UK economy

Tom Burgis

Welcome to our live coverage of Marcus Agius’ testimony to MPs. The outgoing Barclays chairman faces questions on rate-rigging by the bank’s traders and his defence of Bob Diamond. By Tom Burgis and Ben Fenton in London. All times are London time.

12.53 That’s that for our live coverage of Agius’ evidence. That was brutal — even if the outgoing Barclays chairman somehow contrived to compare himself to Donald Rumsfeld and his bank to Roger Federer.

Three key nuggets from what we heard today:

  1. After points in Agius’ testimony contradicted Bob Diamond’s comments to MPs, some members of the Treasury select committee are convinced that Bob Diamond misled them
  2. Diamond will walk away with £2m in salary and cash in lieu of pension, inlcuding being paid double his contractual entitlement of six months’ notice. He has waived bonuses worth up to £20m
  3. FSA chairman Lord Turner wrote to Agius in April and told him that the regulator’s “cumulative impression” is that “Barclays has a tendency continually to seek advantage from complex structures or favourable regulatory interpretations”

12.41 Here’s a last thought from Chris Giles, the FT’s economics editor:

[blackbirdpie url="https://twitter.com/ChrisGiles_/status/222656026019762178"]

12.37 And with that, after two and a half hours in the hot seat, Agius is ejected into the Thames allowed to depart. Read more

Tom Burgis

Welcome to our live coverage of Paul Tucker’s testimony to MPs probing the Libor scandal. The deputy governor of the Bank of England faces questions about his actions at the height of the financial crisis. By Tom Burgis and Ben Fenton in London with contributions from FT correspondents. All times are London time.

19.00 That’s that for our live blog. There are three main points from Tucker’s testimony.

  1. Did Labour ministers lean on him to get banks to lower Libor in the middle of the financial Crisis, as alleged by George Osborne? “Absolutely not.”
  2. Was Libor considered an ideal measure of interbank lending, even before the rigging revelations? Nope.
  3. Is the FSA board engaged in contingency plans should Libor collapse? Yes.

Thanks for reading. See FT.com through the evening for anaylsis of Tucker’s words. Tomorrow its the turn before the committee of Marcus Agius, Barclays’ outgoing chairman. Read more

Kiran Stacey

Bob Diamond

Bob Diamond, who resigned as Barclays CEO today

Now that Bob Diamond has quit as chief executive of Barclays, what does that mean for his appearance in front of the Treasury Select Committee tomorrow?

It may mean that the members of the committee tone down their attacks: it is less edifying watching a panel pillorying someone who has just resigned than someone who is refusing to do so.

But more importantly, it may mean that Diamond now feels free of his shackles and goes after other people he feels were complicit in the Libor scandal.

So who else could be in his line of fire? Read more

Kiran Stacey

Is the government in danger of handing over its reputation for being pro-business to Labour?

William Hague’s message in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph that businesses should “work harder” to promote growth was certainly bold.

At a time when the economy is stagnating and the government’s strategy is increasingly being questioned, turning round and blaming the sector of the economy you’re relying on to turn that round seems like a reckless strategy.

Before we get on to why it’s not a good idea to blame business for not supporting growth, let’s mention why Hague has a point:

  1. The govt is implementing the cuts programme many business groups have supported, and is sticking to it.
  2. Corporation tax is low and getting lower – on its way down to 20 per cent.
  3. Embassies around the world are pushing UK trade as their top priority, and the prime minister has taken huge business delegations on state visits with him on several occasions.

 Read more

Kiran Stacey

The data released last night on how much the super-rich paid in tax in 2010-11 was fascinating. As Robert Peston comments on his blog, getting this information out of the last government was nigh-on impossible, as Labour didn’t want to put wealthy people’s tax affairs in the spotlight. So it is an amazing irony that it is a Conservative-Lib Dem coalition that is choosing to do so instead, as it looks to bolster support for its unpopular decision to cap tax reliefs, which will impact on charitable giving.

