Monthly Archives: November 2012

Two days ago, I wrote about the possibility that the regulatory systems governing the press could differ in England and Scotland in the wake of the Leveson report. Unlike broadcast media, print regulation is a devolved issue, so for Scottish papers, it is the response of Alex Salmond that matters, not David Cameron.

Two days ago, it looked like Salmond was positioning himself to back a more liberal system than the Westminster government might. He told BBC Scotland:

A lot of fears have been raised that Lord [Justice] Leveson is going to recommend state regulation of the press, and I don’t think he will incidentally, and I can’t see there’s going to be a currency of support for that in Scotland. We value our free press far too much.

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Lord Justice LevesonWelcome to the FT’s Leveson live blog with Hannah Kuchler and Kiran Stacey. Posts will update automatically every few minutes, although it may take longer on mobile browsers.

17:37: See for further updates this evening and over the coming days. Before we sign-off, here’s a summary of what’s happened today:

- Lord Justice Leveson published his report into the culture, practice and ethics of the press, recommending independent regulation with statutory underpinning. “Guaranteed independence, long term stability and genuine benefits for the industry cannot be realised without legislation,” he said.

He said the press and politicians had at times been “too close” but there was little evidence to suggest there was a widespread problem in the relationship between the press and the police.

- He proposed: Read more

Alex Salmond

Alex Salmond. Getty Images

As journalists scramble to find out what different members of the coalition and Labour party think about press regulation in the run-up to tomorrow’s publication of the Leveson report, one party has been largely overlooked.

It is a little-known fact that press regulation, unlike rules for broadcasters, is a devolved matter. So the person making the decision on whether or not to put Leveson’s proposals into law in Scotland is Alex Salmond, not David Cameron.

Until this morning, Salmond had remained curiously quiet on the issue, but today he spoke out. Read more

Ed Miliband chose not to ask David Cameron about the Leveson report today, which has arrived on the PM’s desk, but not the Labour leader’s.

It would have been tempting for Miliband to try and force Cameron into saying something that would then limit his options for how to respond to the report when he does so tomorrow, but instead he chose the more concrete attack of the government’s failing back-to-work scheme, the Work Programme.

Miliband was on solid ground. The key statistic on the programme is that it has found six months’ worth of work (or three months, if the person is particularly difficult to help) for just 2.3 per cent of those on it. The Labour leader held the killer stat until his second question though, coyly beginning with a request for Cameron to “update the house on its progress”. Read more

Sometimes words change the world and sometimes they do not.

For now, Nick Boles’ intervention over planning is a statement of long-term intent rather than a change in policy.

Inevitably, however, the new planning minister has caused a furore after claiming that the amount of land built on should increase from 9 per cent today to 12 per cent in the future: over a 20-year timeframe.

He also threw in a criticism of “nimbies” who opposed new homes – while (for good measure) accusing builders of making “pig ugly” homes.

Maybe it is the language from tonight’s Newsnight interview that created the controversy. After all, Nick Clegg said roughly the same thing last week without any negative reaction to speak of. (He called for an array of new “garden cities”.)

Yet Boles is worth listening to. The Newsnight interview was ahead of a speech the minister is giving on Thursday. I’ve seen a copy and it makes fascinating reading.

The main thrust of the argument is that it is not only natural landscape that can be beautiful, but also the built environment. He cites Edinburgh as an excellent Read more

Labour is putting forward an opposition day motion for Wednesday on employiment and social security: but the wording was subtly changed in recent hour, as one eagle-eyed reader has noticed.

The difference is that the new version no longer contains the phrase “before proceeding with further reform”” at the end: that may reflect a tussle on Labour’s front bench between Blairite types and their opponents, although they are unlikely to admit this.

Version 1:

Jobs and Social Security

This House notes that only just over two in every hundred people referred to the Work Programme in its first year have gone into work; further notes that it has delivered a worse outcome than no programme at all; recognises long term unemployment is soaring and that the welfare bill is projected to be £20 billion higher than planned; notes with concern that the government is cutting £14 billion from tax credits and is taking £6.7 billion from disability benefits to pay for this cost of failures; and calls on the Government to implement a bank bonus tax to fund a Real Jobs Guarantee for young people and commission a cumulative impact assessment of disability benefit changes before proceeding with further reform.

Version two.

Jobs and Social Security

This House notes that only just over two in every hundred people referred to the Work Programme in its first year have gone into work; further

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Mark Hoban, the employment minister, has just suffered a bit of a torrid press conference with the assorted ranks of the British press after the Department for Work and Pensions admitted its £5bn back-to-work scheme has fallen well short of its own targets.

The government’s figures show the scheme had found sustained employment (six months for most, three months for those most difficult to help) for just 2.3 per cent of people. The department had set a minimum performance level for itself of 5.5 per cent.

Why is it failing? There are many reasons, but here are the main ones:

1) The economy is worse than expected. The original assumptions built into the scheme were that the UK economy would be growing at 2 per cent. Of course, it is not, which means there are fewer jobs around to be had.

2) The targets were too high. As a way of getting the Treasury to cough up the cash needed for the scheme, the department for work and pensions set very aggressive targets for providers. This has been a concern right from the start of the scheme, as the FT’s former public policy editor, wrote last yearRead more

Last week I brought you the curious snippet that George Entwistle had missed out on an even bigger BBC pension because he joined the scheme just after a cap on pensionable salary was introduced in 1989.

