Outlook: Hard hats may be en vogue, but be wary of Alexander’s insurer-investors

 

Here’s a Westminster fashion tip: hard hats and dayglo jackets will be so 2014. Ministers will be dressing up like that bloke out of the Village People on a near weekly basis for their photocalls as the Coalition plugs its infrastructure spending plan investments.

Danny Alexander, the Treasury Secretary, grimly condemned the dismal legacy of low infrastructure investment in this country earlier in the week, and was parroted by the Chancellor, George Osborne, yesterday.

I’d say such statements take some bottle. For it was this administration which slashed government infrastructure spending as one of its first acts when it came to power. The Labour government brought spending forward in the immediate wake of the financial crisis as the Keynesians ruled the roost back then. But that policy was dramatically reversed after the election.

An indication of such spending is public sector gross investment as a percentage of GDP. On that measure, in 2008 and 2009, Labour’s was 4.8 per cent. It plunged as low as 1 per cent in 2012-2013 under the Coalition. Now they are planning to bring it back up to 3 per cent.

Even at the new upwardly revised figure this week, that is broadly in line with the spending of the previous decades, which Mr Alexander himself this week condemned as having been a period of “underinvestment”.

With the absence of Government spending, the slack is being taken up by the private sector. Nothing wrong with that, as long as the private investors don’t run rings around the taxpayer – a recurring theme under numerous Labour PFI scandals. But that aside, we should be sceptical about the promises – repeated in the Autumn Statement – for the insurance industry’s £25bn investment pledge.

As anyone who’s tried claiming on an insurance policy can testify, these companies seldom make promises without the legal wiggle room to avoid paying out. Furthermore, they are, understandably, going to be seeking only lucrative, and safe, returns for their cash – hence Legal & General’s enthusiasm to invest in the one-way bet of property.

While any increase in infrastructure spending should be applauded, we should not be fooled by photo-op politicians’ pledges.

Chill economic winds take  a turn south to Australia

In case you’d missed it: the economic downturn is catching up Down Under. Having gracefully avoided the worst of the financial crisis thanks to its mineral wealth and supply ties to China, the dramatic end of the commodities boom this year has hit the country’s economy hard.

This slowdown is now catching up in the consumer side of the economy. Qantas’s shocking announcements yesterday were as bleak as they come: 1,000 job cuts, a warning of “immense” challenges and a profit warning. The largest airline in Australia predicted a half-year loss of up to A$300m (£165m in our money).

The chief executive Alan Joyce wants to blame much of it on the subsidy being granted to Virgin Australia, which has received A$350m. He’s got a point, although Sir Richard Branson, of course, has wasted no time in declaring such  talk nonsense, arguing that Qantas is just badly managed.

Neither want to talk about the economy, though, as that would damage the valuations of their businesses. But the chill economic winds blowing in from Asia are surely the nine-foot kangaroo in the room.

Don’t pity the young too much – they’ll live longer

Being the wrong side of 40 and smack bang in the middle of the age-range to be clobbered by the new State Pension Age, I have to say, the change in policy was about as predictable as the ageing process itself.

Nobody I know of my age expects to be retiring until we’re well into coffin-dodging territory.

Then again, none of us seriously takes into consideration the State Pension when pondering what our perilously small incomes are going to be like in our dotage. Being children of the Thatcher era, we have grown up not to trust long-term pledges on state benefits.

We in our 40s, if we’re lucky, just managed to hop on board the property chairlift before it shot up the mountain and out of reach, so we have our pensions built up in the roofs over our heads. But as for savings, forget about it: the mortgage eats any spare cash at the end of the month.

Pity those in their 20s and 30s, then, who have similarly missing savings (due to exorbitant rents they pay for their homes) and also no property to their names.

But there is, of course, a trade-off. The 40-somethings will be expected to work well into our 70s, but in what jobs? Most employers already seem only to be seeking whippersnappers barely out of school with low wage expectations and an unquenchable enthusiasm for long hours. As the commercial world becomes increasingly tech-heavy, by the time we, ahem, lower middle-aged, computer illiterate Luddites are in our 60s, the average working age will probably be down in the low 20s. We will be unemployable, even at silver-surfing B&Q.

So there it is, then. Come the middle of the century, my generation will have no jobs, no pension and dwindling health. The latter is the main argument in our favour, of course: the younger generations accuse us of stealing their futures, but at least they’ll still be alive. e Al-Faw peninsula. His colleagues recalled constant skirmishes on the road to Basra; on one occasion a rocket-propelled grenade bounced off the armoured car  in which he was travelling.

Blackman received a highly favourable end-of-tour report and was recommended for promotion. He undertook two more tours of Iraq and more in Afghanistan. It was during his final deployment, with 3 Commando Brigade, that he carried out the killing which landed him in the dock.

The brigade suffered many losses on the tour, with seven killed and 40 wounded, and the court martial heard that the Taliban had hung body parts of members of the British military from trees as “trophies”. But as the tour neared its end in the autumn, the security situation was calming down in most areas under the brigade’s supervision.

Indeed, the sergeant made a considerable effort to build up relations with the local community, attending shuras – village meetings. But then came the death of the prisoner: cold-blooded murder, according to the prosecution, or, say his comrades, the snapping of a man who had spent too long in a world of violence and strife.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£15000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisors are r...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: SThree were established in 1986....

Recruitment Genius: Compliance Manager

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Compliance Manager is require...

SThree: Talent Acquisition Consultant

£22500 - £27000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: Since our inception in 1986, STh...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map