Scale Of Spending Cuts Laid Bare In TV Debate

(Telegraph) – THE TRUE SCALE of the public spending pain that awaits whichever party wins the election was laid bare by the unanimous verdict of the Chancellor and his Conservative and Liberal Democrat counterparts in a live television debate.

During the debate on Channel 4 Alistair Darling, George Osborne and Vince Cable were asked how deep cuts will need to be to restore Britain’s economic credibility. They all agreed that the cuts would have to be tougher than those imposed by Baroness Thatcher in the 1980s.

The discussion was a curtain-raiser for the party leaders’ ground-breaking television debates that will take place once the election is called.

The Chancellor last week surprised other Labour figures when he allowed himself to make the comparison with the Conservative government of the 1980s.

All three men are likely to be privately happy with their performance but no one managed to land a knockout blow.

There had been concerns from some in Tory ranks that Mr Osborne would struggle to make an impact, but in the 50 minute debate he stood his ground on the key economic issues and made Mr Darling shift uneasily over Labour’s plans for a death tax.

Mr Cable, who claimed he was the only politician of the three to have experience of industry and the only one to have warned of the impending crash, was able to tap into the audience’s apparent distrust of the other two parties. He was applauded and got one of the very rare laughs from the Channel 4 audience.

Mr Osborne had to withstand what appeared at times to be an attempt by Mr Darling and Mr Cable to gang-up on him. Mr Cable, who got more applause from the studio audience than his two counterparts from the main parties, got very personal in his final comments.

The Liberal Democrat treasury spokesman warned that Mr Osborne and his party wanted “another chance to get their noses in the trough and reward their rich friends.”

He added that the Conservatives has “wasted” the revenues from North Sea gas and had “presided over two recessions.”

But Mr Osborne kept his cool and made a direct appeal to voters saying they would be able to make the choice between change or more of the same after 13 years of Labour failure.

He said: “They [Labour] took one of the strongest countries in Europe and we are now one of the weakest.”

And he hit back at Mr Cable, by pointing out that the choice was Conservative or Labour because “there is not going to be a Liberal Democrat government.”

The shadow chancellor has been under pressure in recent weeks to show that he can articulate the true scale of the problems facing the country and translate it into vote winning rhetoric. He repeatedly referred to how it was the “audience’s money” and “the people at home” who were paying for Labour mismanagement of the economy.

But the debate was also characterised by a number of areas on which the three parties seemed in agreement. They included the new 50p tax rate for top earners, reform of public sector pensions the need to keep options open on future VAT increases.

Mr Darling attempted to seize on Mr Osborne’s decision yesterday to say that Whitehall cost savings would be used to reverse part of Labour’s planned National Insurance rise.

The Chancellor said Mr Osborne was taking an “irresponsible risk” and accused him of showing “poor, poor judgement.”

In the immediate aftermath of the debate Ladbrokes cut the odds on the Conservatives winning a majority from 4-6 to 8-13.

But in a sign that Mr Cable was probably the winner of the debate his odds on delivering the next Budget – as a Chancellor in a coalition government – were cut from 16-1 to 12-1.

David Williams of Ladbrokes said: “Vince put in the expected wily performance, but Osborne not falling down as some had predicted was a plus point for the Conservatives.”

Mr Cable also won the largest share of the Channel 4 viewers’ cote as the show came to a close. Mr Cable received 36 per cent of the vote, Mr Darling 32 per cent and Mr Osborne 31 per cent.

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National Debt Will Hit £1.5 Trillion

(Telegraph) – BRITAIN’S NATIONAL DEBT will hit £1.5 trillion after the Government was forced to increase its borrowing plans again.

In his pre-Budget report, Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, set out plans to borrow almost £800 billion over six years after the sharpest economic contraction in modern history inflicted more damage on the public finances.

Mr Darling said his plans for tax rises and spending curbs will halve the Government’s annual deficit over four years.

But Treasury figures show that the accumulated stock of outstanding Government debt will go on rising for at least six years.

Figures in the Treasury’s pre-Budget report documents reveal that in 2014/15, the national debt will be £1,473 billion. That is 77.7 per cent of gross domestic product

The debt currently stands at £798 billion, or 55.6 per cent of GDP.

Servicing the Government’s growing debt will cost increasing amounts of money.

