Why does Blair refuse to pay for finance classes in school?

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The Independent Online

Battle has begun. John Tiner, chief executive of the Financial Services Authority, this week published his first draft of a strategy towards achieving the vital goal of making financial capability a nationwide skill. But, despite his plea to agree a common set of objectives, barely was the ink dry on his strategy paper before Mr Tiner was being told where he was allegedly going wrong.

Mick McAteer, senior policy adviser at the Consumers' Association, insists education is not enough and what Britain needs is a chain of generic advice centres combined with state-subsidised workplace education and advice. The Investment Management Association wants a beefed-up Personal Finance Education Group (Pfeg) to spread the word more vigorously in schools.

Others will join the clamour to claim the moral high ground, now it is clear thet momentum is building for action to arm financial consumers. But the dog that seems most reluctant to bark is the one with the golden key round its neck: the government. It is a strange irony that a government which, with the notable exceptions in the cases concerning the children of Tony Blair and Diane Abbott, is committed to state education still expects financial education to be paid for privately.

Until the Government accepts that financial expertise stands next in importance to reading, writing and arithmetic, and deserves the public resources commensurate with that, hand-wringing over mis-selling scandals will continue long into this century.

* UBS, the Swiss banking and investment group, this week added its voice to the growing chorus singing the anthem that the bear market really did die when the FTSE 100 index plunged to 3287 in March. Hardly anyone now believes the index will slip back below that this time round, but few have the confidence to envisage share prices making significant progress from here, for some time.

This sort of hiatus is an understandable reaction to a prolonged bear market. Shares do not go from bear to bull mode overnight, because confidence has to rebuild. The events of the three years to March have turned off some investors for ever.

There are also good grounds for caution. The debt mountains on both sides of the Atlantic could yet swamp shares, which, in Britain, must now face the prospect of a series of hikes in interest rates. The spectre of deflation seems to have been banished, but the likelihood of low inflation for the foreseeable future will deny companies the constant windfall profits from easy price rises.

But even in the depths of gloom, I have consistently advised drip-feeding monthly money into equities, and I see no reason to change that. The most encouraging factor to emerge this year is the feeling that shares are becoming less vulnerable to events. At the time of 9/11 two years ago, there was a fear a war was breaking out.

Yes, more atrocities are inevitable, but they will not threaten the fundamental fabric of Western society. This means equities can be judged on their merits, and that will be a valuable prop.

w.kay@independent.co.uk

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