Monthly Archives: November 2011

Kiran Stacey

Labour is in a slightly difficult position about how to respond to the news in the FT today that the Treasury is looking to slash benefits by linking them to earnings or even freezing them temporarily.

Although Cameron said he wouldn’t “balance the books on the back of the poor”, Labour knows that attacking the government for hypocrisy on this point could make it look like they are standing up for benefits’ claimants – or “scroungers” as they are thought of by many people.

Instead, the opposition will want to pick its battles. At the moment, the Treasury is still actively considering applying this change to all benefits and pensions, which would affect a lot of people who don’t fall into the “scrounger”. Read more

Jim Pickard

David Cameron made his claim again yesterday during PMQs that having more women on the boardroom would lead to more restraint.

He made a similar comment on Friday while in Australia, saying more female directors would have a “beneficial effect” on boards and lead to less disproportionate remuneration.

(Income Data Services found a 49 per cent jump in the total earnings of all FTSE 100 directors, taking their average package to just under £2.7m. This followed an increase of 55 per cent in the previous year.)

But the idea that a heavier female presence in the boardroom would act as a curb on lavish pay has been met with some scepticism from experts.

Deborah Hargreaves, chair of the independent High Pay Commission, told me Read more

Kiran Stacey

Last week, we were told that the government was going to support the Lord Mackay amendment to the health bill, which adds in a clause saying the health secretary “retains ultimate responsibility” for the health service.

This was supposed to have won the support of Baroness Williams and other rebellious Lib Dem peers who have been concerned about the fact that the bill as it stands removes the legal duty on the secretary of state to provide a health service free at the point of contact.

But today, Lord Howe, the government health minister in the Lords, asked Lord Mackay and all other peers to withdraw their amendements for further consideration. They want to reach a compromise that all sides can agree on. Read more

Elizabeth Rigby

After painful months of matchmaking UKTI have officially announced which ministers will be paired with whom as the trade promotion body looks to inject a litle more commerical prowess into Whitehall.

The scheme pairs top exporters and inward investors with key ministers to make sure that special companies are well looked after. So far six ministers – spread between business, energy and media departments – have been appointed abassadorial roles with 38 companies between them. Jeremy Hunt is getting Microsoft, Google and Facebook, while Vince Cable with look after manufacturer Tata and the oil giants.

The scheme is designed to give key companies a “seamless ‘one-stop’ service in their dealings with Whitehall. It would well be worth an audit in a few months time to see if Lord Green’s scheme lives up to the billing. Expect more ministers and companies to get involved in the coming months as Lord Green extends the scheme.

 Read more

Jim Pickard

The government has published its new document on public sector pensions – which Danny Alexander has hailed as the big compromise offer to the unions.

There are two elements which seem to be striking changes: Read more

Kiran Stacey

It was an intriguing PMQs today. As I have previously noted, Ed Miliband has begun to find his feet on the economy, and once again used this as his main attack line.

As he has done at previous sessions he chose an obscure policy that has achieved little so far (this time the “business growth fund”, which was set up using money from the Merlin agreement), and used it to embarrass the PM.

As has happened before, Cameron didn’t know what the policy was (in fact at the end, he started talking about the Regional Growth Fund – a different fund altogether). So when asked how many businesses the fund had invested in, he was unable to answer. Read more

By Andrew Bounds

The government has risked a fresh fight with Derby after Theresa Villiers, rail minister, pulled out of a rail conference in the city at short notice to attend to constituency matters.

Business and civic leaders in the city, including the Conservative leader of the council, Philip Hickson, are already seething after Bombardier, the UK train maker, lost out to Siemens in a train contract.

It has shed 1,400 jobs as a result and is reviewing the future of the plant.

Ms Villiers told the Derby and Derbyshire Rail Forum on Tuesday that she would not deliver a promised keynote speech on Thursday because she had a more pressing issue. Read more

Jim Pickard

The process by which companies apply for grants from the regional growth fund is not desperately transparent. As I wrote on this blog, we don’t know the details or the sums awarded to over a hundred companies yesterday.

And questions are already being raised about how money was allocated to Sheffield Forgemasters (near Nick Clegg’s constituency), JCB (run by a Tory donor) and a company part-owned by Jon Moulton.

What we don’t know in detail is the arguments being put forward by councils and companies which have clinched the final decisions.

Sunny Hundal, founder of the Liberal Conspiracy website, has sent out a bundle of FOI requests to get hold of some of this correspondence. Out of 50 applicants, however, only six have provided the information.

What he received is interesting as it suggests a large degree of arm-twisting by some companies.

For example CQME, a Chinese technology company, has suggested it could make its British subsidiary, Holroyd Precision, the base for its European headquarters.

But if the Rochdale company did not get a £2.8m grant from the RGF, it wrote, this could damage its expansion in this country.

“Without RGF support, the project will not go ahead in the UK as it leaves us with a shortfall of £2.82 million having taken

 Read more

Kiran Stacey

During party conferences, the BBC broadcast a piece of footage showing Andrew Tyrie, the chair of the Treasury select committee, talking in hushed tones to Steve Hilton and Craig Oliver before being interviewed by one of their reporters. The Beeb noted that after meeting the pair, Tyrie gave a much more positive assessment of George Osborne’s economic strategy than he had done just a few days before. We noted the encounter here on the blog, as did a number of other media outlets.

The coverage infuriated Tyrie, who says his independence was being called into question unfairly. Well now the BBC has issued a fairly extraordinary on-air apology, stating: Read more

Jim Pickard

You may have got the impression that second home owners are about to lose their discounts on council tax; from recent headlines such as “Second Home Council Discounts To Go” and “Tax Raid on Second Homes” and “Second Home Owners Lose their Tax Loophole“.

This is an issue worth tackling: this year some £420m of discounts are being given on second homes (250,000 of them) and empty homes (610,000). Landlords have already complained that they will be penalised for periods when they are upgrading their properties; but they seem unlikely to get sympathy. Read more