The Great Debate UK

Is controlling your own pension really a good thing?

A central pillar of George Osborne’s 2014 budget was the announcement that pensioners will no longer have to buy an annuity upon retirement and that they would have more control of their pensions pots, including the freedom to withdraw cash without incurring penalty tax changes.

This is a true blue move that has Conservative values right at its heart – giving retirees the right to do what they want with their money. While in most instances being freed from the shackles of government is something to be celebrated, in this instance a little government paternalism can be a good thing.

On paper it’s easy to see why the government has stopped forcing people to buy annuities – their dismal pay-outs in an era of record low interest rates were a major bugbear for today’s retirees (and next year’s voters in the general election). Indeed, some annuities come with so many punitive conditions and get-out clauses that you would have been better burning your money rather than buying one in recent years.

However, at heart an annuity in retirement is not a bad idea, especially in an era when firms can no longer afford to fund defined benefit pension schemes. Rather than cold shoulder the annuity the way that Osborne did, he should have worked with the pensions industry to make annuities a more reliable product for the UK’s large cohort of retirees. Osborne could be accused of dealing with this problem far too late into this government; after all if interest rates start to rise from next year, as expected, then annuities could become more attractive.

Backing up the rhetoric

John Angood–John Angood is Tax Senior Manager at BDO LLP. The opinions expressed are his own.–

Confidence up. Inflation down. Exports up. Unemployment down. Growth forecasts up.  With this backdrop it must have been difficult for George Osborne to draw up his fifth Budget. But what we have ended up with is a Budget for blue rinsers rather than businesses. He obviously thinks that everything is heading in the right direction with the economy and exports so there is no need to do much, despite all the supportive rhetoric around helping businesses.

Osborne’s pre-election gimmicks do little to address Britain’s long-term economic problems

Richard Wellings

–Dr Richard Wellings is Deputy Editorial Director at the Institute of Economic Affairs. The opinions expressed are his own.–

History is unlikely to be kind to George Osborne. Four years after he became chancellor, the national debt has exploded, the budget deficit remains at dangerously high levels, and an increasing share of tax revenues must be devoted to repaying creditors.

Predictions and wish list for the Chancellor’s 2014 Budget

–John Angood is Tax Senior Manager at BDO LLP. The opinions expressed are his own.-

With the next general election just over a year away, it is likely Chancellor George Osborne will want to keep his powder dry and hold back any vote winning announcements for the Conservative Party manifesto or for the election campaign itself. That said, there are pressures from both the UK public (especially those experiencing the continued squeeze on household incomes) and businesses that are continuing to experience the effects of the recession. With this in mind, I have set out below what I think could happen on Wednesday, and some of the measures I’d like to see introduced.

Budget day: Politics not economics

–Sam Hill is Senior UK economist at RBC. The opinions expressed are his own.–

The headlines generated by the forthcoming UK budget are likely to be political rather than economic; the general election is next year. Despite a faster than expected fall in unemployment and inflation, macroeconomic developments since the December autumn statement present limited scope for forecast revisions to government borrowing. But come the post-budget analysis, some of the seemingly esoteric revised economic assumptions may have important consequences for how the budget is perceived politically.

Budget preview: Don’t expect pyrotechnics

–Nick Beecroft is Chairman, Saxo Capital Markets, Saxo Bank. The opinions expressed are his own.–

Those expecting a rivetingly exciting spectacle when the chancellor announces his budget next Wednesday will be in for disappointment, but that doesn’t mean that this won’t be an intensely political budget, given this really represents his last chance to make changes which will be fully appreciated by the electorate by the next general election. Having said this, his room for manoeuvre is limited, and the effect on the overall fiscal balance will be minimal.

Budget background: Dark with light patches

–Laurence Copeland is a professor of finance at Cardiff University Business School. The opinions expressed are his own.–

Spring has sprung.

The grass has riz.

I wonder when the Budget is….

On 19th March actually or, more importantly in this age of nonstop campaigning, six weeks before the European elections and barely a year away from the general election. Since the 2015 Budget will be too late to affect our wallets before we go to the polls, this is George Osborne’s last chance to reassure us that the economic situation is under control. Will he be able to resist the temptation to give us a reward for our patience through four years of austerity and to reassure us that the misery is nearly over?

from The Great Debate:

Where does Britain stand in the global economic race?

Following the international financial crisis of the late 2000s, the world’s financial leaders have been working towards a standardized banking system that will strengthen banks at an individual level, and thus improve the banking sector’s ability to survive stress when it occurs.

In 2010 the Basel Committee produced a third accord outlining a set of regulations, with the goal of solving the banking system's ongoing problems. Since then the conversation has yet to cease over whether enough has been done, since the peak of the crisis in 2008, to ensure a stable financial environment that supports growth on an international scale.

Bank of England’s focus on growth might stir ghost of inflation

–Darren Williams is Senior European Economist at AllianceBernstein. The opinions expressed are his own.–

The Bank of England appears to have moved the goalposts. After 30 years of focusing almost exclusively on inflation, monetary policy is now being more explicitly directed toward generating faster growth and lower unemployment.

UK recovery, but not on the high street

It was only a few days ago that George Osborne declared victory on economic malaise saying that the UK economy has turned a corner. The economic data has improved dramatically in the last six months, which gave Osborne a battering ram to launch a political attack on the Labour Party. Osborne used his moment in the sun to prove Ed Balls and all on the other side of the political bench wrong, saying that his austerity programme is right for Britain.

However, a little over 24 hours after Osborne’s speech a report from the Local Data Company made for uncomfortable reading as it detailed grim conditions on the UK’s high streets. High Street vacancy rates remain stubbornly high; out of 650 town centres in the UK the average vacancy rate is 14.1 percent, which is basically unchanged since February.

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