Under the influence

Few things have demonstrated the City’s regard for general insurance quite as starkly as the behaviour of Aviva’s share price following the news that Mark Hodges would take over in the wake of Igal Mayer’s departure. It barely flickered. While brokers were rolling in the fountains like Spanish football fans on World Cup final night, traders and analysts registered the news with a stifled yawn before shrugging it off as ‘market neutral’. General insurance is rarely a top priority in the wider financial sector, which can make for some interesting dynamics in the upper echelons of the UK’s financial giants. Insurance Times asked me to profile the bosses of the three biggest insurers – and those bosses’ bosses, to find out who’s really pulling the strings.

The €16 billion question

There are many questions hanging over the future of nuclear power in the UK, and in particular over energy company EDF’s plans to start building four new power stations in 2012. But Alan Cumming can’t really answer any of them. As deputy director of procurement, construction and project controls, rather than planning, public policy, great unknowns or hopeless causes, Cumming isn’t best placed to talk about the implications of the new coalition government, the odds of securing planning permission after the abolition of the Infrastructure Planning Commission or when EDF really needs a decision on a floorprice for carbon credits to determine whether the plants are financially viable. Fortunately, he could talk to me in quite some detail about a question that is of great importance to Building’s readers: how can they get involved in building them?

Don’t leave your car keys on the hall table

Thanks to the efforts of motor manufacturers and insurers, it is now virtually impossible to steal a car without the keys. So car thieves have started burgling houses and nicking the keys instead. In 2008/09, the Home Office says that 19,400 cars were stolen after car key burglaries, or 53 a day. One particularly impressive new skill is slipping a fishing rod through the letterbox and lifting the keys from a hall table or convenient hook by the front door. According to the insurers I spoke to for this article, car crime is now taking place on “an industrial scale”. But they also admit that they have no idea if it’s a genuine increase – or if their new systems are only now revealing the full picture.

“We have lots of chats about lifts”

Picture the scene: Jonathan Edwards, Tim Henman and Dame Tanni Grey-Thomson sitting around a boardroom table, arguing about door handles. That’s what you might see if you took a wrong turn while visiting London Olympics HQ and stumbled into one of the bimonthly athletes committee meetings. These Olympians have been brought together to guide the construction of the Games, and they’re particularly concerned about the 2818-home Olympic Village. It turns out that competing isn’t all about Chariots of Fire-style striving, or even the rampant, er, fraternising that is rumoured to take place as soon as the swimmers have finished. It’s also about being crammed into student-style accommodation with a bunch of strangers, trudging miles to find your room, tripping over other people’s kitbags and queueing for the bathroom, as Triple Jumper Jonathan Edwards told me. His world record, by the way, still stands at 18.29m but he doesn’t reckon he could jump very far at all now, “only about 15m”.