Monthly Archives: February 2012

Jim Pickard

David Cameron has been quoted saying he will not rule out quotas for women on boardrooms as a way to get more women into top executive jobs. Speaking at a summit in Sweden, the prime minister said he wanted to “accelerate” the increase in women on the boards of top UK firms – even if this was ideally without quotas.

A year ago an official report by Lord Davies into the issue urged companies to more than double the number of women on boards by 2015. At present the proportion of female FTSE 100 directors is about 15 per cent, though they tend to be non-executives rather than executives.

Mr Cameron said Scandinavian countries were “leading the way in Europe” on the issue of women in top executive jobs. In Norway, where quotas were introduced in 2008, the proportion is 40 per cent. (Other countries are following suit with quotas including France and Spain). Read more

Kiran Stacey

When Andy Burnham returned to the health beat for Labour, some in Andrew Lansley’s team were delighted. This is the man, they pointed out, who said he would not ringfence spending on the NHS. He even said that to do so would be “irresponsible” – hardly a vote-winning tactic.

David Cameron clearly thinks the same thing – that by shifting the focus of the health debate onto Burnham and his refusal to promise extra money for the NHS, he can nullify the controversy surrounding his health bill.

That is why, several times during today’s session of prime minister’s questions, Cameron insisted:

That’s what you get if you get Labour: no money, no reform, no good health service.

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Jim Pickard

The issue of cuts to council tax benefit may sound esoteric; what’s one more cut in a world of public sector austerity?

Yet most cuts to benefits are relatively simple to administer: you still give people money, just less of it.

Council tax is rather different, as it involves taking money from people. Cutting council tax benefit means that you need to collect even more money from them.

There is already a high level of non-payment of this levy and some local authorities are worried that the problem will only get worse when the cut comes into force.

I explain the full situation in this article.

In a nutshell, the government is not only cutting the benefit by 10 per cent but also shifting responsibility to councils. But ministers have made it much harder for local authorities to carry out the cut as they have ordered them to exempt pensioners and “vulnerable groups”, thought to include the disabled and families with children.

That means that out of 5m people who receive the benefit, only an estimated 1.3m may have to take the impact of the cut – implying they could be hit with a reduction of almost a third.

That would mean an average of £330 per person, equivalent to the average household’s Read more

Kiran Stacey

Two strands of thought are emerging about David Miliband, the Labour leader that never was, who launched his report into youth unemployment on Monday.

The first is that he is a cowardly figure, willing to make coded but bitter attacks in the New Statesman against his brother, but unwilling to follow it up with action. The second is that he is a great wasted talent, a serious policy thinker who should be brought back into the front line, one way or another. (I should say, of course, that these two things are not mutually exclusive.)

The first was savagely articulated by Matthew Norman in Friday’s Telegraph. Under the title “The sniping and self-pitying of a truly feeble man”, Norman wroteRead more

Jim Pickard

It is hard to know who will take the political credit for Network Rail’s directors dropping their plan for any annual bonus this year: Ed Miliband or Justine Greening? Both had made clear their concerns about any extra pay-out to the board of the quasi-private company (which receives £4bn of taxpayers’ money every year) ahead of the announcement. Ms Greening, the transport secretary, had even vowed to turn up to a public meeting of the group on Friday to vote against its recommendations. Meanwhile there was growing pressure in the form of an early day motion by former Labour transport minister Tom Harris, signed by 30 MPs.

The news came through some five minutes ago: Not only will Network Rail delay its meetings of around 100 board members, which was due for Friday. Read more

Kiran Stacey

Another week, another executive in the line of fire over their bonus. This week it is Sir David Higgins, the plain-speaking Australian in charge of Network Rail, which manages the country’s rail infrastructure.

NR members are about to vote on the pay structure under which executives will be allocated their bonuses later this year. The scheme could see Sir David pocket a £340,000 annual bonus (plus much more in long-term incentives), which has triggered anger given the company’s declining performance.

