Treasury

Jonathan Eley

Autumn Statement...The Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osbor

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

 

George Osborne in EdinburghWe’ve known for two days that George Osborne, Danny Alexander and Ed Balls were about to rule out sharing the pound with an independent Scotland. What we didn’t know until this morning is that they would be joined by Sir Nick Macpherson, the Treasury’s top civil servant, who has written a letter the likes of which are almost never seen in Whitehall.

Belying the reputation of civil servants as cautious, apolitical, and perhaps occasionally slightly verbose types, Sir Nick has written a short, punchy and withering assessment of Scotland’s chances of forming a currency union with the rest of the UK.

In it he says: Read more

Kiran Stacey

Alex SalmondWe revealed in this morning’s FT that the Treasury is making it clear to investors in UK debt that if Scotland goes independent, the rest of the UK will still be liable for the debt that it has issued.

In other words, however the debt is carved up, if an independent Scotland defaults on one of its repayments, it will be English, Welsh and Northern Irish taxpayers who will have to pay up.

In one sense, this seems to give Alex Salmond a much stronger hand in any negotiation with the rest of the UK (again, if Scotland becomes independent) about how assets and liabilities should be carved up. After all, if the UK is guaranteeing Scotland’s debts, Salmond could turn round and insist his government will only keep up with repayments in return for another of his demands – for example, being allowed to use sterling. 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

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. 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.

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Kiran Stacey

Danny AlexanderEarlier this year, Danny Alexander told the FT he was going to use the levers of government to get companies to pay their fair share of tax. Specifically, he was going to stop companies from winning big Whitehall contracts if they haven’t complied with tax rules. He told us at the time:

If you work for the government, whether you’re an individual employee or a company that has got a contract with the government, you need to be behaving properly with regard to tax rules.

His comments came after an FT investigation showed some of the world’s biggest IT companies that provide services to the government, use ingenious and somewhat aggressive tactics to avoid paying UK corporation tax. Read more

Kiran Stacey

Job Centre

I was interested to read the piece by Alex Massie in this morning’s Scotsman, in which he argued:

Scots may take an even tougher line on welfare than voters elsewhere in the UK… Visit any working-class pub in Scotland and you will hear opinions that make IDS seem like Polly Toynbee.

If this is true, it makes the SNP position problematic. The party has consistently opposed the coalition’s welfare cuts, and when Johann Lamont, Labour’s Scottish leader, suggested axing certain universal benefits, such as free prescriptions, the SNP called it her “speech of madness”.

So what does the polling suggest? A fairly comprehensive look shows us two things: 1) Scottish voters are less hostile to the welfare system than elsewhere in the UK; but 2) they remain in favour of benefit cuts. 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

Justin Welby outside the LordsThis morning we reported in the FT that bishops in the House of Lords are leading an attempt to exempt children from the below-inflation rise in benefits. This follows on from the comments of Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, over the weekend, who said:

By protecting children from the effects of this bill, they can help fulfil their commitment to end child poverty.

But just as interesting as the bishops’ response to government attempts to slash the welfare bill has been the reaction of Tory MPs to the archbishop’s comments. 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

Ed Miliband’s announcement that Labour backs a mansion tax on properties over £2m, with the money used to fund a new 10p rate of income tax, has left the two coalition parties scrambling to trump the opposition with their own progressive tax plans.

For the Lib Dems, this meant leaking a tax document* being prepared in advance of the party’s spring conference. The paper proposed extending the mansion tax from people’s first properties to apply also to additional properties and any other land they may own. It also suggested the more radical idea of taxing assets such as paintings, jewellery and even record and book collections – although this was quickly dismissed by Vince Cable.

The Tories offered their own response on Sunday evening, when Tory chairman Grant Shapps appeared on BBC 5 Live’s Pienaar’s Politics. Shapps told the programme the Tories were considering pushing the income tax allowance beyond the £10,000 level currently planned – something that could go into the party’s 2015 manifesto.  Read more

Jim Pickard

Drivers on the M6The coalition’s mid-term “mid-term” parliamentary programme – which is hogging the headlines today – may seem rather thin compared with the original coalition agreement of 2010, which ran into hundreds of pledges.

What’s striking is today’s PR stunt (sorry, renewal of political vows) also includes one or two areas where an agreement is by no means pinned down between the Tories and Lib Dems.

One of these is the attempt by George Osborne and others to inject billions of pounds into the road network, preferably by a privatisation of the motorways and trunk roadsRead more

Kiran Stacey

This year is likely to be one of the hardest for the coalition, as spending cuts begin to hit harder than ever before. Tory MPs are warning that the measure that is most worrying their constituents is the removal of child benefit from higher earners, and analysis today from the Institute of Fiscal Studies gives us some inclination as to why.

The IFS has examined how much this will cost parents earning over £50,000 – the point at which the payments begin to be taken away. It has found that the measure will mean that for someone with one child who earns over £50,000, they will have a marginal tax rate of 52.6 per cent. In other words, for every extra pound earned over that level, 52.6p will be taken away. As they continue to go up the income scale, they will lose more and more cash until they hit £60,000 and all the child benefit payments are gone. This results in a marginal tax graph that looks like this:

IFS Child benefit chart

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Tom Burgis

George Osborne

Welcome to our rolling coverage of the Autumn Statement.

