The business - Patrick Hosking feels sorry for the thirty-glumthings

Thirty-glumthings can't afford a house because prices are too high, lost out when "final salary" sch

People in their early thirties are unhappy as never before, according to a report from the Economic and Social Research Council. The Sunday Telegraph dubbed them the "thirty-glumthings".

Failing personal relationships and the work-qualifications treadmill were put forward as explanations. I wonder whether the problem isn't also material. In the chase for personal wealth, that generation is getting a raw deal.

The financial gods seem to have taken a dislike to those born between the late 1960s and the late 1970s. Every asset market has moved against them. They can't afford a home because house prices are too high. Those who have managed to clamber on to the housing ladder will not enjoy the same capital gains as their parents.

They have been cruelly treated by the pensions apartheid imposed by so many workplaces. Thirtysomethings were joining the workforce just as huge numbers of generous "final salary" schemes were closed to new recruits.

The vast majority of them have been fobbed off with much less desirable "money purchase" schemes that guarantee nothing - if they have any pension at all. Adding insult to injury, the thirtysomethings are now being warned that they may have to work until they are 70. This is the unlucky generation which, in its late twenties, managed to scrape together enough savings to buy an equity Isa for the first time in 1999 and 2000 - only to be mugged by the dotcom crash.

Meanwhile, the thirty-glumthings just missed the twin gravy trains that financed a million cruises and other treats in the 1980s and 1990s - privatisation and demutualisation. Tens of billions of pounds of assets built up by generations of Britons over two centuries were given or sold cheaply to a single generation in the space of 15 years.

Assets do not appreciate smoothly. The long-term behaviour of the housing and equity markets over the past 25 years has meant that fifty-, sixty- and seventysomethings have ended up with an unusually large share of the cake. No wonder their children are grumpy.

There is a snootiness about the way the private sector looks on public sector clients. It complains about the agony of pitching for government work - the snail-like decision-making, the thickets of bureaucracy, the dim jobsworths it has to deal with.

But, boy, does it extract its pound of flesh. As the National Audit Office has revealed, the cost to the taxpayer of setting up the part-privatisation of London Underground was a scarcely believable £455m. That is just the preparation costs - before a single yard of track is relaid, a single signal mended. The Tube alone used 32 different sets of lawyers, accountants and consultants at a cost of £109m. The taxpayer also footed the bills of the private sector bidders.

And it was lawyers who cleaned up most in this process, known as public private partnership, or PPP. The law firm Freshfields was the biggest beneficiary, getting £29m for its advice.

This is one of the biggest legal fees to a single firm for a single project in City history, eclipsing even the legendary £25m said to have been trousered by Allen & Overy for restructuring Marconi. They still go all misty-eyed about that one in the wine bars of Lincoln's Inn. Unbelievably, Freshfields was allowed to raise its hourly charge-out rate halfway through the process. The PPP was so complicated that the poor loves had to draft brainier and more experienced people on to the case than they had expected. The Tube rolled over and agreed the price increase.

Freshfields certainly isn't saying, but the typical charge-out rate for a partner at a top City firm is £350 an hour.

Rule one of capitalism is: never hold a post-mortem. So it is a pleasure to see the normally secretive headhunting firm Whitehead Mann resurrect the Sir Ian Prosser debacle.

In February, Prosser was named as chairman-elect of Sainsbury - to immediate howls of protest from the City. There was disbelief that a businessman of such unimpressive credentials (he presided over a less-than-glorious era at Bass) could seriously have been chosen to oversee the retail sector's basket case.

A week later, Prosser renounced the job. But Whitehead Mann took as much flak as Sainsbury over the affair.

An understandably bruised Stephen Lawrence, chief executive of Whitehead Mann, broke cover on 15 June to hit back at Sainsbury and put his side of the story. Which was: that Prosser was just one of five equal candidates whose names were forwarded to the Sainsbury board for consideration; that he came with a health warning about his performance at Bass; and that the Sainsbury director in charge of the search, Sir George Bull, had insisted on taking his own soundings about Prosser.

Six-four, six-love, six-love to Whitehead Mann, I'd say.

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