Justine Greening has now said she will become the first transport secretary in the company’s ten-year history to get involved with its administration when she attends a meeting to vote against the scheme.

But before she does so (in comments made, in fact, before the whole controversy blew up), Sir David has got his retaliation in first.

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Kiran Stacey

Chris Huhne has written to both the prime minister and deputy prime minister offering his resignation. The exchange with Cameron is in a separate post. Here are the letters between the former energy secretary and Nick Clegg, the man he once challenged for the party leadership:

Dear Nick,

I am writing to resign, with great regret, as Energy and Climate Change Secretary. I will defend myself robustly in the courts against the charges that the Crown Prosecution Service has decided to press. I have concluded that it would be distracting both to my trial defence and to my official duties if I were to continue in office as a minister.

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Kiran Stacey

Here is what Chris Huhne wrote to David Cameron in his resignation letter, and what the PM wrote in return:

This letter is to submit with much regret my resignation as Energy and Climate Change Secretary.  I intend to mount a robust defence against the charges brought against me, and I have concluded that it would be distracting both to that effort and to my official duties if I were to continue in office.

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Kiran Stacey

Chris Huhne

UPDATE: The results are in, and, as widely predicted, Ed Davey has been promoted to energy secretary, with Norman Lamb coming into the business department. Jenny Willott has been made an assistant whip, while Jo Swinson is now Nick Clegg’s PPS. I’ll leave the rest of the post unchanged so you can judge for yourselves who right I was…

Chris Huhne has resigned as energy secretary after being told he will be charged with perverting the course of justice following allegations he asked his ex-wife, Vicky Pryce, to accept speeding points on his behalf.

This means that David Cameron, famously reluctant to reshuffle his ministers, will now be forced into his second reshuffle of the last three months. As with the last one, in which Liam Fox was replaced by Philip Hammond, this one is expected to be fairly limited, with only Liberal Democrats moving. So here are the runners and riders:

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Kiran Stacey

When George Osborne told the country last November that he was going to miss the target of eliminating the current structural deficit by 2015, Labour were quick to tell everyone how the chancellor’s economic gamble had failed.

Not only was Osborne having to borrow more to pay for this failure, the opposition claimed that he was even now having to borrow more than Alistair Darling would have done under his deficit reduction plan. That claim was illustrated by this graph, showing the course of borrowing under Darling’s 2010 plan and Osborne’s modified 2011 plan:

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Jim Pickard

Nick Clegg has raised the prospect of greater devolution for Scotland even if there is a “no” vote in any imminent referendum on independence.

In an attempt to close down calls for a compromise option on the ballot paper – such as “devo max” – the deputy prime minister said that a “no” vote would not end the gradual process of devolution.

There would be the possibility of a further relaxation of control from London with the potential for further fiscal powers passed to Holyrood, he said. This would be beyond the current Scotland Bill going through Parliament at the moment.

The comments came this morning during a meeting of the Lords constitutional committee, chaired by Baroness Jay.

The development of unique institutions and greater powers for Scotland was a “process” rather than a fixed point, Mr Clegg told the committee.

“Devolution is not a tablet of stone it is a process, there are so many devolved states around the world,” he said. “Look at

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Elizabeth Rigby

At the start of the week, there seemed to be a general consensus among politicians that Stephen Hester was right to turn down his £1m RBS bonus but the treatment of Sir Fred Goodwin has sparked unease even among the political class, unsettled that due process has been cast aside to make a populist point.

If that is how the politicians are feeling, imagine how his de-robing has gone down within business circles. The hounding of Hester and demonisation of the former RBS chief has unnerved other chief executives of big FTSE companies, frustrated about the anti-business vernacular emerging from government as well as the opposition benches.

One FTSE chief executive said government’s handling of Goodwin had been akin to a “political drive-by shooting” and played to the gallery. Another said that this sort of “personalised, totemic targeting” was vindictive and would serve only to make business leaders withdraw from public life. Read more