Debt interest will cost £30.7 billion this year. That is £3.5 billion more than the Treasury had expected.

Next year, debt interest will be £44.8 billion, a £1.5 billion increase and more than the operating budget of the Ministry of Defence.

Earlier this year, Mr Darling set out plans for the biggest programme of borrowing ever undertaken in peacetime.

Today, the Chancellor admitted that weaker-than-expected growth figures have forced him to raise his deficit figures still further.

In 2009/10, the Government will spend £178 billion more than it raises in tax, Mr Darling said. That is £3 billion more than the record-breaking figure he forecast at the Budget in April, and equal to equal to 12.6 per cent of the entire UK economy.

Next year, borrowing will also be higher, at £176 billion.

In total, from this year until 2014/15, the Government will spend £789 billion more than it raises.

In the Budget in April, Mr Darling said the economy would shrink by 3.5 per cent. Yesterday, he admitted the decline will be 4.75 per cent, the worst since the Second World War.

But when he listed the contractions in other leading economies, he gave the figures for the entire downturn, saying that Germany has shrunk 5.6 per cent and Italy 5.9 per cent.

On the same basis, the “cumulative economic contraction” of the UK is 5.9 per cent.

George Osborne accused Mr Darling of a “sleight of hand” over the figures.

Mr Darling said he is sticking to his forecast of growth next year between 1 per cent and 1.5 per cent. In the following two years, it will be 3.5 per cent, he said.

“I am confident that the UK economy will start to grow again by the turn of the year,” Mr Darling said. “Whilst I am confident that the UK economy is on the road to recovery, we cannot be complacent.”

Treasury officials said the “paper loss” the Government has suffered on its shares in RBS and Lloyds Banking Group was the main cause of the increased borrowing.

Despite the sharp economic slowdown, the Treasury still expects tax revenues this year to be higher than it forecast at the Budget: revenues from stamp duty and VAT have exceeded expectations, as house prices and retail sales have remained robust.

Social security costs are slightly lower than the Treasury expected, because unemployment has not hit 3 million.

Darling’s Pre-Budget Report

IN HIS PRE-BUDGET REPORT (PBR), delivered to Parliament this afternoon, Alistair Darling was forced to admit that the recession in the UK had been worse than he predicted last year.

He said the economy would shrink by 4.75% in 2009 compared with his Budget estimate in April of 3.5% — and the public finances were also deeper in the red with a deficit of £178bn this year compared with the £175bn he had predicted.

The key points in his speech were these:-

  • Economy forecast to shrink 4.75% in 2009, worse than 3.5% forecast in April
  • Growth of 1%-1.5% expected in 2010 and 3.5% in 2011 and 2012
  • Forecast borrowing of £178bn in 2009, £3bn higher than predicted in April
  • Estimated borrowing of £176bn in 2010 and £140bn in 2011, falling to £96bn in 2013
  • Budget deficit to be halved by 2013
  • Estimated public cost of bank bailouts cut from £50bn to £10bn
  • Total spending in 2010-11 to rise by £31bn.
  • Current spending to fall by 0.8% between 2011-2 and 2014-5
  • One-off 50% tax on bank bonuses of more than £25,000
  • Inheritance tax to be frozen at £325,000 until 2011
  • VAT to return to 17.5% from 15% from 1 January 2010. No other changes to VAT
  • All national insurance rates to rise by 0.5% from April 2011
  • Increase in corporation tax for small businesses to be deferred
  • Stamp duty holiday on certain properties to end on 1 January 2010
  • Under-24s to be guaranteed work or training after six months out of work
  • Basic state pension will rise by 2.5% in April 2010
  • Child and disability benefit to rise by 1.5% in 2010
  • Contributions to public sector pensions to be cut by £1bn a year
  • All public sector pay settlements to be capped at 1% for two years from 2011
  • Bingo duty to be cut from 22% to 20%
  • £160m investment in low-carbon and renewable projects
  • £200m extra investment for Warm Front insulation scheme, helping 65,000 households
  • Boiler scrappage scheme for 125,000 households
  • Electric cars to be exempt from company car tax for five years
  • New 50p tax on landline phones to pay for superfast broadband
  • New 10% tax on income from patents to boost science development
  • Free school meals to an extra 500,000 low income families

Mr Darling rose to his feet and said this:-

Mr Speaker, today’s Pre-Budget Report takes place at a critical time for our economy and for our country. Governments across the world have taken co-ordinated steps to deal with the biggest financial crisis for over half a century.

