs the Business Ambassadors programme, had written to some of the members during the last few weeks, including Sir Victor, who resigned as Lloyds Banking Group's chairman in 2009, to inform them that their services were no longer required.

Insiders said the Business Ambassadors were being "refreshed" to focus on people who are serving as chairmen or chief executives. Those who retire from full-time roles with companies would be asked to step down a year later, these people said, meaning that Mr Agius would probably relinquish his role in 12 months' time.

The ambassadorial initiative was launched two years ago during a trade mission to China and South Korea led by David Cameron and was designed to promote trade with key overseas markets.

Ambassadors' duties include lobbying to remove barriers to market access or leading events for smaller companies during overseas visits, briefing ministers on key business priorities and contributing to government dialogues with fast-growing markets including Brazil, China and India.

Some people familiar with the working of the initiative said it had been largely ineffectual, with some of the Ambassadors using the status of the role principally to promote their own companies, rather than wider British economic interests.

A spokeswoman for UK Trade & Investment (UKTI), the trade promotion agency, confirmed that a number of the original Business Ambassadors were not being retained following the end of their two-year term.

In addition to Sir Victor, the list of those unveiled in 2010 who are no longer involved in the programme includes Sir David Brewer, a former Lord Mayor of London, Lord Brittan, former trade adviser to Mr Cameron, Larry Hirst, former chairman of IBM (NYSE: IBM - news) in Europe (Chicago Options: ^REURUSD - news) , Baroness Hogg, chairman of the Financial Reporting Council, Paul Skinner, ex-chairman of Rio Tinto (Berlin: CRA1.BE - news) , and Bob Wigley, the chairman of Hibu, the directories publisher which used to trade as Yell.

"Appointments for Business Ambassadors are reviewed as a matter of course every two years or at the end of a political term," the UKTI spokeswoman said.

"Business Ambassadors should occupy a senior executive role, and on ceasing such a position there will be a 12-month transition period, after which they will step down from membership of the group.

"We would like to thank all those who have stepped down for their hard work in promoting UK excellence overseas."

Among those who are continuing as Business Ambassadors beyond their initial two-year term are Lord Patten, the under-fire chairman of the BBC Trust, Dick Olver, chairman of BAE Systems (LSE: BA.L - news) , the defence contractor, and Lord Browne, the former BP chairman who is now a partner at the private equity group Riverstone Holdings (SES: AP4.SI - news) .

Mr Cameron has also appointed several new members of the programme, including Lucian Grainge, the British boss of Universal Music Group, and Paul Walsh, chief executive of Diageo (Xetra: 851247 - news) .

On Monday night, the Prime Minister confirmed Sky News reports that he is appointing a group of parliamentarians to serve as trade envoys focused on specific trading partners.