Treasury

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 roads

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

 

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"]

 

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.

 

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: 

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 year

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?

 

Kiran Stacey

Vince Cable’s speech to Lib Dem conference was just about on-message as regard to the coalition’s economic strategy. We need the state, he said; we need a demand stimulus, he said; we are taking advantage of low interest rates and borrowing more, he said. But he didn’t quite call for more borrowing for an immediate fiscal boost.

In fact, any Lib Dem wanting to call for a departure from George Osborne’s Plan A will now find it very difficult to do so after the party conference voted overwhelmingly in favour of the current fiscal plan.

This morning, delegates were asked to vote for a motion backing the “difficult decisions taken by the coalition government” and calling for the government to “do everything possible to stimulate growth within its fiscal mandate” (emphasis mine). 

Kiran Stacey

This morning’s research from the IPPR lays out in thorough detail just how difficult George Osborne will find it to meet his fiscal rules when announcing his spending review for the period 2015-2017 next year.

The think tank has analysed the forecasts from the OBR and the Treasury and calculated the cuts needed to make sure the current structural deficit is cleared by the end of the five-year period and debt is falling as a ratio of GDP by 2015.

Firstly, let’s assume no cuts are made to welfare. If that is the case, the chancellor needs to make average savings of 3.8 per cent from departmental budgets. If spread equally among the departments, that would mean hugely controversial measures such as cutting the NHS budget by nearly £8bn a year and education by nearly £4bn.

 

Kiran Stacey

Nick CleggNick Clegg took many by surprise this morning by appearing in the Guardian calling for an emergency, temporary tax on wealth to help pay down the deficit. Why make the call publicly, when he’s a senior member of the government that decides whether this happens or not? And why now, so far away from Budget time?

The obvious answer is that this is not a thought-through policy proposal, but merely a bit of positioning to cheer the troops ahead of next month’s party conference. It will not happen, say many (including the BBC’s Nick Robinson), so there is no need to worry about what Clegg actually means.

But, that analysis ignores a couple of things. 

Helen Warrell

As I reported today, the Treasury is looking seriously into the idea of adopting German-style “mini jobs”, a scheme long championed by free market Conservative MPs. The model is that workers can earn up to €400, or £314, tax free each month, while their employers benefit from flexible labour with minimal bureaucracy: they pay a flat rate of wage taxes, insurance and pension contributions.

It is easy to see why companies and jobseekers might be clamouring for the government to pick this up, but there is actually a serious political case as well. Tories who were frustrated by the Liberal Democrats’ opposition to radical labour market reforms put forward by Adrian Beecroft have been calling for ministers to come forward with some new deregulation measures for some time.

The Lib Dems themselves are keen not to be seen as too obstructionist on this issue given the drive for growth, and party officials have assured me that they are not pushing back against the mini jobs idea. Could this be the middle way? 

Kiran Stacey

As Jim wrote earlier on this blog, the Tories and Labour are trading accusations of hypocrisy over their response to the news that Barclays has been hit with a record fine for trying to manipulate key interest rates.

The Tories are accusing Labour of under-regulating the banks; Labour reply they were under pressure from the Tories to regulate even less. Both are right, and here are a couple of quotes both will use to score points off each other.

The first is from Lord Tunnicliffe, Labour’s deputy chief whip in the Lords, who admitted today that his party did not legislate to make such manipulation a criminal offence: