IF THE government wants more competition in the retail banking sector, it’s more competition it’s gonna get.

Hot on the heels of yesterday’s heart-warming tale about new High Street lender Metro Bank planning to welcome dogs into branches – and offer them free bowls of water and chewy bones – comes a response from Metro’s future arch retail banking rival, Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Money.
Never one to knowingly miss a trick, Virgin tells me that it, too, would like to offer the very best customer service possible and if that includes allowing in dogs, then that’s what it may very well do.

“Under the right circumstances Virgin Money would consider throwing a dog a loan,” quips the company’s spinner, evidently yearning for a life of dreaming up inappropriate puns as a journalist.
“We’re looking at all sorts of leads but our plans are on a tight leash…”

I’m told Virgin Money chief executive Jayne Anne Gadhia – like Metro backer Vernon Hill – is herself a dog-lover and owns a pet golden retriever named Rosie. Perhaps all this puppy love is going to catch on.

A load of gnarled racing enthusiasts, diminutive jockeys and filthy rich racing tycoons aren’t exactly a grouping The Capitalist would have pegged as a future number one in the official UK music charts, but it seems hope springs eternal.

Songwriter Tony Hatch has revamped his classic 1960s song “Downtown” for rerelease on 8 March – and this time, it won’t be Petula Clark singing but the aforementioned group of amateurs.

The new song – which is entitled “Cheltenham” and aims to get to number one ahead of the Cheltenham Festival the following week – is in aid of a batch of charities, including the Riding for the Disabled Association, Racing Welfare and the Bob Champion Cancer Trust.

Singing on the chorus will be the likes of trainer Paul Nicholls, jockey Liam Treadwell and racing pundit John McCririck, along with the City’s own Andy Stewart, founder of Cenkos Securities and himself a keen racehorse owner.

“It’s all in the name of a good cause, but I can’t sing to save my life,” Stewart (right) tells me.
“My wife says I’m hopeless, although I suppose I can always mime…”

The song will be available for download from 8 March for 99p from iTunes and other digital stores, for those keen to do their bit and have a good old laugh in the process.
all that glitters

It’s off to Cape Town this week for the City’s resident mining community, who have their turn in the limelight after the bankers’ outings to Davos at the annual Indaba mining conference.

I hear anyone who’s anyone will be there, from the analysts to the chief executives, and it should be a good shindig, if previous years’ exploits are anything to go by.

Parties are being held throughout the week by brokers Astaire, Ambrian, Mirabaud, RBC and Investec, as well as the likes of accountancy giant Deloitte and law firm Charles Russell – where the order of the evening tends to be copious amounts of alcohol and scantily clad ladies “modelling” the gold and precious stones mined by the companies present. Nice.

The hottest ticket in town is to the gala dinner tonight, hosted by Anglo American’s chief executive Cynthia Carroll (above) at the Vergelegen wine estate. Bottoms up.