In the UK, our action has reduced the impact of this downturn on families and businesses; but there is still uncertainty. So the task today is to secure the recovery and promote long-term growth.

To promote growth, we need to invest in the dynamic sectors of the future – in digital, bio and low-carbon technology. I will announce measures that will support these industries.

To promote growth, we also need to invest in the skills of young people to prevent a lost generation of youth unemployment. I will announce measures to guarantee work opportunities for the young.

And to promote growth we need as well to maintain support until the recovery is secured and to halve the deficit over four years, in an orderly way, which does not threaten the investment vital for our future.

The choices are between going for growth or putting the recovery at risk. To reduce the deficit while protecting front-line services or cuts which put these services in danger.

This Pre-Budget Report is about building a fairer society and securing opportunity for all.

Mr Speaker, when I delivered the Pre-Budget Report just over 12 months ago, we were faced with the sharpest and most widespread global downturn in generations. The near collapse of the financial system quickly fed through into the wider global economy. World trade went down sharply. Unemployment sharply up across the world. Families and businesses in every continent felt the pain. Governments around the world intervened to rescue the banking system.

We supported our economies, with tax cuts, increased government spending and co-ordinated action to lower interest rates and to boost money supply.

None were easy choices. Some even argued that we should not have acted; but as a result of these actions, there is growing evidence that global confidence is returning. The US housing market, which triggered the crisis, is stabilising. So is the housing market here. Global manufacturing is up almost 6 per cent. World stock markets by 30 per cent.

Mr Speaker, as the world’s largest financial centre, the turmoil in the banking sector has had a substantial effect on the UK. With more homeowners than in Europe, a global slump in property prices hit confidence hard in this country.

As the sixth biggest exporter of goods and second largest exporter of services, our trade has been hit. But as demand picks up abroad – as is already happening – British businesses will benefit. So I am confident that the UK economy will start growing by the turn of the year.

However, Mr Speaker, across the world, there remain risks to the recovery.

Oil prices are volatile. Recent market reaction to financial problems in Dubai highlights just how fragile world confidence remains. So while I am confident that the UK economy is on the road to recovery, we can’t be complacent. And we must continue to support the economy until recovery is established. To cut support now could wreck the recovery – that’s a risk I am not prepared to take.

Mr Speaker, this time last year we recognised the exceptional trading difficulties that business was facing. In the past, inaction by government to support firms led to widespread – and avoidable – business failure. I was determined that we didn’t repeat this mistake.

In an unprecedented move, I cut VAT to 15 per cent for a year to put over £11bn into the pockets of consumers and retailers. This countered the impact on businesses of the global credit squeeze and the collapse in consumer demand when it was needed most.

I can confirm that VAT will return to 17.5 per cent on January 1 as planned. Mr Speaker, I have no other changes in VAT to announce.

To ease problems with cash-flow and access to bank lending, we deferred tax rises and extended tax allowances for businesses. Because we chose to intervene, the rate of business insolvencies is far lower than would have been expected.

In the recession of the early 90s proportionally twice as many businesses went under.

Mr Speaker, while some measures such as the VAT cut, the Working Capital and Trade Credit Insurance Scheme are finishing, it is right to extend others while uncertainty remains. The Time to Pay scheme has helped over 160,000 businesses spread their tax payments over a timetable they can afford. They get additional time when they need it most – and, because firms continue trading, the likelihood of companies paying the tax owed increases. So I have decided that the scheme will be extended for as long as is needed.

Last year, I temporarily increased the threshold for empty property relief to help small businesses. I can announce it will be extended so that, for 2010-11, empty commercial properties with a rateable value below £18,000 will be exempt from business rates. Seventy per cent of all empty properties will continue to be exempt.

I have one further announcement to help small businesses. I have decided to defer the increase in corporation tax for smaller companies. This will leave the 2010 tax rate unchanged for 850,000 small businesses – helping them until recovery is secured.

