That’ll teach you, George Osborne. You took away our lucrative, low-risk business of force-feeding annuities to innocent pensioners. Nobody will want them now, so you can keep your pet projects, and we’ll keep the £25bn we had promised to spend on them.

The life insurance companies don’t quite put it that way, but the implied threat is there, and both Aviva and Scottish Widows have declined to reiterate their promise to participate in the great invest-fest. Their reluctance reflects pique, but says as much about the projects themselves as it does about the profitability of annuities. In theory, this should be a perfect match. Big schemes need lots of capital up front, but when they are finished they produce a long-term, low-risk income stream, perfectly suited to match the guarantee of income from retirement until death.

Ministers love talking about infrastructure, and where there’s a project, there’s a photo-op. Look, said the prime minister last week, here’s the Nottingham tram, the upgrade of Heathrow’s Terminal 2, some unpronounceable Welsh wind farm…see, we’re investing for future generations, just like the Victorians.

Three years ago his administration drew up a wish list of 500 schemes, costing £350bn. Unfortunately, they are mostly still dream schemes. Infrastructure spending is actually falling, not rising. The grands projets like HS2, nuclear power stations and the super-sewer are such poor value that only a state guarantee will get anyone to build them. Those schemes that do look financially worth while, like road-building, new towns or fracking for oil and gas are too politically toxic for government action this close to an election.

Infrastructure spending is all very well, but not if it destroys wealth rather than creating it. The investment which is making London’s public transport more reliable, frequent and predictable is far more valuable to travellers than the billions sunk in projects like Crossrail. But what use is that if it doesn’t grab the headlines?

No fear

Meanwhile, what’s the point of Aviva? Shareholders who go along to the annual meeting on Wednesday will get this answer: “We free people from fear of uncertainty.” This curiously ambiguous slogan is the result of the latest navel-gazing exercise inside this sprawling, accident-prone life assurance businesses.

Apparently, “at Aviva we care like crazy about our customers, each other, and the communities we operate in.” If caring isn’t enough, “we manage complexity so our customers don’t have to,” and “we are driven every day to be edgy.” Quite what the clerks in Aviva’s back offices will make of this exciting new mission statement is hard to say, but they are also invited to “join in the conversation. Ask the challenging questions, and be a part of our journey.” Perhaps they’ll think Tony Blair has joined the board.

Shareholders may be reassured to learn that “we have a plan to win”, even if they have no more clue than the clerks of what that plan is. The shares have perked up no end this year, despite the blow from the Budget, but they are still only half the price they were at the turn of the century. Plenty of uncertainty there.

Block vote brothers

Just what does Vince Cable mean by “business’s licence to operate”? The business secretary’s Orwellian tone is unmistakeable, vague but threatening. Business needs no licence to operate, and nor should it; companies are bound by the same laws as individuals, plus the ever-expanding demands of Companies Acts, obligations to “stakeholders” and European directives.

His real target is the ever-popular one of boardroom pay. It’s undoubtably excessive, but it is already marginally less so than it was, with median total pay in the FTSE100 companies hardly changed in the last year. Shareholders now have plenty of ways to rein in executives, but those with the voting power are reluctant to do so.

Some fund managers make even more than the executives whose pay they can police, and would rather not draw attention to the fact. Should Mr Cable return to the subject of fat-cattery, he might look more closely at the rewards to those wielding the block votes.

This is an undated version of my FT column