I hope that George Osborne will finally introduce some policies to help savers

Autumn Statement wishlist.

I hope that George Osborne will finally introduce some policies to help savers.  It is vital that the Government stops punishing those who want to take responsibility for themselves and their future, rather than spending everything immediately and then falling back on benefits.  Savers have had such a rough deal in recent years.  It is understandable that some emergency economic help had to be introduced, but enough's enough.  Savers need some help now, in order to ensure that future generations are not put off taking responsibility for their own financial future.

Whether it's young people saving for a house deposit, or older generations trying to prepare for retirement, savings have been damaged by recent policies.  Ultra low interest rates have decimated savings income, high inflation has reduced savers' capital spending power and the policy of Quantitative Easing which has bought huge swathes of the government bond market, has resulted in much lower pensions all round.

There are some major policies that I would love to see in this Autumn Statement.

1.  Help all savers by relaxing the restrictions on ISAs (tax free Individual Savings Accounts) so the savers can choose to use their full annual limit either to save in cash or in stocks and shares.  Currently, only half the annual allowance can be saved in cash.  But young people saving for a house deposit or retirees living on their savings cannot afford to gamble on the stock market.  They should be allowed to shelter the full annual allowance from tax.  This would have the same effect for them as a rise in interest rates, as they would get more savings income.

2.  Pensioners who do not want to buy annuities with their pension fund have had their incomes cut by Government policy when they are in an Income Drawdown pension.  I am calling on the Chancellor to allow people to take more money out of their own pension savings, rather than cutting their pensions in line with the plunge in market annuity rates.  The changes the Chancellor made last year have caused serious hardship for many pensioners, and reversing them would allow people to maintain their pension income, they would have more money to spend and pay more tax, so actually it would benefit the Exchequer.  If they have been responsible enough to save large sums for their retirement, they should be trusted more to spend it appropriately.

3.  I would like to see the Chancellor introduce policies to encourage people to save for later life care needs - at the moment, savings policy is focussing far too much on just pensions, without addressing the looming crisis in social care funding that is coming down the track.  A separate ISA allowance for care savings, which would only be tax-free if the money is used for care - either for oneself or a member of ones family - would start to signal to people that later life saving is about more than just pensions.

4.  I would like to see a more creative approach to encouraging pension funds to invest in local construction or infrastructure projects, or even lending to local businesses.  Perhaps issuing some local bonds specifically for pension funds, with a minimum return underpin that would allow local authority pension schemes to help boost their local economies, or to invest more broadly to benefit the UK economy. 

5.  I would like to see some temporary tax breaks for capital spending projects, perhaps a 12 or 24 month special incentive that would encourage firms to undertake expansion investments quickly.  Large firms have plenty of cash, but currently they are not feeling confident enough to use it. Giving them an incentive to do so, when we know they do have the money, could help kick-start growth and would pay for itself in reduced benefit spending.  Pension funds also have billions of pounds of investments, but they are currently using their money to buy gilts to try to reduce their risks.  This is a counterproductive strategy and the economy would benefit much more if they invested in projects that would provide a benefit to growth directly.

Ros Altmann is a UK pensions expert and campaigner

Savers have had a rough deal. Photograph: Getty Images

Ros Altmann is director general of Saga Group

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Inside Big Ben: why the world’s most famous clock will soon lose its bong

Every now and then, even the most famous of clocks need a bit of care.

London is soon going to lose one of its most familiar sounds when the world-famous Big Ben falls silent for repairs. The “bonging” chimes that have marked the passing of time for Londoners since 1859 will fall silent for months beginning in 2017 as part of a three-year £29m conservation project.

Of course, “Big Ben” is the nickname of the Great Bell and the bell itself is not in bad shape – even though it does have a huge crack in it.

The bell weighs nearly 14 tonnes and it cracked in 1859 when it was first bonged with a hammer that was way too heavy.

The crack was never repaired. Instead the bell was rotated one eighth of a turn and a lighter (200kg) hammer was installed. The cracked bell has a characteristic sound which we have all grown to love.

