If you have a clever idea for solving London’s airport problem,it’s too late to tell the Davies Commission. The final flourish came last week with the fantasy island proposals east of the City, where Norman Foster had wanted a £50bn extravaganza, designed by him, of course. He’s now pared that down to a mere £23bn, which sounds like a bargain compared to Boris Island, last costed at £65bn.

It’s quite a price to spare the vociferous inhabitants of Richmond and Kew their unwanted dawn chorus. However, a clever proposal from Jock Lowe and Mark Bostock, for the Centre for Policy Studies, would do so for much less. They noticed that Heathrow’s runways are much longer than modern jets need, so much so that, extended to the west, they would be twice as long. There’s the little matter of sinking the M25 into a tunnel, but that cost is measured in billions, not tens of billions. Furthermore, the doubling of capacity would be so commercially attractive that no taxpayer subsidy would be needed.

Those early flights that cause so much trouble would land on the runway extensions, allowing them to fly over London high enough to turn the roar into an irritation. Messrs Lowe and Bostock have further ideas to link the main line at West Drayton to the airport, but the runways are probably ambitious enough for now. Howard Davies has much to chew.

pensions woe

Not a good week for the pensions industry. We’re deserting in droves, with the smallest number yet recorded as active members of private sector schemes, and some uncomfortable truths from the Pensions Policy Institute, confirming that the biggest beneficiaries of the £35bn of tax relief are those who need it least. Some Tories are arguing that the £7bn a year of higher rate relief might be better spent helping those further down the income sale.

To cap it all, the National Employee Savings Trust, set up as part of the plan to force everyone into pension schemes, has been defrauded by a fake supplier. This is ominous indeed. The task of collecting penny-packet contributions from millions of  workers, many in unstable jobs, promises to challenge the best IT that money can buy, yet NEST seems to have fallen for a simple scam.

Fraud aside, NEST is chirruping that it’s all going swimmingly, with many more employees signing up than it expected. Mind you, the new system does force employers to put every employee into a scheme unless he opts out at the start. Like the frog in the cooking pot, he hardly misses the 1 per cent slice off his take-home pay, but it grows every year, and by the time he feels the heat, it’s too late.

This is bad, but might be worth while if the lower-paid really did find that their forced savings bought a comfortable old age. Unfortunately, they won’t. Combined savings from employee and employer need to be at least 15 per cent to pay for that. It could get very much worse: Lombard Street Research is suggesting that the Polish government has no choice but to raid the private sector’s pension savings to try and balance the books. Don’t say it could never happen here.

Smell the coffee

If James Cropper, the Kendal-based papermaker, were a German mittelstand company, we’d be moaning about why we can’t have businesses like it here. Paper-making sounds like one of those dull, low-tech industries that used to cover Britain but have now, well, come a cropper. This one hasn’t, and has engineered a visit from the Queen to co-incide with the launch of  a new technology to turn paper coffee cups into fine papers.

This is harder than it sounds. The paper on your cup is plastic coated, making recycling so difficult that most of those “recycled” cups end up in landfill. The story put 12 per cent onto Cropper shares this week. At 275p, their highest ever, the yield is under 3 per cent, for a stock where the dividend hasn’t changed for three years. Neither the royal touch nor the new process is likely to make today’s buyers rich, but Cropper is a sustainable, family-controlled company. UK plc could do with a few more of them.

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