George Osborne has missed his fiscal targets and cut corporation tax.

We’ll bring you all the day’s developments live. By Tom Burgis and Ben Fenton.

15.45: We’re winding up the blog now, but you can follow events as they unfold through constantly updating stories on the front page of FT.com

15.31: A representation of the “flamethrower of uncertainty” can be found in the documentation of the OBR. It is also known as a “fan chart”. I doubt George Osborne is a fan of it, though.

15.24: Chote speaks of the “flamethrower of uncertainty”- a favourite phrase, unsettlingly enough, of the OBR, which is a chart showing forecasts in a wide range that makes the chart lines look like a firebreathing dragon.

15.18: Chote says that the variation in the possible range in the forecast of net debt figures for the UK is a large number, but is “dwarfed by the scale of uncertainties” on the issuance of debt. I think that’s the second time he has said that in his address.

15.12: The Spectator is running a rather scary chart showing the lost output of the current “seven-year slump” in the UK.

15.07: Robert Chote, director of the Office for Budget Responsibility, is live now, going through his department’s figures that underpinned the bad news Mr Osborne has just had to deliver.

15.05: Gavyn Davies has blogged for the FT with his view on the autumn statement while the FT’s Lucy Warwick-Ching has collated some very interesting instant reaction from personal finance experts.

14.49: Hannah Kuchler on the FT’s UK desk has been keeping an eye on business reaction to the autumn statement.

She says:

The CBI, the employer’s organisation, urged the government to stick to its guns on deficit reduction to retain international credibility, saying it was no surprise that austerity would last longer than expected.

John Cridland, director-general, welcomed investment in infrastructure and support for exports, but said the proof was in the delivery. He said:

“Businesses need to see the Chancellor’s words translated into building sites on the ground.”

But the British Chambers of Commerce was less positive, declaring the statement not good enough for a country meant to be in a state of “economic war”.
The government is just “tinkering around the edges”, John Longworth, the BCC’s director general said, adding: “The Budget next March must make truly radical and large-scale choices that support long-term growth and wealth creation. That means reconsidering the ‘sacred cows’ of the political class, including overseas aid and the gargantuan scale of the welfare state. Only a wholesale re-prioritisation of resources, to unlock private sector finance, investment and jobs, will be enough to win the ‘economic war’ we are facing. The danger is that our political class is sleepwalking with its eyes open.”

14.40: Lionel Barber, the FT’s editor, just passed by the live news desk so we asked him what he thought of the autumn statement.

The Chancellor is in a hole, but the good news is that he’s stopped digging. The FT supports the government’s fiscal stance, but is there more to be done on monetary policy to boost growth? That’s the question.

14.26 Who says the British don’t like doing things the French way? Might we surmise from this tweet from the BBC’s Robert Peston’s interview with Danny Alexander, Osborne’s Lib Dem No2, that the UK’s crediworthiness might be going to way of its Gallic cousins’?

[blackbirdpie url="https://twitter.com/Peston/statuses/276330461142327296"]

Others are more chipper:

[blackbirdpie url="https://twitter.com/MJJHunter/statuses/276330252601524225"]

 Read more

Being prepared for big economic statements, such as tomorrow’s Autumn Statement, is a must, given the quantity of information released in such a short time. Even though this will be the 41st Budget, Autumn Statement or pre-Budget report I have covered, I try not to be complacent.

Here’s what I think is important (sorry about the length), what type of analysis is relevant to understanding Britain’s economy and public finances, and at the bottom is a moan about the way in which George Osborne has decided to follow Gordon Brown down the road of playing games with numbers.

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Kiran Stacey

George Osborne and Nick CleggBack in September, Nick Clegg said he would block any attempt by George Osborne to freeze benefits in this week’s autumn statement. This put the chancellor in something of a quandary. He had been hoping to save several billions with the move, as well as winning the support of a public that is increasingly hostile to people who are claimants.

Another option remains on the table, however, is to allow benefits to rise, but not by as much as they would normally do if the link with inflation is kept. New analysis from the Institute of Public Policy Research suggests there could still be a fair amount of savings to be gained, for example, by increasing them by just 1 per cent.

The IPPR has produced a table of savings from possible options open to the chancellor: Read more

Kiran Stacey

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

Kiran Stacey

This blog revealed back in March just before the Budget that George Osborne was considering capping child benefit at a certain number of children per family. At the moment, parents receive £20.30 a week for their first child and £13.40 for each additional child after that, but Treasury officials were looking at stopping those payments once a family had reached a certain number of children.

At the time, the measure was supposed to be an alternative to capping child benefit at a certain income level: the family-size measure would have been easier to implement and involve less of a cliff-edge for

people increasing their earnings. In the end, it was ruled out as too controversial, but judging by George Osborne’s speech at the Tory party conference today, the idea is back on the table. The chancellor said:

How can we justify a system where people in work have to consider the full financial costs of having another child, whilst those who are out of work don’t?

 Read more