THE received wisdom is that Gordon Brown's economic policies are heading for a big black hole and that it is likely to be a near thing whether his stewardship of the Treasury will be exposed before or after Tony Blair decides to step down. (A cynical view might be that Mr Blair is actually waiting for his Chancellor's policies to be exposed before resigning so that other prime ministerial candidates can enter consideration.) Of late there have been a number of international criticisms of Mr Brown's custody of the British economy which he has dismissed by blaming the escalation in oil prices and also by pointing out that Britain's finances and associated indicators are in a much healthier condition than any of its competitors. Support for Mr Brown's confidence came yesterday when the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) issued figures showing that last year investment in Britain by foreign companies nearly quadrupled, putting the UK second only to the United States for the amount of new investment and ahead of China which was in third place; the total for 2004 was US$78 billion, compared with only $20 billion in 2003. Although inward investment to Britain boomed in the early years of the Labour government after foreign companies saw the investment-friendly policies adopted by Mr Brown, there was later a worrying falling-off. The reasons for the recovery are not wholly clear but it will be warmly welcomed by the government and British industry and will be seen as a timely warning to the unions not to pursue some of the hard-line policies they paraded at the Labour conference this past week. The UNCTAD figures also showed that Britain's success was accomplished against a fall in inward investment to the European Union as a whole by 36 per cent compared to 2003. The value of all assets held by foreign investors in Britain is now $772 billion, the largest in the EU; France holds second place with assets of $538 billion and the Netherlands is third with $429 billion. While inward investment is by no means the whole story of the British economy, it is an important indicator of its state of health and to that extent GOrdon Brown will feel justified in his continuing optimism.