CUTTING ROOM: Join the pension world's wild bunch; transport slow-coaches; my bank-hopping overdraft; soap opera at the European Central Bank ... Evan Davis at large

CUTTING ROOM: Join the pension world's wild bunch; transport slow-coaches; my bank-hopping overdraft; soap opera at the European Central Bank ... Evan Davis at large - It's May already and stakeholder pensions have been on sale for three weeks. I'm assumi

by EVAN DAVIS, economics editor, BBC's Newsnight
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

It's May already and stakeholder pensions have been on sale for three weeks. I'm assuming that all of you who run companies are now fully aware that you have five months to comply with the obligation to make one available to your staff, unless you employ fewer than five people, or offer a reasonable alternative pension package.

Don't be embarrassed if you don't know what a stakeholder pension is. There have been so many pensions initiatives under this Government - the stakeholder pension, the reform of the state second pension, the minimum income guarantee, and the forthcoming pensioner credit, for example - you can be excused for not following what is going on. Indeed, the Government is already proposing reforms to its own pension reforms.

Most of the individual ideas are perfectly sensible, but do they fit together? For example, the pensioner credit is aimed at the same people who should be getting the reformed state second pension.

No wonder, then, that a bunch of pensions experts are establishing a new think tank - the Pensions Policy Institute - to keep track of developments.

This group has already come up with the best idea on pensions policy for ages: that the pensioner credit should be phased out as the new state second pension phases in - a simple tweak that replaces clutter with tidiness.

The PPI is scouting around for sponsors, ideally from outside the established interests of the pensions industry. I'm unashamed in appealing for people with cash to donate. Not since Comic Relief was there such a worthy cause.

Talking of initiative overload, it's not just the DSS. It's also the DTI. Take 'UK Competitiveness Indicators: Second Edition', published in February, the latest tome on the nation's performance. If productivity were measured by the number of studies on competitiveness that a country produces, Britain would surely be the richest nation on earth. But as evidence of the competitiveness fatigue that is now biting, I offer this: the DTI invited comments on the study, and at the time of writing - I'm told via an indirect source - the Department had received just two submissions.

In the near certainty that you have not read the latest UK Competitiveness Indicators, let me summarise one of the interesting tables buried within it, on investment in transport. In the appallingly low investment years of the Major administration, an average of 0.85% of GDP was invested in transport; yet in the Labour government years, it has been 0.77%. Oh dear.

And this comparison is flattering to the current Government, because it counts the low spending of the first year of this parliament as a Tory year, and the high spending of the first year of the next parliament as a Labour year. So, rather than publishing more and more tables on competitiveness, could we actually have some real investment spending?

I find myself curiously popular with credit card companies. Barely a week goes by without several mailshots landing on the hall floor, enticing me to obtain a new card with extraordinarily low interest rates on balances transferred from my old cards. The companies haven't cottoned on to the fact that, far from being a lucrative customer, I've been financing my overdraft at a 2.9% APR by opening and closing new accounts every few months. To paraphrase the song by Van Morrison, how long can this be going on? Until I can pay the overdraft off, I hope.

Who will be president of the European Central Bank at the end of 2002? You might remember that when the big-mouthed Dutchman, Wim Duisenberg, was given the job, he agreed to step down halfway through his term to accommodate the runner-up for the post, Jean-Claude Trichet, governor of the Bank of France. Duisenberg would extricate himself from the post in 2002, after overseeing the introduction of euro notes and coins. Since then, however, Trichet has become entangled in a legal inquiry into the affairs of Credit Lyonnais a decade ago. There is no suggestion of personal self-enrichment, but Trichet's involvement in the case is unhelpful to his promotion. Some question the suitability of his succession. The wildcard in all this: Duisenberg himself. Will he exit quietly? He doesn't always give the impression of being ready to go.

If central bankers are determined to provide us with so much soap opera, perhaps we should go the whole way, televise their meetings and then let the public vote one out each month.

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