Monthly Archives: October 2011

The business department has put out a list of 119 successful bidders for £950m of public money through the regional growth fund. (A new vehicle which now plays part of the role of the wound-up RDAs.) On average this is more than £8m each.

The only downside is that you can’t see how much money each company or council is getting or – necessarily – what for. In fact there are 10 successful bids where no details whatsoever have been disclosed: even the names of the winning companies. Read more

Remember Lord Young? He is the former trade and industry secretary who was given the task of reviewing health and safety regulation for Number 10 last year. He was forced to resign last November, however, after telling a Telegraph journalist that many Britons had “never had it so good”, despite the economy being gripped by recession.

At the time, David Cameron said:

Obviously he is extremely embarrassed. He was very quick to retract completely what he said. It was unacceptable.

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Just over a week after leaving office, Liam Fox has returned to the spotlight, giving an interview to BBC Bristol defending himself and attacking the media.

Talking about his meeting in Dubai, attended by Adam Werritty but no civil servant, Fox said:

I think it was really just a mistake not to have somebody there but… we were sitting in a coffee lounge in a hotel, it was hardly a high security meeting.

But nonetheless, given this was a potential defence supplier – not as it turns out an actual defence supplier – it still should have had somebody there. It’s very easy to be careless but you pay a price for it.

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I revealed this morning that despite David Cameron’s promises to cut down on civil service pay, the total Whitehall bonus pot went up last year from £136m to over £140m. Much more shocking than that, however, is the news that in the same financial year, directors of FTSE 100 companies have seen their pay rise by nearly 50 per cent. That follows a 50 per cent rise the year before.

David Cameron was asked about this issue at his press conference in Perth on Friday morning. What can we do to stop directors paying themselves so much money? Read more

Lady Thatcher, the former Conservative prime minister, has claimed more than half a million pounds of taxpayers’ money in the last five years, it emerged on Thursday.

The 86-year-old Baroness benefited from the public duties cost allowance available to former UK premiers. Between 2006 and 2011 she claimed a total of £535,000.

The system was set up by Sir John Major in 1991 to reward former incumbents of No 10 for work including answering letters and attending public events. Yet Baroness Thatcher is rarely seen in public and suffers ongoing health problems.

The public duties cost allowance was capped at just £52,760 a year in 2001 but has since risen sharply.

The allowance has cost taxpayers more than £1.7 million in the past five years supporting Baroness Read more

Tony Blair made clear in his memoirs how he thought that introducing Freedom of Information was one of his biggest mistakes.

“You idiot. You naive, foolish, irresponsible nincompoop. There is really no description of stupidity, no matter how vivid, that is adequate. I quake at the imbecility of it.”

That view is shared by Jonathan Powell, in his excellent book “The New Machiavelli“, where he admits that New Labour ministers found FOI the bane of their lives.

This dislike of transparency appears to have remained with Mr Blair in his post-government years. The final few pages of “A Journey“, his fascinating political memoir, describe what he is up to after leaving Downing Street.

The former prime minister says “my new life takes me around the world” on a multitude of worthy causes, including his formal role as quartet envoy to the Middle East, his Faith Foundation, his work in Africa and finally his Climate Group.

He does not mention his creation of Tony Blair Associates, a sizeable private business headquartered in a luxury office block in Mayfair, with several large clients around the world. Blair does not discuss his work with clients such as JP Morgan Chase, the government of Kuwait and with Mubadala, an investment vehicle in Abu Dhabi. You can read more about his activities in our article from two years ago: “Inside Blair Inc“.

Earlier this month we heard that Mr Blair was involved in a new contract to advise the government of Khazakstan, an authoritarian state in Central Asia. Read more

Welcome back to our continuing coverage of the eurozone crisis. In the early hours of the morning, eurozone leaders emerged from their summit in Brussels with a deal designed to stem the sovereign debt crisis. The markets seem pleased but big questions on the details remain. We’ll bring you reactions, news and commentary as we get it throughout the day.

