Our industry is under threat from globalisation and it needs to invest from the bottom upwards, says Elliot Lane

' Many a glass has been raised in Nelson's memory this year and last week, at the Worshipful Company of Insurers dinner, keynote speaker Sir Laurie Magnus asked the guests to toast him again.

Sir Laurie noted that the City and the UK's export industry owes a great debt to the world's most famous sailor in helping to defeat Napoleon.

France's emperor was not an advocate of free trade or laissez-faire economics. He regarded the British as "a nation of shopkeepers", and would have probably kept this nation very much stifled and impotent.

But this week's news that another great institution in British maritime history, P&O, could wind up being bought and owned by a Dubai-based company highlights the vulnerability of UK plc to foreign investors in today's world.

Globalisation is eating away at this country's economy and if the commercial axis shifts away from the US and western hemisphere dominance to a 'pax Asia major' between India and China, then we should start worrying now.

This threat acted as the leitmotif during the Insurance Times Capital Conference, where the subject of the London market losing its edge was high on the agenda.

It was Sir Laurie again who pointed out that India and China can offer high quality labour for a tenth of the cost of UK workers.

Mazars' senior partner Robin Oakes gave a tub-thumping speech that addressed the heart of the problem. The London market needs to start looking at the apprenticeships of the future. Action must be taken now before it is too late.

The flow of funds through the insurance industry keeps the banks' wheels turning, which in fact feeds the Bank of England coffers, to paraphrase Oakes.

It has been said before, but is worth repeating, that the insurance industry keeps the fabric of society together. Without it, society cannot function.

In its crudest form, why is the government publishing a Compensation Bill this week? So people can still enjoy extreme sports and children can play conkers in the playground.

But the continuing commoditisation of the market will eventually kill it.

Without the expertise, sophistication, creative new entrants and a generation of bright young things to give impetus to this market, Mumbai and Shanghai will win every time. IT