The Treasury released the data in an attempt to show us how much rich people avoid tax. George Osborne told the Telegraph that when he saw these figures he was “shocked”. And certainly there are some shocking figures within them, such as that thousands of people in the 50p tax band actually pay less than 20 per cent tax. Twelve people who are mega-rich, earning over £10m, even pay less than 10 per centRead more

Kiran Stacey

This morning the prime minister’s spokesman was grilled by the Westminster press pack on why exactly the government was putting in place a cap on tax reliefs when it could reduce charitable giving.

This is the explanation the spokesman gave:

The reason was that certain individuals in this country on very high incomes are exploiting some of these reliefs to reduce their tax burden.

But surely the whole point of offering tax reliefs on charitable donations is to encourage wealthy individuals to give donations by allowing them to reduce their tax burden? The PM’s spokesman explained that it was not just use, but abuse of these reliefs that was concerning the government: Read more

 

Welcome to the FT’s rolling coverage of the UK Budget.

By Kiran Stacey at Westminster and Gordon Smith, Michael Hunter, Darren Dodd, Tom Burgis and Ben Fenton on the FT news desk.

All times are GMT.

16.45 So, that is about it for the live blog. The main FT coverage can be found in the usual place.

We thought we would leave you with a small image of what life in the Financial Times London newsroom is like on Budget Day. Below, you can see Chris Giles, economics editor, briefing the rest of us on what it all means. This picture was taken less than two minutes after the Chancellor sat down at 13.29.

So, from the FT live news desk, enjoy digesting the ramifications of the 2012 Budget, whether you are an outraged pensioner, a relieved 1-percenter or the Chancellor of the Exchequer. FT Live Blogs will be back just as soon as something big enough breaks. Goodnight.

Chris Giles briefs the Budget team on what it all means. He is the figure in a light grey shirt immediately below the left-hand TV image of George Osborne.
Chris Giles briefs the Budget team on what it all means. Chris is the figure in a light grey shirt immediately below the left-hand TV image of George Osborne.

 

16.25 John Authers and Martin Wolf parse the 2012 Budget

16.06 The top trending phrase on Twitter in the UK at present is #grannytax.

And one of the main users of Twitter, Lord Prescott, has his say on the Budget.

[blackbirdpie url="https://twitter.com/#!/johnprescott/status/182489902074703875"]

16.01 The FT’s Christopher Cook tweets:

[blackbirdpie url="https://twitter.com/#!/xtophercook/status/182490962516393984"]

15.57 This was a budget, opines the FT’s Philip Stephens
that was in part “about George Osborne’s ambitions to establish
himself as David Cameron’s heir apparent”.

 

The chancellor talked about a Budget to put Britain back to work, but

the measure most likely to stick in the public mind was the cut from

50 per cent to 45 per cent in the top rate of income tax. It marked a

tilt to the tax-cutting right that he hopes will build his support on

the Thatcherite wing of the Tory party.

 

 

15.52 Podcast time.

 

15.48 Our colleagues over at FT Alphaville have been going through the
Budget documents and have found the official issuance plans for the
Osborne super-long bond.
The question, it seems, is not how long the bond should be, but how
big…

 

 Read more

Kiran Stacey

The quad - David Cameron, Danny Alexander, George Osborne, Nick Clegg

Tim Farron, the Lib Dem president, told me yesterday:

I suspect that we are going to see a Budget which has got more Liberal Democrat stuff in it than Tory. The amount of money being returned to individuals will go overwhelmingly to middle and lower income earners.

He’s right, to the extent that by far the biggest spending measure announced by George Osborne tomorrow will be the increase in the personal tax allowance to around £9,000 – a move likely to cost around £3.3bn. Read more

By Andrew Hill

I’m getting fed up with the UK coalition government’s ritual invocation of Victorian values or visions whenever it wishes to urge a put-upon populace to new heights.

