Monthly Archives: June 2013

Kiran Stacey

Job CentreThe government has set great store by its £5bn plan to get people who have been unemployed for a long time back into work. David Cameron has called it “the biggest and boldest programme since the great depression”.

Expensive though the scheme sounds, it is actually much cheaper than its predecessor, Labour’s Future Jobs Fund. The problem is, it isn’t working.

Figures out today show the programme has improved since last year, when providers were way off hitting their minimum performance targets – but not enough. 

John Aglionby

George Osborne announces £11.5bn in cuts in the government’s latest spending review that will set the tone for the next general election. Coverage and reaction by John Aglionby and Lina Saigol.

 

Kiran Stacey

Osborne sets off from 11 Downing St

When George Osborne announces the 2015-16 departmental cuts today in the Commons, he will also spell out some more detail about how his plans for an AME cap will work. The idea behind this is that benefit spending will be treated more like departmental spending, where it is given a set limit, and then policies are adjusted to make sure spending doesn’t go higher than this.

In reality, this is little different to what happens now, as Ian Mulheirn of the Social Market Foundation explains here. But in terms of political rhetoric, this is an important tool for Osborne to claim he is clamping down on welfare spending. 

Elizabeth Rigby

A couple of weeks back, George Osborne made an appeal to some of his more rebellious colleagues at a Cornerstone Group dinner not to muck up the finance bill with bothersome amendments on introducing a transferable tax allowance for married couples.

The chancellor promised his colleagues that the policy, which allows a stay-at-home wife or husband to pass some of their personal allowance to their working spouse, would be introduced before the 2015 election. But he asked his colleagues to let him control the timing of the policy rather than taking it on themselves to try to force his hand.

But Tim Loughton, the former children’s minister who tried in vain to scupper the gay marriage bill, doesn’t want to wait any longer. Today he tabled amendments to

 

Jim Pickard

It emerged the other day that Labour set up a secret Treasury team to examine the issue of hard-pressed low-income workers as early as 2005: only to then do nothing with its findings.

Ed Miliband has taken credit for coining the phrase “squeezed middle”, even though it was actually former shadow health secretary John Healey who first started using it in this country.

While the expression was mocked at first – what demographic was Miliband talking about precisely? – it is now seen as a cunning piece of political positioning. The next 

Jim Pickard

Some of you may have already followed the 161 hours of evidence during the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards. Others will have read the 571 pages of the report, published overnight.

For those who have neither the time or inclination, here is a summary of the main points – with analysis of whether Osborne is likely to take heed or not. (The chancellor has indicated his full response will be ‘within a month’.)

1] Weighing up an RBS split. The report says the government should carry out “detailed analysis” of splitting RBS into a good bank and state-owned toxic bank. (This was encouraged by Sir Mervyn King and Lord Lawson.) Alistair Darling, the former chancellor, told me last night that splitting up RBS was “just wrong” and not backed by anyone outside the commission. The idea was a “red herring” that would involve a messy, expensive, time-consuming process, he said.

Consequences: Osborne may go through the motions but is unlikely to re-invent the wheel, instead preferring a less seismic restructuring

2] End government interference. Treasury should wind up the ineffectual arms-length UKFI. Interference at RBS has been particularly damaging, the report says.

Consequences: Osborne is likely to ignore this recommendation.

3] Bonus delays. The commission wants banks to overhaul their pay structures to align rewards and risks. Bonuses could be delayed for up to 10 years.

Consequences: Osborne is likely to implement elements of this but may consider the 

Jim Pickard

George Osborne this morning raised hopes of an imminent G8 deal on a new tax “register” showing the ownership structure of companies, as I report on ft.com this morning.

The UK hopes to “lead the way” on transparency by creating a central register of company ownership – although it may only be available to the tax authorities rather than the general public.

By getting a deal on “beneficial ownership”, the chancellor – and prime minister David Cameron – hope to emerge from the G8 gathering in Northern Ireland with a tangible result on tax avoidance.