Mr Speaker, in the early 1990s, hundreds of thousands of families lost their homes. I did not want to see this repeated. So we introduced a comprehensive range of measures to allow families to stay in their homes and to help young couples onto the housing ladder. As a result, repossessions are now running at around half the rate of the recession of the early 90s. By the time the stamp duty holiday finishes at the end of this month, I expect 240,000 homebuyers to have been helped. But, with unemployment still likely to rise, it would not be right to withdraw all support now for homeowners.

Last year, I improved the Support for Mortgage Interest scheme to provide better cover for mortgage interest payments for those who had lost their jobs. Over 220,000 people have been helped so far. I have decided this additional support will be extended for a further six months. There will, of course, be a cost to this and other continued Government support. But the cost to families of losing their home would be immense. And it would be a false economy for the country. For the more successful these measures are in restoring confidence to the housing market, the lower the cost will be to the Exchequer.

Mr Speaker, the best way of avoiding repossessions is to help people stay in work or re-enter the labour market quickly. Such a deep global recession was always going to have a damaging impact on employment. The bleak news last week that Corus is to shut its Teesside plant underlined that the reduction in global demand will have an impact on jobs for some time to come. That’s why yesterday I agreed, with the SoS for Business, to provide £30m from within existing resources to help industry in Teesside.

Again no Government, even during times of the strongest economic growth, can prevent every job loss. Unemployment has risen in the UK and will keep rising for some time. But it remains lower than in France, Canada, the United States and the euro area. In fact, even now there are 2.5m more people in work than there were in 1997.

Because of our values of fairness and opportunity, promoting employment has always been – and remains – a top priority for this Government. Unemployment can never be a price worth paying.

As the global recession hit our country, we responded by bringing forward investment in vital infrastructure projects to protect jobs – and finding an additional £3bn to help people find new work quicker. We expanded the Job Centre Plus network and offered support through the Rapid Response Service to staff in 3,000 firms hit by redundancies. Help including training, volunteering and recruitment subsidies has been offered for those still unemployed after six months.

Mr Speaker, it is clear that we are making a difference. Unemployment has increased much less than expected by independent forecasters. If we had seen the same rate of job loss, relative to GDP, as we saw in the early 1990s, four times as many people would have lost their jobs. Despite the severity of the global recession, the claimant count today stands at 1.6m compared to three million reached in 1985 and 1992.

Our comprehensive support means a short spell in unemployment is not turning into a lifetime on benefits, as happened in the recessions of the 1980s and 90s. Indeed, over 3m people have been helped off the claimant count in the last year.

Despite this support, Mr Speaker, there are groups who need more help. Past recessions have had a very damaging impact on young people, who should be starting their working lives, but instead were unemployed. Our package of support for the young already includes a place for every 16 and 17 year-old in education or training. I intend to provide funding so that this guarantee will be available to school-leavers again next September.

In the Budget I went further, and announced that every 18-24 year-old will be guaranteed work or training after 12 months out-of-work. I don’t want them to have to wait that long, so I am bringing this forward. I have decided that from next month no-one under-24 needs to be unemployed for longer than six months before being guaranteed work or training.

Mr Speaker, in the past, older people were allowed – indeed often encouraged – to drift into permanent unemployment. We can’t afford to write off this experience. So we will ensure the over-50s receive specialist and tailored support, to equip them with the confidence and skills needed to get a job.

We also want to encourage those who want to stay working part-time after they reach retirement age and make work pay for everyone, regardless of their age.

To make it easier for those over 65 to receive Working Tax Credit, we will reduce the minimum number of hours they need to work to be eligible.

Mr Speaker, we chose not to let people sink when they lost their jobs but to intervene to help them stay afloat. This is good for the individuals, their families and also the wider economy, boosting spending and, in turn, creating new jobs. The more successful our targeted support, the more likely that the rise in unemployment will be lower than expected and therefore cost the country less – as has already happened.

Government action has made a real difference.

Mr Speaker, the worldwide recession has had an impact on all families. And it is often the most vulnerable who are affected most, including those on modest incomes who have been put on shorter hours.

The Government’s flexible tax credits system has risen to the challenge of the downturn, delivering substantial support to families to compensate for this loss of pay. So far this year, because of tax credits 400,000 families whose income has fallen have benefited from this extra help – on average £37 more per week. For those who doubt the value of tax credits, here is the proof that they work.

The recession has also had other effects – for the first time in half a century, the Retail Prices Index has been negative for much of this year. This helps families with the cost of essential goods. But many benefits and tax credits are also linked to the September RPI.

