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Correspondent’s week

This week by personal finance writer Neasa MacErlean

There is plenty in the Saturday morning papers about financial scandal but nothing on personal finance. You might be wondering what planet I live on – planet Earth, country Italy. Murky tales linking politicians to dodgy business dealings are at their height as Italy prepares for its April 9 general election.

Reading UK papers online, I find that FT.com is playing up again today – erratic web systems. If you have heard of my home town I would be surprised. Sondrio is in the Alps, halfway between Davos (hosting Bono and the bankers) and Milan.

With snazzy technology – a Vonage phone, Skype, Real Player, etc – I research and write all my UK stories just as easily as if I was there. Most people I speak to do not realise that I am in Lombardy as I can use UK phone numbers, for which I pay 10 a month, and no one who rings me pays any extra.

I have to declare that I am in saddo workaholic phase on Sunday. I write a council tax article while passing through the Alps and by Lake Como on the way to Milan. Former Personal Investment Authority ombudsman Adam Samuel is in town. Over dinner (20 for both of us and fantastic, of course), we talk about why so many scandals still happen despite the army of regulators and compliance officers.

Too many compliance bods are yes people, chosen so they do not rock the boat, he suggests. I agree. Political correctness takes many unfortunate forms in financial institutions and one of them may be that devil’s advocates are often seen as being unhelpful and not team players.

Almost a day off on Monday although I have a slight dalliance with a pension planning piece I am writing. Go for usual run in the Alps – in preparation for a cross-country race on Sunday, where another participant is Olympic steeplechase gold medallist Ezekiel Kemboi. Running gives you a high and gives you lots of ideas – even on personal finance. Ask my fellow runner Jeff Prestridge.

Finish pension piece on Tuesday. Talk to Observer business editor Frank Kane about energy articles. If we are serious about climate change, cheap flights will go but are we serious? Not yet. And politicians would fall off their chairs laughing at the idea that they would throw away a general election by stopping the voting public cheap flights. Please do not ask me about how often I fly.

I work on energy pieces on Wednesday and whether cheap flights will wither away, speaking to Tyndall Centre, British Airways and numerous others. Some companies are very uncomfortable with my line of quest-ioning. More than one person gives that response indicative of rising hackles – just where are you coming from on this?

Today programme on Thursday reveals that ID fraud is costing 1.7bn and that Govern-ment departments are fighting each other over climate change strategies. The Govern-ment is worried about taking the steps it should logically take on climate change – making motoring and flying more expensive, for instance.

On Friday, I begin scribbling another pension story on occupational schemes. My long-term plan may include writing more about fraud. Now that I understand Italy better, I do not think the UK should play the holier than thou card. All our UK misselling scandals are hardly an adornment – and most Italians seem as honest as Brits to me.

I am developing a theory that Italian corruption is often an excess of family or local pride rather than pure old-fashioned greed. Have treat of dinner in really good restaurant. It has been a hard week on the energy invest-igations and I need a bit of indulgence. Ciao.

Any Out of Contexts or Diary stories? Send them to Diary editor Paul McMillan, email: paul.mcmillan@centaur.co.uk or telephone: 020 7970 4776

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