So, first BP and now Shell. The executives at the top of the terrible twins have worked out that they are running oil companies, not semi-benevolent societies whose truth dare not speak its name. Last week it was the turn of Wael Sawan, the incoming chief executive of Shell, to admit that there’s a future for oil after all.

Since his previous job was running the company’s renewables division, telling The Times that it would not be healthy to cut hydrocarbon production was quite brave. Shell’s previous management had a distinctly mixed record. It overpaid for BG, a deal that Ben Van Beurden, the CEO at the time, described as “a tremendous opportunity to create value for BG shareholders and our Shell holders,” he said. “It will accelerate and de-risk our strategy.”

The £35bn deal scuppered Shell’s credit rating. This eventually led to the board panicking when the oil price plunged in 2020, slashing the dividend after half a century of increases. Last year, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine ensured that Shell had got the right answer with BG, albeit for the wrong reason.

But back to Mr Sawan. Like BP, Shell had made bold projections for renewables. Like BP, it is finding it hard to make returns from windmills and sunshine, and the new man has noticed that worldwide oil demand is not going down despite the growth of renewables. Looking for more of it promises a better return – it is what the business is good at, after all.

Both sets of executives will have also noticed the contrast between their share prices and those of Exxon and Chevron, two broadly comparable businesses which have unashamedly stuck to the knitting. A rating for Shell similar to that of Exxon would add around £100bn to its market value.

At least some of that lost value is down to previous statements from the management which implied that all this oil and gas was just an embarrassing legacy, so we should be grateful at a sinner that repenteth. Neither company has been helped by the British obsession with indulging climate change extremists, nor by its investment managers. Collectively, these guardians of the nation’s capital seem to think oil is the invention of the devil. Even those funds which hold oil stocks seldom shout about it.

It is not just oil companies the funds eschew, but the whole of the UK stock market. The week’s shocking statistic documents the way the pension funds have fled, from owning half the quoted stocks 20 years ago to under 5 per cent today. The pension contributions of British workers are either being lent to the government or invested in foreign companies – including the competitors of those contributors.

This week, Nigel Wilson, the outgoing CEO of Legal & General, joined in the chorus of critics. With a sideswipe at oppressive regulation, he attacked the managers for being too timid with their investments. While Wilson’s biggest achievement at L&G was to avoid the temptation to buy another life office, he has pushed the company into deploying some of its £1.2 trillion under management into long-term investments like build-to-rent and other construction projects.

Few UK funds are big enough to contemplate following L&G, but the combination of foreign stocks and government debt in the average pension fund portfolio is deadly for UK growth. While each one might justify its actions, the overall effect is to divert capital from UK businesses into helping those in other countries to damage them. Even NEST, the government-sponsored default for contributions, has little interest in the prosperity of UK companies. It has £28bn invested, and none of the top 10 holdings in its flagship fund is British.

Wilson is unlikely to sink quietly into retirement, and the rest of us would be poorer if he did. Perhaps his next job should be rescuing Everton, the club we both support, through bitter tears. Heaven knows they need him.

A Long Time In Finance is also a weekly podcast, with Jonathan Ford and me. Get it free on Spotify or Apple apps.

Write to us with your comments to be considered for publication at