UK News

Insights from the UK and beyond

A lifeline or a time bomb?

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Chancellor Alistair Darling has delivered a 20 billion pound fiscal stimulus package to get the nation spending again and mitigate the worst effects of the downturn.

He cut VAT to 15 from 17.5 percent just in time for Christmas shopping – a move he said would put some 12.5 billion pounds in consumers’ pockets over 13 months. Other measures include well-leaked plans to help homeowners, small businesses, parents and pensioners.

But government borrowing will more than double to 78 billion pounds this year and 118 billion next year before starting to come down. Darling says he will bring the public finances back into balance by 2015.

The package now sets in stone the diverging approaches towards the downturn being adopted by the main two parties. Labour is effectively spending its way out of recession, the Conservatives — against the run of most independent economic advice — have opted for caution. Shadow Chancellor George Osborne said the plans amounted to “putting a time bomb,” set to explode in the future, under the nation’s finances.

Boosting the economy: lower taxes, higher spending or both?

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Prime Minister Gordon Brown has suggested he will push expansionary fiscal policies to help boost the economy. Brown’s comments were the latest in a series from him and Chancellor Alistair Darling stressing the importance of boosting the economy, which shrank in the third quarter of 2008 for the first time in 16 years and is expected to contract more sharply next year.

Bank of England Governor Mervyn King has also put his weight behind “some fiscal stimulus”, just as the Bank predicted in its quarterly inflation report that the economy would shrink sharply next year.

Will the bank package work?

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creditcrunch.jpgThey were widely accused of dithering earlier this week but Gordon Brown and Chancellor Alistair Darling have now finally caught up with events and have tried for the first time to overtake them by unveiling a 50-billion pound rescue package for the banks.

The aim is to bolster their balance sheets, increase confidence in them and get them lending again so ordinary financial life can start anew.

At last — decisive action

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blurry-screen-traders2008.jpgNewspapers generally praised the government move to shore up the banks, saying that whatever the prospects for the success of the “stability and reconstruction plan,” to have done nothing would have been infinitely worse.

They noted how fleeting the effect of the far larger U.S. bank bailout has been so far and called for the UK plan to be accompanied by cuts in interest rates by the Bank of England and concerted action on an international scale.

Do we need a bank bail-out?

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darling1.jpgEU leaders went to Paris at the weekend and vowed solemnly to co-operate in their handling of the credit crisis. By Monday all bets were off as different countries either broke ranks or strained at the leash in their desire to protect their own private savers first by offering blanket guarantees.

That spectacle has raised all manner of questions — should there be a continental banking regulator for example, to fill the gap between the various central banks and the global regulators like the IMF? 

Brown needs Darling in these troubled times

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    One thing looks certain after Alistair Darling’s speech to***the Labour Party conference on Monday — he’ll be Chancellor of***the Exchequer for a while yet.******    Prime Minister Gordon Brown is expected to reshuffle his***ministerial team next week and there’s been a lot of speculation***that Darling could lose his job and be moved to another***department.******    The silver-haired finance minister has had a rough ride***lately. The economy is on the brink of recession and his***comments in a magazine interview saying the economic challenges***were the greatest in 60 years caused a furore and were blamed***for sinking the pound.******    But delegates at the Labour conference today just loved him.***They stood and clapped and then they clapped some more after***Darling hit out at unfettered capitalism and the huge payouts***given to bankers that he said helped cause the credit crunch.******    Darling looked genuinely embarrassed. He called for them to***stop but the delegates just went on. Besides modesty, the***finance minister had another reason for wanting them to stop.******    He had another type of conference call to attend to. A G7***one. The finance ministers and central bankers of the rich***nations club were having a hastily-arranged telephone chat at***1230 London time to discuss the latest bout of market turmoil.******    Given London’s position as one of the world’s top financial***centres, Darling could hardly miss out and he rushed off the***stage to get on with his G7 buddies.******    The crisis also looks to have cemented Darling’s position.***It would seem odd to remove the finance minister when the whole***world financial system is in the middle of the biggest upheaval***in a generation.******    With Brown making his economic experience a key selling***point, he needs Darling on side.

‘What on earth was Darling talking about?’ – media ask

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darling.jpgThe media is still confused about the motives behind the Chancellor’s observation that “(the times we’re facing) are arguably the worst they’ve been in 60 years”.

What about the 27 percent inflation and 12 percent unemployment rates the country endured during the 1970s and 1980s, they ask?

Energy windfall tax — lifeline or legalised piracy?

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filling-up-danchung.jpg A union leader has called for a windfall tax on oil companies after BP reported a big rise in profits.

Supporters say this “Robin Hood” tactic would help hard-pressed households struggling to meet eye-watering energy and petrol bills.

Can the government be trusted with your personal data?

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darling1.jpg“Woefully inadequate”, “a muddle-through ethos”, “a lack of awareness” – just some of the phrases used in scathing reports to describe data protection practices at the HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

The inquiries followed Britain’s biggest data loss scandal, when two discs containing child benefit records, including names, addresses and bank details, of some 25 million people, went missing after being put in the post by a junior employee.

Little substance to mortgage lenders “help” for borrowers

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houses2.jpgThe trade body for the mortgage industry has written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. In its letter to Alistair Darling, the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) outlines the range of steps that lenders are, apparently, taking to minimise problems borrowers may face in the wake of the credit crunch — and help limit the number of property repossessions. Its members have committed to four “significant specific measures”. These are, in the CML’s own words:

* To analyse their existing arrears management policies and implement any changes identified as a result of the industry guidance which we (the CML) are preparing. The guidance will be informed by the feedback we receive from the FSA (Financial Services Authority) on its thematic work on arrears management. We hope the industry guidance will in due course be confirmed by the FSA, but we are at a very early stage of this process.

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