Sam Dunn: Invest now, or get a rude awakening

Best of luck to Ros, Julian and Brian. Ms Altmann, a pensions specialist who has advised the No 10 policy unit, Professor Franks of the London Business School and Mr Steeples, president of the Personal Finance Society, are among those charged with no small task: steering the investment industry through stormy waters. They're all key speakers at next month's annual conference of the Investment Management Association.

Best of luck to Ros, Julian and Brian. Ms Altmann, a pensions specialist who has advised the No 10 policy unit, Professor Franks of the London Business School and Mr Steeples, president of the Personal Finance Society, are among those charged with no small task: steering the investment industry through stormy waters. They're all key speakers at next month's annual conference of the Investment Management Association.

Among the topics up for hot discussion is "long-term savings for the 21st century", and it's to be hoped that barnstorming speeches will spark fresh impetus to get the British public investing again.

Heaven knows, we need it.

Figures for sales of equity individual savings accounts (ISAs) from last January to 5 April - the end of the tax year - show we invested £897m, some £100m less than last year. And this in a 12-month period that saw the FTSE-100 index rise by more than 500 points and break through the confidence-boosting 5,000 barrier.

But unfortunately, I'm not optimistic that the conference will lead to frenzied investment activity. Somewhere, the message that investing in the stock market is worthwhile is still getting badly scrambled.

Certainly not helping the situation are the likes of Credit Suisse and Threadneedle fund managers, who recently decided they actually needed to raise their charges to customers.

Encouraging more savers to keep part of their portfolio in shares - particularly through an ISA - shouldn't be such a struggle. Over 15 to 20 years, the potential returns are far higher than with cash deposits or bonds. Long-term, tax-free savings via a pension or ISA can transform our lives in retirement. Fund managers, life companies and even employers all need to spread this message more clearly.

But responsibility also rests with consumers, who must overcome their fear of the markets. A "drip-feed" investment of as little as £20 a month is all that is required to help restore confidence. Yet many people still retain a mindset that ridicules any investment for their old age apart from buying property.

I was out with friends in the May sunshine last weekend when an angry cloud floated into view. Turning on pensions and stock markets, my friends claimed both were "a waste of time" and not to be trusted. In fact, one voice piped up, premium bonds were your best bet.

But lobbing your life savings into a lottery where they earn no interest and get eaten up by inflation is no way to provide for your old age.

When my friends' misguided beliefs prevail, we all have a long, long way to go.

Bring back this Bill

As the general election campaign took away, so now the new government should give back.

The election announcement in early April forced the Consumer Credit Bill to be abandoned as Parliament was dissolved. The Bill would have introduced tough rules to curb loan sharks and unfair credit agreements.

There was no time, the Government said, to see it through, even though it had secured cross-party support and completed its reading in the Commons.

Labour must now draw up flagship bills for the Queen's Speech on 17 May. It's to be hoped a new Consumer Credit Bill will be among them, and given its proper place as a priority.

s.dunn@independent.co.uk

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