The Treasury is acutely aware that large numbers of the tax havens which have attracted global opprobrium are, ahem, governed from London. (The first minister of Anguilla, a tiny Caribbean haven, told me last week that he viewed the City of London as the biggest money-laundering centre in the world.)

The issue of tax is never straightforward. And the focus on offshore jurisdictions is 

Jim Pickard

To read the headlines last week would suggest that the Labour leadership has had a Damascene conversion to the fiscal realities faced by any serious political party planning to run the UK.

Certainly, there is some reason to take that view.

In his Canary Wharf speech on Monday, Ed Balls was surprisingly frank on several issues. One was that growth couldn’t not “magic away” the deficit. The other was that cracking down on tax avoidance could not somehow raise billions of pounds overnight. And overall, he said, a Labour government would have to govern with “iron discipline”. That, according to aides, means accepting the coalition’s fiscal inheritance at least for a year or so.

Chris Giles, our economics editor, is among those impressed by the new stance.

“The good economic news is that the 2015 battle is unlikely now to be fought on a phoney argument pitting austerity against growth. Instead the electoral choice will hinge on the spending priorities of the next government amid tight constraints and the economic credibility of politicians.”

The most obvious political consequence is that Labour will no longer be able to oppose 

Jim Pickard

By Jim Pickard and Elizabeth Rigby

John Mills, the Labour donor whose “tax-efficient” gift threatened to overshadow the party’s relaunch, has had brushes with the authorities in the past for trading offences.

The offences involved the sale of brass trinkets as gold-plated jewellery and a “Lucky Panda” toy whose eyes and ears fell off.

Mr Mills was sacked in 1986 as deputy chairman of the London Docklands Development Corporation for failing to disclose these misdemeanours.

The tycoon, who made his fortune through JML, the shopping company channel, is the brother of David Mills, the husband of Tessa Jowell, the former Labour cabinet minister.

On Thursday, it emerged that he had given a £1.65m donation to Labour in shares because 

Jim Pickard

As the battle for a share of the spending round spoils escalates, other departments are pressing ahead with attempts to seize a slice of the protected health budget.

The FT understands that Eric Pickles, local government secretary, is seeking to redefine some housing programmes as health spending. (Just as Philip Hammond and others have sought to squeeze under the “electrified” ringfence.)

These are the Decent Homes fund, which is focused on improving the condition of homes for social housing tenants and vulnerable households in the private sector in England, and the Disabled Facilities Grant which pays for changes to housing to meet the needs of disabled people.

He is also seeking a greater contribution from the health and education departments to 

Jim Pickard

Not so long ago key members of Ed Miliband’s team told me their electoral strategy, boiled down to the substance.

According to opinion polls, the public still trust Labour more than the Tories on the National Health Service – despite the party’s refusal to ring-fence it at the 2010 general election.

By contrast the opposition party is on much less safe ground on welfare, immigration and Europe. (Thus the recent rise of Ukip.)

This week is supposed to be Labour’s relaunch on the economy (Balls’ speech on Monday) and on welfare (Miliband’s speech tomorrow) but you would never have guessed it from today’s session of prime minister’s questions.

Instead Labour’s desire to keep the focus on health was in evidence, with every single 

Jim Pickard

Ministerial promises of a new “register of lobbyists” in the wake of two new political sleaze scandals could be less helpful than they seem because their proposals for reform would not necessarily help clean up Westminster.

The latest reputational calamities involved separate stings: by the BBC and Panorama on Patrick Mercer, a Conservative MP, and by the Sunday Times newspaper on a trio of peers in the House of Lords.

In both cases, the politicians agreed to ask questions and set up either groups or events to represent fictional clients, breaching parliamentary rules.

But would a new industry register really give the UK’s political scene a deep clean?

Even those attempting to revive the plan, first drawn up several years ago, admitted this was not the case: “How much difference would it have made? Almost none,” said one aide to Nick Clegg. The deputy prime minister wrote on Monday that the register would, nonetheless, go ahead once the fine details were thrashed out: “It will happen.”

At the very least, if a register had existed, Mr Mercer could have avoided the sting.