All times are London time. By Tom Burgis on the news desk in London, with contributions from FT correspondents around the world. This post should update automatically every few minutes, but it may take longer on mobile devices.

17.28: Over to Athens, where Kerin Hope, the FT’s Greece correspondent, listened to the was at the finance minister’s press conference.

“Evangelos Venizelos has broken a week-long silence on the new Greek haircut much to the relief of Athens businesspeople and bankers. Flanked at a press conference by exhausted-looking advisers, the finance minister gave a few pointers on the benefits to Greece of Thursday’s deal:

  • A €8bn slice of Greece’s first bail-out loan will be disbursed by mid-November, just in time to avert a funding crunch that would have delayed payments of

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A few, initial head-scratchers at pixel time.

First, the Greek debt deal:

1) Greece’s debt will remain 120 per cent of GDP a decade hence, even under the 50 per cent bondholder haircut. (As the debt sustainability analysis by the Troika warned.) Does that look like a safe number to you? Say, providing a good buffer to any external shocks that Greece might face over that period? Does it look like it rules out subsequent bondholder haircuts?

2) The huge disparity between haircuts and actual debt reduction is a creature of Greece’s reliance on official loans (plus the ECB’s getting made whole on its Greek bond holdings). This deal will chuck another €100bn on the fire. Again, if

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Lord Justice LevesonThe inquiry by Lord Justice Leveson into media rules in the wake of the phone hacking scandal is massive. It is supposed to run in two parts, one looking at the specific allegations around hacking, and another looking at the broader issues of media regulation and ownership.

When David Cameron announced its remit, many people were surprised by this breadth. One of those, it seems, was Leveson himself – at least according to John Whittingdale, the chairman of the culture, media and sport select committee. Read more

Glenn Beck, the controversial US commentator who quit Fox News this summer, has express support for Monday’s Eurosceptic rebellion in the House of Commons.

Those who wish to consolidate their power even further have united globally. It is time for freedom lovers to understand that tyranny and the ‘spontaneous’ movements around the globe are uniting. Read more

Ed Miliband’s interventions on Europe have a habit of serving only to bring David Cameron closer to his own backbenchers on the issue. On Monday, as Tory rebels lined up in their dozens to defy Cameron on an EU referendum, Miliband was the only one who managed to restore harmony on the Tory benches, uniting them in laughter when he said:

Apparently president Sarkozy – until recently his new best friend – had had enough of the posturing, lecturing and know-it-all ways. Let me say, Mr President, you spoke not just for France but for Britain as well.

At PMQs on Wednesday, a similar thing happened. Miliband had some good lines, including telling saying Cameron “was pleading with his backbenchers instead of leading for Britain in Europe”.

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For true political anoraks the Telegraph has a full list of who rebelled in last night’s epic Eurosceptic uprising. The figure, including abstentions, is slightly over 50 per cent of the Tory backbenches. For David Cameron that is truly inconvenient and embarrassing; given the vote did not need to be whipped.

More sensational is the news that 49 of the 81 rebels only entered Parliament last year – and 9 of those who abstained. Partly this reflects the fact that the new intake are instinctively Eurosceptic in the main. It also shows how many feel they have no chance of advancement in the current Parliament given that the Lib Dems have squeezed the Tory share of ministerial jobs. There is also the pressing matter of the imminent boundary review, which means all MPs need to play to their constituents to ensure they keep their seatsRead more

Cameron, Merkel and SarkozyDavid Cameron appears to be trying to dangle some red meat in front of his restive backbenchers by holding out the prospect of using any imminent EU treaty change to try and repatriate powers back from Brussels to London.

Speaking after meeting fellow European leaders over the weekend, the PM said:

This is the right time to sort out the eurozone’s problems, defend your national interest and look to the opportunities there may be in the future to repatriate powers back to Britain. Obviously the idea of some limited treaty change in the future might give us that opportunity.