RPI inflation last September was minus 1.4 per cent. This would have meant no increase in these benefits in April. I do not believe that such a freeze would be fair. I can confirm the basic state pension will not be frozen, but will rise by 2.5per cent in April – a real terms increase of nearly 4 per cent.

I can also tell the House that, from the Budget, I will cut bingo duty from 22 to 20 per cent.

I also want to help families receiving other benefits linked to the inflation figures – such as child benefit and some disability benefits. These benefits will rise by 1.5 per cent in April.

Mr Speaker, we are committed to helping people back into work, and making work pay. I have decided to roll-out across the country a guarantee, that anyone in work will always be better off than they were on benefits. If this is not already the case, they will be guaranteed extra money from the Government making sure that work really does pay for everyone and encouraging more people to re-enter the labour market.

So, Mr Speaker, we are continuing to provide targeted support for people and businesses, as we secure the recovery.

Mr Speaker, across world economies, the first half of this year saw a sharper deterioration than had been expected. This is also true here in the UK.

Up to the third quarter of this year, the global recession has meant a cumulative economic contraction of:  3.2 per cent in the US;  5.6 per cent in Germany;* 5.9 per cent in Italy;  and 7.7 per cent in Japan.

Over the year as a whole, the UK economy is expected to have contracted by 4.75 per cent this year. But as I forecast at the Budget, I expect a return to growth in the fourth quarter.

Next year, I forecast growth of between 1 and 1.5 per cent – as I said at the Budget.

Because of the underlying strength of our economy, the pick-up in world demand, and the substantial spare capacity opened up by the recession, my Budget forecast, broadly in line with the Bank of England, of growth of 3.5 percent in 2011 and 2012 remains unchanged.

But this growth will come from more varied sources and not depend as much on the financial sector which will, of course, remain an important part of our economy.

Growth will be driven by fresh opportunities to export as the global economy expands and by investment by business in the key industries of the future.

It is growth which I am determined to support in this Pre-Budget Report.

Mr Speaker, partly because of the reversal of the VAT cut, consumer inflation will rise from 1 ½ per cent to around 3 per cent early next year, before falling back. The Bank of England expects inflation to then fall below target and reach 1 ½ per cent by the end of next year.

Mr Speaker, the global recession has had an impact on the public finances in every country, with tax revenues falling and spending increasing to support the economy. Here in the UK, the financial sector, which provided over a quarter of all corporate tax revenues, has been hard hit. Revenues from stamp duty and income tax are sharply down. And it will take time for tax revenues to recover.

Mr Speaker, our steps to maintain stability in the banking sector have also had an impact on the public finances. At the Budget, given the extreme uncertainty at the time, I made a provisional £50bn estimate of possible taxpayer losses from our interventions in the financial sector. These risks have now significantly diminished, because of the successful intervention of governments to support the global financial system.

Lloyds Banking Group, for example, has been able to raise capital from the markets and is not receiving Government support in the Asset Protection Scheme. We have also restructured RBS’s participation in this scheme, so that there are no expected losses for the taxpayer. Other banks are also in a much more stable situation.

As a result, I can revise down my provision for any potential impact on the public finances from £50bn to around £10bn. But our objective remains to get all the taxpayers’ money back, on top of the fees charged for supporting banks through this crisis.

Mr Speaker, I have been clear that support during the downturn must go hand-in-hand with steps to rebuild our fiscal strength once recovery is firmly established. Backed by legislation introduced today, the Government will ensure: public sector net borrowing, as a share of GDP, falls every year and is more than halved by 2013-14; and net debt, as a share of GDP, is falling in 2015-16.

I believe this is a sensible timetable. To consolidate too soon, too quickly or too indiscriminately, as some have proposed, risks delaying the recovery and threatening a longer recession. When Japan tightened prematurely in the 1990s it pushed the economy back into recession, making debt and deficits much higher, not lower.

Mr Speaker, taken together, this Pre-Budget report secures a fall in borrowing each year until 2013-14, to meet our deficit reduction plan.

At the Budget, I forecast that public sector net borrowing would be £175bn this year and fall to £97bn in 2013-14.

Because of the severity of the recession my forecast for borrowing this year is £178bn. Next year it will fall to £176bn.