Big Ben strikes. UK Parliament.

Instead, it is the Elizabeth Tower (1859) and the clock mechanism (1854), designed by Denison and Airy, that need attention.

Any building or machine needs regular maintenance – we paint our doors and windows when they need it and we repair or replace our cars quite routinely. It is convenient to choose a day when we’re out of the house to paint the doors, or when we don’t need the car to repair the brakes. But a clock just doesn’t stop – especially not a clock as iconic as the Great Clock at the Palace of Westminster.

Repairs to the tower are long overdue. There is corrosion damage to the cast iron roof and to the belfry structure which keeps the bells in place. There is water damage to the masonry and condensation problems will be addressed, too. There are plumbing and electrical works to be done for a lift to be installed in one of the ventilation shafts, toilet facilities and the fitting of low-energy lighting.

Marvel of engineering

The clock mechanism itself is remarkable. In its 162-year history it has only had one major breakdown. In 1976 the speed regulator for the chimes broke and the mechanism sped up to destruction. The resulting damage took months to repair.

The weights that drive the clock are, like the bells and hammers, unimaginably huge. The “drive train” that keeps the pendulum swinging and that turns the hands is driven by a weight of about 100kg. Two other weights that ring the bells are each over a tonne. If any of these weights falls out of control (as in the 1976 incident), they could do a lot of damage.

The pendulum suspension spring is especially critical because it holds up the huge pendulum bob which weighs 321kg. The swinging pendulum releases the “escapement” every two seconds which then turns the hands on the clock’s four faces. If you look very closely, you will see that the minute hand doesn’t move smoothly but it sits still most of the time, only moving on each tick by 1.5cm.

The pendulum swings back and forth 21,600 times a day. That’s nearly 8m times a year, bending the pendulum spring. Like any metal, it has the potential to suffer from fatigue. The pendulum needs to be lifted out of the clock so that the spring can be closely inspected.

The clock derives its remarkable accuracy in part from the temperature compensation which is built into the construction of the pendulum. This was yet another of John Harrison’s genius ideas (you probably know him from longitude fame). He came up with the solution of using metals of differing temperature expansion coefficient so that the pendulum doesn’t change in length as the temperature changes with the seasons.

In the Westminster clock, the pendulum shaft is made of concentric tubes of steel and zinc. A similar construction is described for the clock in Trinity College Cambridge and near perfect temperature compensation can be achieved. But zinc is a ductile metal and the tube deforms with time under the heavy load of the 321kg pendulum bob. This “creeping” will cause the temperature compensation to jam up and become less effective.

So stopping the clock will also be a good opportunity to dismantle the pendulum completely and to check that the zinc tube is sliding freely. This in itself is a few days' work.

What makes it tick

But the truly clever bit of this clock is the escapement. All clocks have one - it’s what makes the clock tick, quite literally. Denison developed his new gravity escapement especially for the Westminster clock. It decouples the driving force of the falling weight from the periodic force that maintains the motion of the pendulum. To this day, the best tower clocks in England use the gravity escapement leading to remarkable accuracy – better even than that of your quartz crystal wrist watch.

In Denison’s gravity escapement, the “tick” is the impact of the “legs” of the escapement colliding with hardened steel seats. Each collision causes microscopic damage which, accumulated over millions of collisions per year, causes wear and tear affecting the accuracy of the clock. It is impossible to inspect the escapement without stopping the clock. Part of the maintenance proposed during this stoppage is a thorough overhaul of the escapement and the other workings of the clock.

The Westminster clock is a remarkable icon for London and for England. For more than 150 years it has reminded us of each hour, tirelessly. That’s what I love about clocks – they seem to carry on without a fuss. But every now and then even the most famous of clocks need a bit of care. After this period of pampering, “Big Ben” ought to be set for another 100 or so years of trouble-free running.

The Conversation

Hugh Hunt is a Reader in Engineering Dynamics and Vibration at the University of Cambridge.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.