Coalition

Jonathan Eley

On Wednesday, December 3, the chancellor will deliver the final Autumn Statement before the 2015 general election.

There will be extensive coverage of the chancellor’s speech live on ft.com. And from 3pm on December 3, a panel of personal finance experts will be on hand to answer your questions about its contents. Submit your questions in the live reader comments field or email the Money team at money@ft.com at any time up to and during the live Q&A. We will choose a selection for our panel to answer.

On the panel are:

  • Nimesh Shah, partner at Blick Rothenberg
  • Jason Butler, financial planner at Bloomsbury Wealth and author of the FT Guide to Wealth Management
  • Claire Evans, tax partner in the Birmingham office of Deloitte

The discussion will be moderated by James Pickford, FT Money deputy editor, and Jonathan Eley, FT Money editor

 

Jim Pickard

The Romans used to predict the future by examining the entrails of dead animals. These days we use opinion polls, often with similarly haphazard results.

Even some of the most robust Westminster commentators are refusing to make firm bets about how the landscape will look after next May’s general election. It will be the closest fought, most unpredictable, most exciting battle for a generation. Read more

Kiran Stacey

Eric PicklesOne of the government’s main tax-cutting drives has been to encourage councils to keep tax rises to a minimum. Ministers have done this in two ways: firstly, by giving councils a cash incentive to freeze council tax; and secondly, by forcing any council that wants to raise tax by 2 per cent or more to put it to a local referendum.

Since that policy began, Eric Pickles, the local government secretary, has been irritated (but perhaps not surprised) to see dozens of councils raising tax by 1.99 per cent – just below the threshold. So recently, as revealed last week in the FT, he began pushing for a lower limit of 1.5 per cent. Read more

John Aglionby

George Osborne has presented his Autumn Statement. Its highlights included a large increase in the economic growth forecast, a predicted budget surplus in 2018, a hike in the state pension age and free school meals for all infants.

By John Aglionby and Emily Cadman with contributions from FT colleagues

 

Kiran Stacey

Back in October, the FT revealed that Philip Hammond’s bold plan to part-privatise the MoD’s weapons-buying arm were in trouble, with one of the two potential bidders worried about various aspects of the bid.

At the time, the consortium, led by CH2M Hill, was worried about whether the terms on offer were commercially attractive. It was also worried about the status of one of its component companies, Serco, which is under threat of not being able to bid for government contracts in the future after allegations emerged it had overcharged taxpayers for tagging offenders.

Today, the CH2M Hill consortium dropped out altogether, leaving only one bid, led by Bechtel, the US engineering group. The company says the commercial terms on offer were simply not good enough to continue with the bid. Read more

Kiran Stacey

Yesterday’s pledge by David Cameron to “roll back green levies”, made in the heat of PMQs, apparently caught his coalition partners by surprise. While the government had been discussing reducing certain levies, the Lib Dems had not agreed to anything specific and did not expect it to be made public.

This morning, Clegg decided to seize the initiative. Clearly irritated by the prime minister’s decision to float policies without checking them, he decided to float his own idea, as anathema to the Tories as reducing green measures is to the Lib Dems – raising taxes.

He told the Today programmeRead more

Kiran Stacey

As we head towards next week’s Lib Dem conference in Glasgow, the party’s big beasts are making themselves visible, lining up to point out the great Lib Dems successes of the last three years, and more importantly, to attack their opponents.

One thing that is worth watching is who is attacking which opponent. Over the last two days, two prominent Lib Dems have given very different interviews to the New Statesman which help crystallise a battle that might yet determine which government we have in 2015.

In the left corner (as it were), there is Tim Farron, who told George Eaton thisRead more

Janan Ganesh

Defeat in Thursday night’s parliamentary vote on the principle of military action in Syria is not an existential wound for David Cameron, whatever his more excitable enemies say. But, after several months of good form, the prime minister looks weaker than at any time since taking office more than three years ago. Failing to win over Liberal Democrat MPs in his coalition government is one thing. Being defied by his own Tories is quite another. Prime ministers are simply not supposed to lose House of Commons votes on major matters of foreign policy.

Mr Cameron recalled parliament from its summer recess in the assumption that securing its support for some kind of intervention in Syria would be straightforward. That has turned out to be mortifyingly complacent. And this is not merely hindsight speaking. It should have been obvious after the apparent chemical attack by the Syrian regime earlier this month that the widespread revulsion in Britain was not matched by an appetite to get involved. Voters and MPs were openly sceptical; the armed forces were privately reluctant. Only an assiduous campaign of persuasion would have swung the argument, and it never came. William Hague, Mr Cameron’s well-regarded foreign secretary, was too reticent. Read more

Kiran Stacey

David Cameron and Nick CleggThe Telegraph has a very interesting story today about Tory plans to change the way they would sign up to a coalition deal in future. In 2010, the leadership decided it wanted to do a deal with the Lib Dems – the rest of the parliamentary party was simply told to get in line.

This contrasted with the way the Lib Dems handled their side of the negotiation, calling a parliamentary meeting to discuss the deal before putting it to a vote of MPs and peers, before holding a special conference of the whole party so members could vote too.

Many Lib Dems have credited this process as the reason their party has been relatively disciplined while in coalition, while many Tory backbenchers have campaigned openly for them to ditch their partners. Read more

Jim Pickard

Sir Ian Kennedy, head of Ipsa

Sir Ian Kennedy, head of Ipsa

When they said that Ipsa was all about taking the politics out of MPs pay they weren’t joking: the independent body has come up with a set of proposals that look sensible on paper but lack political judgment.