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This is a succint blog as it is more an entreaty to read this excellent bit of research by Philip Cowley of Nottingham University into Euro-rebellions of the past. It’s a vital piece of analysis ahead of Monday’s vote over whether Britain should have a referendum on pulling out of the EU.

In a nutshell Cowley predicts that the final tally won’t be as high as the 100 that some have suggested (on the basis that the whips always peel away some potential rebels). One calculation reckons 78 have already put their heads over the parapet. Read more

David Cameron once rebuked his party for “banging on” about Europe, but the issue never ceases to give Conservative prime ministers a headache.

First, the important stuff. Mr Cameron and Barack Obama used a video conference on Thursday evening to impress upon Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel the need to sort out the eurozone crisis with a comprehensive package: the clock on that deal is now ticking.

Ms Merkel has told Mr Sarkozy she won’t be able to sign up to any deal until next Wednesday at the earliest, so a special second meeting of eurozone leaders has been fixed in Brussels for that day.

Of course Mr Cameron won’t be invited to that meeting, but it could still be awkward for the PM. As European leaders grapple with the economic fire raging across the English Channel, Mr Cameron will be heading to the other side of the world for a Commonwealth summit in Perth.

Not only will communications be difficult because of the time difference, but so is the symbolism. Mr Cameron has been accused by Labour of failing to get involved Read more

Here’s a sentence to set alarm bells ringing: the Department for Work and Pensions is currently undertaking a rather large and important IT project to change the way people can claim benefits.

As part of the project to roll up all the various benefits and tax credits people receive into one “Universal Credit”, DWP is creating a new system that would allow people to log in online, fill in some basic details and quickly calculate how much they can claim. The money will then be paid automatically into their bank account. Read more

We revealed this morning that Chris Huhne is poised to make steep cuts to the subsidies for household solar panels. This is likely to be very controversial given that this summer the government cut the subsidies (feed-in tariff) for largescale solar “farms”. Details are still being worked out but I wouldn’t be surprised if the current scheme – up to 43p per kilowatt hour – is cut in half or worse; possibly by January. Huhne was asked about the story in the Commons this morning and did not deny it.

This is going to play into the narrative that the coalition’s green credentials are fading fast, as we write in this analysis today – despite headline initiatives such as the Green Investment Bank. Several MPs criticised Huhne today for the collapse of Scotland’s pioneering “carbon capture and storage” project, with Labour’s Lindsay Roy saying it had “descended into farce” and SNP’s Mike Weir calling it “disgraceful“. Read more

Cathy Newman over at Channel 4′s Fact Check has been saying for a while that David Cameron’s figures on private sector job creation are wrong. And he repeated the claim again today:

There are half a million more private sector jobs compared with the time of the last election.

So is Cameron right? Almost certainly not. The truth is that more than half a million private sector jobs have been created since the beginning of April 2010. But that was before the last election. Read more

Even Europhile economists must have pricked up their ears at the offer of £250,000 to the person who comes up with the best plan for winding up the euro. Only the Nobel offers a more valuable bounty to the dismal scientists.

But whatever you think of the goal, is the Wolfson Economics Prize – offered by Lord Wolfson, the youthful, Eurosceptic, Conservative chief executive of Next, the UK retailer – the best way to achieve it? These days, bright business ideas often emerge through collaboration, rather than competition.

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My colleague Mark Odell reveals today that the new transport secretary is expected to announce this week who has won the first rail franchise award since the general election. Three bidders are up for the Greater Anglia network, he reports.

But for those with an interest in Britain’s rail system the award will tell us little about where the government is going in terms of rail policy as the announcement comes while the department is still formulating its position – a process that appears to be taken longer than originally envisaged, according to my colleague.

This week’s agreement doesn’t seem to fit into the coalition’s desire for longer, Read more