Business Editor: Dear John, here are some spuds you won't like

You're the new Work and Pensions Secretary... Welcome to hell
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The Independent Online

People tell me, John, that you are a bright bloke and able to master a brief quickly. Well, you'd better be. Because tomorrow you host a conference on the tricky issue of women and pensions (hot potato one). There the issue is that low pay and career breaks mean, on average, that women build up only 34p worth of pension rights for every pound men do. There is no easy way to sort this out without it costing the Treasury quite a lot. This is a familiar theme, which makes most of your hot potatoes extra fiery.

Shortly, you are due to publish a Green Paper on welfare reform. This is a scorching potato. It deals with all sorts of issues concerning delivery of welfare payment - entitlement, targeting, fraud and the complexity of the system. There are issues like incapacity benefit, which had your predecessor at odds with Tony Blair even before he was found to be failing to declare his business interests properly.

The problem with publishing the paper so soon is that it will clearly have been a David Blunkett production. And even a master of his brief such as yourself, John, will hardly have time to digest and annotate such an important document. Fortunately, no date has been set for publication, so a few weeks' delay might easily be overlooked.

Not least because a third hot potato is about to be lobbed at you by Adair Turner's Pensions Commission. The former CBI boss was charged with looking at the nightmare problems of pensions - state, company and personal -and working out how big a funding problem we have and what we are to do about it. In his interim report last year, he said there was a funding gap of over £50bn between what we are saving and what we need to fund our retirement. With life expectancies going up, things have got worse since then. On 30 November, he will deliver his final report.

And in it, he will suggest one or more of three things: forcing people to save for their retirement (unpopular); increasing the retirement age (very unpopular); or raising taxes (extremely unpopular). This is a thermo-nuclear potato.

On top of this, there are the small matters of overhauling the Child Support Agency, cutting 20,000 jobs as part of Gordon Brown's efficiency drive and dealing with some underperforming computer contracts. And you start all this from the position of being at odds with the Chancellor, whose purse-strings dictate your room for manoeuvre more than almost any other Secretary of State.

Mr Hutton, get juggling.

A Star in the wrong place

New Star is due to float on the Alternative Investment Market in the next few days. But should it be there? The fund manager is a mature firm, which is expected to be valued at over £600m. It is floating not to raise seed capital for expansion, but to release wealth for its founders and employees.

AIM is supposed to be a junior market for developing companies which will step up to the main market of the London Stock Exchange further down the line. New Star is joining the junior market because its ownership and reporting restrictions are not as tough. It - and quite a few companies on AIM - really should be on the main market, and the Financial Services Authority might do well to review whether something might be done to encourage a migration.

j.nisse@independent.co.uk

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