In David Cameron’s latest speech, the prime minister calls on the spirits of Brunel, Telford and Stephenson, to inspire new infrastructure investment in the UK, from nuclear energy to new towns. He accompanies nostalgia for the Victorian era with the inevitable negative comparison with other nations’ superior efforts: the French, Dutch and Swiss have cheaper, less crowded railways than the British; the South Koreans have faster broadband; the Indians have newer nuclear power stations; and the Chinese have bigger airports.

In his speech on Monday, Mr Cameron blamed a failure by governments to break down “vested interests and bureaucratic hurdles” to progress:

 Read more

Kiran Stacey

The Lib Dems have made raising the personal tax allowance (what you can get paid without paying income tax) one of their flagship policies. So when George Osborne says at the Budget in two days’ time that he will raise that allowance beyond inflation, it should be a major victory for the junior coalition party.

It is interesting therefore, to take note of a piece of research published today by CentreForum, a think tank with close ties to the Lib Dems, showing that raising the tax threshold* to £10,000 (the eventual aim), would not be especially progressive. It fares especially badly when compared to an alternative proposal, to lift tax credits instead, which would cost the same amount of money.

The think tank produced the following table detailing who benefits from either move, which paints the difference in stark terms: Read more

Elizabeth Rigby

Labour MP Sharon Hodgson was given short shrift from the prime minister today when she asked David Cameron whether the following statement was true:

The problem is policy is being run by two public school boys who don’t know what it’s like to go to the supermarket and have to put things back on the shelves because they can’t afford it for their children’s lunchboxes. What’s worse, they don’t care either

The prime minister told the MP for Washington and Sunderland West to celebrate the fact Nissan is building a new car in Britain rather that focusing on “whatever nonsense” she had read out.

That “nonsense” actually came from his own benches in the form of the rebellious and outspoken Nadine Dorries – she made the comments to my colleague Kiran Stacey this week when asked to discuss child benefit. Hers is not a lone voice: Mark Pritchard, MP for the Wrekin, also made similar remarks to the FT about the prime minister a few days ago. Read more

Kiran Stacey

I wrote earlier this week about the options open to ministers for solving the child benefit conundrum.

To recap, the government’s current proposals to axe child benefit for higher earners lead to two problems:

  1. Families with one person earning above the threshold (around £42,000) will lose their benefit, but those with two earning just below it will keep it.
  2. The lack of any tapering means it will become a disincentive to earn a promotion that takes you just above the £42,000 mark.

The most likely answer appears to be that George Osborne will find some extra money to move the threshold to £50,000 instead. But that solves neither issue, only moves the problem higher up the income scale.

But another proposal is floating round the Treasury: to reverse the plan altogether and instead cap child benefit at a certain number of children (most likely to be three). Read more

Kiran Stacey

The government is struggling with two problems arising from its decision to cut child benefit for higher earners. They are:

1) The fairness issue. Under the current plans, a family where one person earns £43,000 and the other person receives nothing would lose the benefit, but one where both people earn £42,500 still received it.

2) The cliff edge. If you earn just below the higher-rate threshold, you actually lose money by getting a small pay-rise, because you will suddenly lose all your child benefit.

Various solutions have been floated to these two problems.

The first is that you could lift the threshold for losing child benefit to £50,000, essentially making sure it hits a smaller, wealthier section of the population. But apart from the money it costs, this actually solves neither of the above problems. Ministers might see it as a good and simple way to generate some more positive feeling around this policy, but it doesn’t fix the major issues at all.

 Read more

Kiran Stacey

Protests against Tesco's work experience schemeIain Duncan Smith was once more on the attack this morning against critics of the government’s work experience scheme, under which young people are told to sign up to a four-week placement at one of a range of businesses or lose their benefits.

The scheme has been controversial for two reasons. One is that it meant young people who were claiming benefits while looking for a job were not able to do work experience in their own chosen field; instead they had to go on a government-mandated scheme at a company such as Boots, McDonald’s, Argos, Tesco or Primark. The second is it meant some of the countries’ biggest companies profiting from free labour, which is why one activist referred to it this morning as “slavery”.