And, as the economy recovers and the deficit reduction plan starts to take effect, then falls to: £140bn;  £117bn; and reaches £96bn in 2013-14, slightly lower than I forecast in April; before falling to £82bn in 2014-15.

As a share of GDP, borrowing will be: 12.6 per cent this year, 12 per cent next, then 9.1 per cent, 7.1 per cent, 5.5 per cent in 2013-14, and falls to 4.4 per cent in 2014-15.

Excluding public sector investment, or capital spending, and taking into account the economic cycle, the budget deficit is expected to fall to 1.9 per cent by the end of the forecast period.

Mr Speaker, public sector debt has increased in every G20 country as a result of this global recession. Net debt as a share of GDP is expected to reach 82 per cent in Germany, 83 per cent in France and 85 per cent in the United States.

As a result of the lower provision for possible losses on our financial sector interventions, I can forecast net debt will reach 56 per cent of GDP this year. It will then increase to 65 per cent next year and 78 per cent by the end of the forecast period in 2014-15. Net debt, as a share of GDP, will begin to fall the year after that. Even at its peak, debt will be in line with the average for the other G7 economies.

Mr Speaker, I believe we have made the right choices to help the country through the recession when we could have chosen to do nothing.

We also need to make the right choices to reduce the deficit. At the Budget I set out how we would do this, by encouraging growth now and in the future, with fair tax increases, and with tighter control of public spending. I now want to set out further details of how we will achieve this deficit reduction plan.

The combination of the talents of the British people and today’s low inflation and low interest rate environment provides us with a strong platform to meet our ambition of long-term sustainable growth. So, too, does having the most flexible labour market in Europe, the lowest rate of corporation tax in the G7 and a competition regime among the best in the world. It is why we are judged as one of the best locations to do business and attract inward investment.

I am determined to build on these strengths today by: maintaining our leadership in the low-carbon sector; boosting investment in our national infrastructure and skills; supporting our world-class hi-tech industries.

In line with this Pre-Budget Report being neutral overall, two thirds of the targeted measures that I will now announce come from within existing budgets.

Mr Speaker, for businesses to expand and grow, they need access to credit.

Following intervention by the Government, total bank loans to businesses today are above where they were when the crisis hit in 2007.

We have seen over £50bn in new business loans from RBS and Lloyds alone. But unsurprisingly, at the same time, other businesses have reacted to the uncertainty by repaying existing loans. Which is why net lending as a whole is down.

I am very aware that some small and medium businesses still encounter difficulties getting loans. As recovery gets underway, we need to ensure that SMEs get the credit they need, and we are working with the banks to make sure that happens. We are also working to secure a contribution from the major banks towards a £500m Growth Capital Fund, which will invest specifically in small business. We will announce further details shortly.

Mr Speaker, in January we launched the Enterprise Finance Guarantee which has already offered government guarantees on bank loans to over 6,000 businesses. Today I have decided to extend this scheme for a further 12 months which will guarantee a further £500m of loans to small businesses.

Mr Speaker, this week sees the start of the UN Conference on Climate Change, a historic opportunity for a universal agreement to tackle global warming. We can be proud that the UK has led the way – on meeting the Kyoto targets, introducing carbon budgets, and recognising too that developing countries need help to reduce their own emissions. Mr Speaker, tackling climate change will bring new opportunities for new low-carbon industries. This will create the high-skilled, high-paid jobs crucial to our future prosperity. Today I can redirect existing funding, and invest in wind power, renewable energy and other green industries.

Through the Innovation Investment Fund and the Carbon Trust’s Venture Capital scheme, we will support at least £160m of public and private investment in low carbon projects. We will also invest £90m in the European Investment Bank’s new 2020 fund, which will enable 6.5bn Euros of finance for green infrastructure projects. In addition, I can tell the House today that we will double our commitment and finance four Carbon Capture and Storage demonstration projects, to make us world-leaders in this vital area.

Mr Speaker, as well as investing in clean and low-carbon technologies, we must become more energy efficient, to cut emissions as well as household bills. The roll-out of smart meters, which will be completed by 2020, will help families identify how to become energy efficient. Improving home insulation is key. A quarter of all the country’s emissions come from households.

