The figure of £394bn, this year’s gap between tax in and spending out for the UK government, is almost unimaginably large. It means that in a single year the state will have borrowed the equivalent of £5,800 for each of the country’s 68m citizens, man, woman and child. Perhaps you did not notice this money disappearing from your wealth, but you are going to have to pay it back.

The good news is that the repayment terms are, by all past measures, exceedingly generous. There is no deadline, and the interest charged is less than 1 per cent. This gives the chancellor an opportunity to explain that repayment of the Covid crisis spending should be treated same way as a mortgage on your house.

That sum may look dauntingly large, but every year you pay the interest plus a small amount of capital. In time, the outstanding mortgage shrinks, while (you hope) you are earning more, which reduces the burden.

So the chancellor might look at his debt mountain in the same way. For this year (and next, on the latest figures) government borrowings will be measured in hundreds of billions. He decides that, say £550bn is attributable to the pandemic, borrows it at a cost of £5bn a year by issuing long-dated gilts, designates it Covid rescue debt, and treats it like a mortgage.

So every year paying the interest on this debt – say £5bn – will be the state’s highest spending priority, along with a similar amount for capital repayment. Elsewhere, the public finances will still have to be brought under control, rather as you might have to cut up your credit card while continuing to pay the mortgage. The process is protracted and painful, but less daunting than forever staring up at the debt mountain.

Gradually, the mountain shrinks, slowly if governments are usually incompetent, faster if they get better at it, to the point where the Covid payments no longer dominate the public accounts. Eventually some future chancellor can proudly announce that the debt has been paid off.

This is a confidence trick, of course, which only a government able to print its own money could manage, but it would allow a little optimism to emerge. Probably not a good idea to call the manoeuvre War Loan, though.

Are those shares really yours?

Do you own shares in BP, GlaxoSmithKline, Lloyds Banking, BT or indeed, in any other quoted security? No, I mean really own, rather than own a computerised credit entry on some platform website, which allows you to buy, sell and collect dividends.

In the eyes of the law, you are not the owner of the shares themselves. Most of the time, this hardly matters. If you feel strongly enough about some company policy to want to vote at the annual meeting, or to accept a contested takeover bid, well, tough.

Some brokers and platforms are better communicators than others, but your name is not on the register, so there is no right to the communication which is sent to shareholders who are. Worse still, if a company in the chain of ownership between you and the register fails, your position as “owner” of the shares is not at all clear.

The Law Commission has been chewing this arcane problem, of what it calls “intermediated securities”, and points to the “legal uncertainty around…what happens when an intermediary in the chain becomes insolvent.”

What indeed, seems to be the answer. The best outcome (presumably) would be a quick rescue from one or more of the many businesses which work in this chain. The worst would be an indefinite delay before the “owner” could be reunited with her shares, with uncertainty over dividends and an inability to sell.

In 2018, we almost had a voting test case, when the Dutchmen running Unilever tried to bounce the company into fleeing to Rotterdam. The proposal was savagely criticised, and was eventually withdrawn, costing the CEO his job. But a little-noticed condition demanded that half the shareholders by number (not by size of shareholding) had to vote in favour. With no definition of what constitutes an individual shareholder, those of us on platforms would have howled for our individual vote.

Modern technology, which has allowed the platforms to grow fat, could solve this easily enough, by obliging them to allow their customers to attend meetings and vote their shares. The knottier problem of a failure in the chain probably needs legislation. In the meantime, the industry could help itself by cross-guaranteeing prompt help for the clients if some intermediary goes bust. The lawyers also suggest using “distributed ledger technology”. The rest of us recognise this as blockchain, even if we struggle to understand how it works.

Moral high ground for grocers

So you are the marketing director of one of the UK’s big grocers. In common with all your competitors, you have taken advantage of the chancellor’s largesse with our money and saved the business rates bill. Keeping going during the pandemic has raised costs, perhaps by more than the bung from the taxpayer (worth roughly £2bn to the industry) but the saving has helped to pay the dividend.

The grocers have had some stick for this including, somewhat disingenuously, from John Roberts, the boss and major shareholder in appliance vendor AO. He suggests the executives “should go and ask their mum if she would be proud” of taking the subsidy.

As an on-line retailer, he has no shops on which he must pay business rates, but the more interesting question is whether one of the big grocers should break ranks and pay up. This would grab the moral high ground, and make your store more attractive to woke shoppers. Unfortunately, given the indifferent response to the shocking revelations at Boohoo, we may talk about caring for others, but we buy on price.