But what about Tony Hall, the new director-general? On leaving the BBC in 2001, he was entitled to an £82,000 pension when he reached the age of 60, according to page 52 of the corporation’s annual report from 2001.

Under the BBC pension rules his entitlement will have risen by RPI – or some 40 per cent – meaning he should be liable to draw a pension today in the region of £115,000 At the age Read more

Aides to senior government ministers were at pains to insist that the energy deal finally signed off at about 6pm on Wednesday proved that both the Lib Dems and Tories were now in harmony on energy policy.

One Whitehall figure sought to present the previous disagreement as a fairly standard round of negotiations between a spending department and the Treasury.

In reality, the last two weeks have seen one of the most hard-fought coalition battles since the general election, with countless meetings and phone calls between senior figures and some particularly vicious in-fighting.

An attempt to secure an acceptable subsidy cap for renewables and nuclear power – the levy control framework – was already subject to complex negotiations. The complex system (we are not allowed to call it a ‘subsidy’, even though it clearly is one) should give investors enough certainty to build wind farms, nuclear power stations and other renewable plants.

The UK needs new capacity to replace many of its coal power stations that are closing down in the coming years while still Read more

George Entwistle was lambasted last week for his £450,000 severance pay and his pension pot of £877,000 after the former BBC director-general resigned just two months into the job.

But Mr Entwistle has missed out on a much larger annual pension because he joined the BBC just months after the broadcaster introduced a cap on payment for retired executives in early 1989.

At the time of the corporation’s last report and accounts Mr Entwistle was eligible for a pension of £59,000 when he reaches retirement age at 60. Read more

David Cameron’s former energy minister has called on David Cameron to get a grip of Britain’s energy policy and put an end to the increasingly fraught coalition row over green power.

Charles Hendry, who held the position until September’s reshuffle, warned that unless Downing Street achieved a ceasefire there was a risk that “even if the lights don’t actually go out” the cost of energy bills for consumers and industry will “go through the roof”.

Mr Hendry told the Financial Times that investors in low-carbon energy are finding it more expensive to raise money against a backdrop of such acute political uncertainty. “The crunch is getting uncomfortably close,” he said.

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The UK Independence Party surged past the Liberal Democrats in Corby to secure their best ever by-election result of more than 14 per cent of the vote.

As the Lib Dems lost their deposit – with their vote collapsing from 7,834 two years ago to 1,770 – the Ukip leader Nigel Farage proclaimed a “great result” for his party in third place.

“Along with the other results coming in from around the country today, including the 31 per cent we scored in a council by-election in Manchester, it confirms that we are now established as the third force in British politics,” he said.

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Downing Street has insisted, repeatedly, that any turnout for the police and crime commissioner elections would represent a more democratic outcome than the previous status quo.

But it looks increasingly likely that voter apathy today will cast questions over the legitimacy of the new commissioners.

The government’s handling of the first PCC elections was branded a “comedy of errors” by Katie Ghose, chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society.

She said polling stations were “standing empty” today and called for those responsible for “avoidable errors” in the delivery of the elections to be held to account.

Others, however, may argue that turnout was always going to be low for a new system that the public had never shown much appetite for. Turnout may also have been affected by holding the ballot on a cold day in November.

In the most radical shake-up of the service for half a century, the new commissioners, who are expected to earn up to £100,000, will control police Read more

The Tory MP running this week’s by-election campaign in Corby was facing awkward questions tonight after appearing to admit he had given support to the campaign of a potential rival candidate.

Chris Heaton-Harris, who has campaigned vociferously against onshore wind farms, was secretly recorded saying he had encouraged an anti-wind farm candidate, journalist James Delingpole, to enter the race against his own party.

In the film, he tells an undercover Greenpeace campaigner – posing as someone from a fictional anti-wind group – that he“actually essentially suggested to him (Delingpole) he did it”. Read more

Starbucks global chief Troy Alstead faces MPs. Getty

Matt Brittin, chief executive officer of Google UK, Troy Alstead, Starbucks global chief financial officer, and Andrew Cecil, Amazon’s director of public policy have been questioned by MPs on why they pay so little corporation tax in the UK. For background, see our news story:

18:04: Hodge says British prime minister not happy, business secretary has branded all three companies a disgrace and wants their response.

18:03: All three company executives believe OECD guidelines on how a branch of a multinational on the internet should be reviewed. Read more

Nick CleggNick Clegg always has a hard time taking over from the prime minister at PMQs. Without the vocal support of hundreds of his own MPs behind him, he can often be left looking helpless at the mercy of Labour barracking.

This week, with contentious negotiations on the European budget looming, should have been even worse. If there’s one thing that backbench Tories hate more than the Lib Dem leader, it is the Lib Dem leader talking about Europe

But Harriet Harman, asking the questions in Ed Miliband’s place, missed that open goal. Instead of asking about the one topic sure to leave him looking exposed and distant from the benches behind him, she asked about the Leveson inquiry, childcare costs and the police. Read more

Figures published yesterday by UK Export Finance (which used to be called the Export Credit Guarantee Department) give a glimpse into the debts owed to Britain by other (usually developing) countries, and why they were taken on in the first place.

The figures show the total debts taken on by any country that still owes some. To that extent they are limited: we don’t know how much each of these countries owes, nor how much we have lent to other countries in the past.

But what they do show is that the UK has a long record of lending money to repressive regimes, often to buy British-made weapons, which were then sometimes used against civilians. Read more