Monthly Archives: August 2008

Newsflash: I’ve just been told that Tesco is withdrawing plans for an ecotown at Hanley Grange, near Cambridge.

We ran the story last week that the wheels were falling off the ecotown project, with three having withdrawn, one having been cut from 15,000 homes to 5,000 and another three – including Hanley Grange – running into difficulties. Read more

Leave aside the question of whether energy companies are charging too much for power. There is the separate question of the European emissions trading scheme (ETS) windfall, addressed elsewhere on this blog.

Earlier this year, Ofgem said power companies had ended up with a £9bn windfall because of a quirk in the scheme. In its second phase polluting companies must buy on average 7 per cent of the permits they need to pollute. For power companies it’s about 30 per cent. Read more

Vince Cable held a press conference this morning to outline various ways to ease the pain in the housing market. I’m not sure any of his suggestions will make a massive difference (they include letting housing associations borrow more to buy up empty homes***).

But credit to the Lib Dem Treasury spokesman, who has long been alert on this issue. As he reminds us, Labour MPs were literally laughing at the idea of an imminent housing crash – as recently as the spring. Read more

You may or may not have noticed the Conservative silence during the ongoing debate about a windfall tax on energy companies. It’s not hard to imagine the internal debate at the top of the party on this one.

Attacking the idea would be sensible and confirm the party’s pro-business credentials. But supporting it could play well in Lower Middle England.  Saying nothing would give the Tories the benefit of the doubt either way. Read more

Rob Marris MP* has just denied that he will quit if the government doesn’t bring in a windfall tax.  

Here are his comments to me over the phone just now: Read more

The scene: A newsroom. The date: September 2008

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The typical household in the UK has seen disposable income drop by 15 per cent in the last year as food prices and utility bills soar.

Disposable income now represents 28 per cent of average household income, down from 35 per cent a year ago, according to a survey published on Monday by, the price comparison website. This is the equivalent of £14,520, down from £17,102. Read more

PA Consulting’s website boasts about its appearances in the business and national media. Strange then that it makes no mention of the latest flurry of publicity, such as here, here and there. Should we expect an update?

Here’s another one from this morning for the company to add to their files.

Back in February the prime minister said in his monthly press conference that it was “entirely possible” the government could sell Northern Rock at a profit. Eventually.

But now we know that Goldman Sachs was – in the same month – advising the Treasury in private that taxpayers would lose at least £450m from the nationalisation, even under a best-case scenario. Read more

That will be the inevitable response within most of the Labour party to the imminent departure of Lord Jones of Birmingham, former head of the CBI.

One of the “goats” (non-partisan ministers in the, ahem, ‘government of all the talents’) hired last summer by Gordon Brown, he was hardly an outright success. Read more

George Osborne made an interesting comment this morning:

“In the free-for-all of Russia in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of communism, instead of fair reward for effort we saw the unfair wholesale transfer of state resources to individuals,” said the shadow Chancellor in a speech to Demos. Read more

To lose three aides in as many months is embarrassing for Boris Johnson, London mayor.

You may remember the first two, which both made for good reading.  Read more

David Cameron must be spitting tacks. The Tories’ favourite think tank, Policy Exchange, has put out a report urging the government to – in effect – abandon the north.

Why bother using money to prop up dying conurbations on the fringes, the report asked this morning? Wouldn’t we be better off concentrating on London, Oxford and Cambridge? The latter two university towns could expand in the way that Manchester and Liverpool (pictured below) did in the 19th century, it argues.   Read more

The parallels are uncanny.

A party, in crisis after years in power, deposes the politician who has dominated domestic policy for the last decade. Read more

About four years ago the Conservatives hired Rothschilds, the blue-chip City bankers, to examine options for tolls on Britain’s motorway network. It would have been an enormous privatisation, bringing in something not far off £100bn, according to someone involved with the project at the time.

In a real piece of blue-sky thinking, the tolls would have allowed a Tory government to cut road tax across the board. As a result, the fiscal system would no longer penalise old dears who only use their cars to drive to the supermarket once a week – but hit those who drive thousands of miles every month. Read more

I’ve never quite seen the Heathcliff analogy myself.

Much more accurate would be to compare the British prime minister to curmudgeonly Inspector Rebus, the hard-boiled cop from the Ian Rankin mystery novels. Read more

I believe it was Viz’s Profanisaurus which coined the term “the fecal touch” as the opposite of the Midas touch. The expression comes to mind as the Treasury lurches through yet another crisis, this time over whether or not it’s going to change stamp duty to give the gift of negative equity to naive youngsters  bring much-needed solace to the housing market.

It’s getting easy to lose track of the litany of screw-ups and volte-faces – from losing discs to U-turning on capital gains tax and non-doms….not forgetting the mother of them all, the £2.7bn compo package for the abolition of the 10p tax rate. Read more

The talking point this morning in Westminster – for those who haven’t escaped to a beach – will be this fascinating article in the Daily Telegraph.

David Miliband’s spokeswoman told me last night, definitely, that the story (“Miliband lines up Milburn for the Treasury) was “complete nonsense” and that there was no leadership plot. Alan Milburn said today: “I told the paper yesterday it was complete bollocks and I am amazed that they have run with it.” Read more

The facts first. Reports of a stamp duty holiday for all home buyers appear to be wrong.

Instead, the Treasury is considering the “deferral” of stamp duty; just for first-time buyers. They would have to pay the money back in the future, a bit like a student loan. Read more

This should be THE crucial question for Labour as the party faces the possible prospect of civil war over leadership, direction and policy.

The left, and the unions, want to reach out to core Labour voters with policies such as more affordable housing and a windfall tax on energy companies. Read more