Writing in the Daily Mail, the work and pensions secretary has dismissed such criticisms however, saying:

Armed with an unjustified sense of superiority and sporting an intellectual sneer, we find a commentating elite which seems determined to belittle and downgrade any opportunity for young people that doesn’t fit their pre-conceived notion of a ‘worthwhile job’.

 Read more

Kiran Stacey

I wrote this week about talks between the Tories and Lib Dems about the possibility of lowering the cap for how much workers can put into their pension pots while still enjoying tax relief.

Since then a couple of pensions experts have got in touch to explain some further implications of the measure, which mean that for two reasons, it could be more controversial than I first realised.

Firstly, I suggested that people enjoying the maximum 50% tax break enjoy a 50p top-up to their pension pot for every £1 they put in.

In fact, the relief is worth even more, because the amount is a tax relief calculated on pre-tax income. So if you qualify for the 50% relief, and put in £1, your tax is waived, meaning that the government has essentially put in 50p of the £1 you put it. Cancelling this for some people would therefore be even more of a blow than I first calculated.

 Read more

Kiran Stacey

The Liberal Democrats have a problem. They have staked their colours clearly to the mast when it comes to raising the minimum threshold for income tax to £10,000. Most expect it to be done by the end of the parliament, if not by 2014.

The problem is, this will cost money – £4bn if it’s done by 2015, £5.5bn if it’s done by 2014 – and there isn’t much of it floating around. Lib Dems will tell you they are keen on two options to pay for this: one is to clamp down on tax avoidance; the other is to tax the pension contributions made by higher earners.

Both options are likely to make some kind of appearance in the Budget in March. But it is the latter that raises the serious money, and carries potentially serious risks for the coalition. Read more

Kiran Stacey

When George Osborne told the country last November that he was going to miss the target of eliminating the current structural deficit by 2015, Labour were quick to tell everyone how the chancellor’s economic gamble had failed.

Not only was Osborne having to borrow more to pay for this failure, the opposition claimed that he was even now having to borrow more than Alistair Darling would have done under his deficit reduction plan. That claim was illustrated by this graph, showing the course of borrowing under Darling’s 2010 plan and Osborne’s modified 2011 plan:

 Read more

Kiran Stacey

David Cameron was asked in today’s prime minister’s questions about the critical report from the government’s auditors on the government’s flagship back to work scheme.

The National Audit Office warned that providers of the £5bn Work Programme are working to overly-ambitious targets which they might not meet. They believe that out of the group of people who are easiest to get into work, only just over a quarter will be successfully placed. That compares to government estimates of 40 per cent.

The prime minister tried to brush off the problem during PMQs, sayign the risk was not to the taxpayer, but to the providers themselves:

The basic point is the Work Programme is not putting the taxpayers at risk, it is putting providers at risk. It is about payment by results, it is about getting things the previous government never did.

 Read more

Kiran Stacey

It was no surprise that Ed Miliband led on the economy today, on the day that GDP figures showed a drop in output in the last quarter of last year.

The Labour leader’s questioning was more effective than usual. He has a new line that looks like it could pay off:

He and his chancellor are the byword for smug, self-satisfied complacency.

It certainly gives us all some relief from the previous ubiquitous epithet Labour applied to the prime minister and his party of “out of touch”. Read more

Kiran Stacey

I wrote in today’s FT about how Labour’s Lords operation has helped delay or even stall several significant government bill in the upper chamber, including the health, welfare and legal aid bills.

Today, it is the welfare bill that is in question, with Labour, the Lib Dems and crossbenchers lining up to vote for a range of amendments that would change plans to impose a £26,000 cap on overall benefit payments for any one family.

As I mention in my piece, part of the reason the government has already suffered four defeats on this bill is that the opposition whipping operation, led by Lord Bassam, has been particularly effective. Labour has drummed up a core of Lib Dems and crossbenchers willing to oppose the coalition on a whole raft of measures, and is inflicting some real damage.

Now minsters will either have to make significant changes to the bill in the Commons or hope they can simply face down peers if it is going to pass in time for the Queen’s speech, which will probably be in May. Read more