Maybe it was deliberate kite-flying. Maybe David Cameron thought that he was only talking to a handful of northern businessmen. Either way the Tory leader indicated this week – at a meeting of the Greater Manchester chamber of commerce – that he was minded to move away from public sector final salary schemes: “We’ve got to end the apartheid in pensions,” he said.
There is cold logic behind the position: the state may struggle to keep supporting the ever-growing cost of public sector pensions: a £650bn liability over 20 years.
But for millions of workers – whose pay has barely risen in recent years – decent pensions are arguably their greatest incentive to keep on the state’s payroll. What does Cameron hope to gain electorally from voicing this argument?
The Tories are rapidly distancing themselves from the suggestion — made by their leader — that public sector pensions should be phased out.
It is worth reading the full transcript of what David Cameron said in a Q&A session at the Manchester Chamber of Commerce:
James Crosby’s report on Monday recommended state guarantees for £100bn of new mortgage-backed securities to help get banks lending to home-buyers once again. I pointed out here that Crosby himself had reservations about this idea when he wrote his interim report in the summer.
Treasury officials tell me that the situation has become more desperate since then. But surely the fundamental pros and cons remain the same.
Mervyn King seemed unimpressed with the idea when he spoke on Tuesday, describing securitised mortgages as a ”form of lending that for rather good reason has fallen out of favour”.
The final Crosby report says the government guarantee would only be used for new mortgages, not for re-financing existing ones. It would be available to banks and building societies. Only “prime” mortgages would be eligible: excluded are high loan-to-value loans, second charge loans or those to people with impaired credit histories.
How else would taxpayers be protected? The answer seems to be the ratings agencies.
Germany is leading the fightback against Gordon Brown’s drive to stimulate the world. Angela Merkel is distinctly unimpressed by the case for a tax cuts, in spite of sitting on a big budget surplus. In a speech to the German parliament she endorsed Brown’s diagnosis of the problem, but dismissed his proposed solution.
“Excessively cheap money in the US was a driver of today’s crisis. I am deeply concerned about whether we are now reinforcing this trend through measures being adopted in the US and elsewhere and whether we could find ourselves in five years facing the exact same crisis.”
The correction came within hours. But the damage was done. Andrew Lansley, shadow health secretary, discovered there are better ways to extend a political career than discussing the merits of a downturn. Labour claimed it was “shameful” for him to say that “on many counts, recession can be good for us”.
But was the real problem his failure to give more than one example? Shouldn’t he have gone further and made a comprehensive case? Don’t all economies, just like politicians, need a correction once in a while?
As politicians are unwilling to recognise the full worth of an economic slump, we will. Behold six good things about a recession. See it as an electoral platform for the inveterate optimist, or a pro-cyclical election pledge card.
It proves once again the enduring truth of the last 50 years: that Labour governments always run out of money.
Alan Duncan speech to Conservative party conference, October 1, 2008
House prices will be rocketing at 6 per cent a year after 2010. No, that’s not estimate of your local estate agent. It is the considered opinion of the Treasury. Once you get past the gloom in the pre-Budget report — which estimates there could be a 25 per cent peak to trough house price fall relative to incomes — there is a fabulously sunny medium term forecast.
The new income tax band on people earning £150,000 is a classic elephant trap for the Tories. Today, afraid of looking like the party of the rich, they could find no criticism for the new 45 per cent rate.
The measure only hits about 300,000 people. In this climate, this is a policy which will attract little opposition.
Alistair Darling promised about £1.5bn today on “thousands of new and modernised social homes as well as regeneration projects.”
The money may soon be there. Spending it is easier said than done, however. Last week I reported on how the credit crunch has hit housing associations. Many are struggling with their finances and development is drying up.
The National Housing Federation – which represents over a thousand registered social landlords – today warned that funding rules need to be changed as soon as possible.*
Are Alistair Darling’s growth forecasts a bit too rosy? The Treasury provide a useful table to help us work it out. The short answer is that the chancellor is more optimistic than the City — but not as much as his predecessor Gordon Brown.
The Darling and City analysts are equally pessimistic about the recession in 2009. But the chancellor sees a stronger bounce back ahead. Economists predict about 1.2 per cent growth in 2010, yet in Darling world Britain will be sailing along at 1.5 to 2 per cent growth.
We won’t do a comprehensive analysis of the pre-Budget report here: there will be plenty of analysis elsewhere on FT.com. But just three observations.
1] The central assumption for RPI next year is -2.25 per cent: ie deflation. That doesn’t necessarily mean that CPI – which excludes house price inflation – will go negative.
The long-awaited report on finance in mortgage markets – by Sir James Crosby – was published today alongside the PBR. This is a big deal. Ministers have been talking for months about how Crosby could hold the key to reviving becalmed mortgage markets.
According to Alistair Darling’s speech, Crosby (pictured) is recommending government guarantees for new mortgage-backed securities. For a temporary period.