The bit that is making headlines – predictably – is that pay will rise by 9.7 per cent in 2015 to £74,000. After that it would go up in line with national wage inflation.

That salary proposal alone would cost an extra £4.6m.

What many people won’t notice is that the other recommendations from Read more

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. Read more

Kiran Stacey

Philip HammondPhilip Hammond appeared on the Today programme this morning defending his position after being accused of dragging his heels on the spending review.

The defence secretary has not yet submitted his draft plans for how he could cut 5 per cent of his budget in 2015-16 (half of that asked of other departments), but he told the BBC he was not a “hold out” adding that he hopes to have an “adult conversation” about where the axe should fall.

But in case anyone was in any doubt of how willing he is to stand up to the Treasury, he added this:

We should be very clear that there is a difference between efficiency savings, which may be difficult to achieve but are painless in terms of the impact on the front line, and output cuts, which are of a very different order and require proper and mature consideration across government about the impact that they will have on our military capabilities.

 Read more

Kiran Stacey

Trident missileGeorge Osborne has been touring the TV and radio studios this morning talking about the deals he has managed to strike with some of the smaller government departments for how they are going to cut their budgets in 2015/16. Talking about the settlements made with departments including Justice, Energy and Communities, the chancellor told the BBC:

We are now about 20 per cent of the way there with a month to go. I don’t think any chancellor in history has made this much progress with a month to go.

Osborne still has a huge amount to achieve in the next month, particularly in the face of intransigence from big departments such as the MoD and the Home Office. But in the middle of the spending round process, another decision on a massive item of government spending will also come a step closer. Read more

Kiran Stacey

Nick Clegg

Nick Clegg this morning insisted he would stay in government until 2015, and would not need to create any “breathing space” for his party by pulling his ministers out before the general election. This is what he said in a speech in London:

The public will see me [campaigning] as leader of the Liberal Democrats. Constitutionally the government still ticks over. Ministers are slightly more “absentee landlords” in Whitehall offices during that six week period.

Of course, Clegg is right that the public is used to ministers leaving their day jobs and hitting the campaign trail during the weeks leading up to a general election. And he may also be right that voters would think it very odd if the Lib Dems pulled out of the coalition just before an election in order to assert their own identity more clearly. Read more

Kiran Stacey

Jean ChretienLast night, politicians, government officials and a smattering of journalists gathered in the ornate surrounds of the Scotland Office to hear Jean Chrétien, the former Canadian PM, give his view on referendums.

Chrétien knows more than most world leaders about what it is like to try and stop nationalists in one part of the country from seceding – he won two referendums against Quebec separatists.

And in case coalition officials were beginning to feel comfortable with the convincing lead held by the pro-union side in the Scottish independence debate, Chrétien had a rather ominous message. Read more

Kiran Stacey

One of the most interesting aspects of the Ukip successes today is watching how the Tories respond. We are getting signs that David Cameron is going for a placatory tone, backing away from previous characterisations of the party as “loonies and fruitcakes”.

But one of the more telling interventions came this morning from John Baron, who has led a campaign of eurosceptic Tory backbenchers trying to force the prime minister to legislate in this parliament for an EU referendum in the next.

Baron told the Today programme: Read more

Kiran Stacey

HMS Ark Royal on a farewell tourLast month, we mapped out what each department could expect to face in the June spending review given the Treasury’s promise to keep cutting at the same pace as it has done before.

That study showed some of the most sensitive departments were in line for the steepest cuts. Local government was in line for £1.3bn of cuts, the business department, just over £1bn, and most sensitively of all, defence, nearly £700m.

Those calculations, however, only got us up to just over £7bn of cuts. We decided to take a cautious view, sticking to the idea of spending falling at the same trajectory as it has been so far, rather than striving to hit the £10bn figure. Read more

Elizabeth Rigby

David Cameron and Nick Clegg were this morning falling over themselves to claim the credit for helping “hard working families” with news of a new voucher scheme that could be worth up to £1,200 per child.

After weeks of wrangling, the coalition was finally ready to press the button on a tax-free childcare scheme to replace the current “employer supported childcare” system. The new scheme will eventually reach up to 2.5m families – compared with the 450,000 who access the current voucher system – and include the self-employed. Read more

Kiran Stacey

Labour continues to pile the pressure onto Iain Duncan Smith over reductions in housing benefit to those who have one or more spare bedrooms in their social housing. At DWP questions today, Labour MP after Labour MP stood up to ask a question about what they call the “bedroom tax” (Tories hate the label but their “spare room subsidy” label misses the point).

Amid the barrage of questions, it became clear that DWP is about to offer a concession. IDS told the Lib Dem MP Greg Mulholland that guidance would be going out to councils tomorrow about what they can do for severely disabled children. Read more

Kiran Stacey

 

Jeremy Forrest, the teacher extradited from France last year

Jeremy Forrest, the teacher extradited from France last year

We revealed this morning that the first battle that Nick Clegg intends to pick in the coalition after his party’s victory in Eastleigh is over the European arrest warrant.

The EAW is one of a number of measures involved in the European crime and justice framework, which the Tories want to leave altogether. The prime minister has won plaudits among his own party for saying he would pull out of the 130 measures agreed among EU countries, but he needs the support of his coalition partners to do so, as it must go to a vote in the Commons.

Negotiations between the two parties are being led by Danny Alexander and Oliver Letwin, and according to sources close to the talks, have pretty much broken down altogether. Read more