Already 235,000 homes have benefited from the Warm Front scheme for more efficient heating and insulation for the most vulnerable. Today I can announce an additional £200m, from April, to help with energy efficiency. An extra 75,000 households will benefit from an extension of the Warm Front scheme. This will go alongside further requirements from the energy companies, up to £300m overall, to provide discounts on energy bills to another 1m low-income households.

Mr Speaker, each inefficient boiler adds over £200 to household bills and one tonne of carbon to the atmosphere a year. Building on our successful car scrappage scheme, I will help up to 125,000 homes replace the most inefficient boilers with new models. I can also announce changes to the climate change levy, company car tax, and fuel benefit charge.

I have three more targeted measures to announce.

From April, people with a home wind turbine or solar panels who plug their excess power into the national grid, will receive on average £900 a year. I intend to make this payment tax free.

To help boost the number of electric cars on our streets, I have decided to exempt them from company car tax for 5 years.

And I can also announce a one hundred per cent first year capital allowance for electric vans.

Mr Speaker, a key component of our growth strategy is investment to keep goods and people moving. This Government has made huge strides in rebuilding the national infrastructure following years of neglect. Continued public investment here is essential to growth.

This year public sector investment reached a 30-year high and has delivered over 70 road and motorway schemes, and improved journey times across the rail network. Work is now underway on Crossrail, the Thameslink project, and from this month, the upgrade of the M1. All this work will continue. So will the rail electrification programmes for the Great Western Main Line and the North West announced in July. I can tell the House today that I have also given the go-ahead to further plans for rail electrification between Liverpool, Manchester and Preston. The SoS for Transport will announce further details shortly.

The Government will respond, as well, early next year to proposals for a new high speed rail line from London to West Midlands and to the North and Scotland.

Mr Speaker, since 1997 we have helped millions gain qualifications or training. Apprenticeships have trebled. New advanced apprenticeships will meet the skills needed in key growth sectors such as advanced manufacturing, low carbon, digital technologies, and biosciences. We also want to break down informal barriers which close off some careers to undergraduates from poorer backgrounds. I can announce we will offer financial support for up to 10,000 undergraduates from low-income backgrounds to take up short internships in industry, business and the professions. This will give them a taste of careers which they may not otherwise have considered – and further details will be announced shortly.

Mr Speaker, we are modernising the UK’s digital infrastructure and, in the process, creating thousands more skilled jobs. We have provided funding to help extend the opportunities of the broadband network to more remote communities. We now want to go further, so we can provide the next generation of super-fast broadband to 90 per cent of the population by the end of 2017. This will be funded through a duty of 50 pence a month on landlines which will be included in the Finance Bill.

Mr Speaker, the oil and gas industry are an essential part of the economy. To encourage further investment, I am today relaxing the criteria of the field allowance, to support the development of up to eight known fields, and encourage further exploration. And we will work with industry to look at how best to ensure the development of infrastructure to the west of Shetland.

Mr Speaker, we already have a tremendous track record in key growth industries. We have the leading medical biotechnology sector in Europe. Our aerospace industry is the second largest in the world. Our creative sector have increased exports by 60 per cent since 2000. All supported through our investment in science and targeted tax policy.

Mr Speaker, this country has a remarkable record of ideas and innovation. We’ve won more Nobel prizes than any country of our size. We need to do more to support this ingenuity and ensure this creativity is harnessed in this country. I want to encourage research and development in the pharmaceuticals and biotech industries. So, following consultation with business, I will introduce a 10 per cent corporation tax rate on income which stems from patents in the UK. This will help maintain jobs in science and technology in this country.

I also want to build on our world-class achievements in the field of medical research. With the Wellcome Trust, Cancer Research UK and University College London, we are working on plans to establish the largest institute in Europe for research into long-term medical challenges.

Mr Speaker, the new Strategic Investment Fund, set up in April, has already agreed vital support to hi-tech projects such as Airbus in Wales and life sciences in Scotland. We will expand this work, through £100m redirected funds and an extra £100m. By supporting the low-carbon sector, investing in our vital infrastructure and our world class industries, we will secure growth, create new jobs and provide the revenue to help rebuild our fiscal strength.

Mr Speaker, supporting growth is vital to provide the future revenue to halve borrowing over four years. But, as I have said, it also requires us to take tough decisions on tax now. I am determined that any tax increases will continue to be guided by our values of fairness and responsibility.

Mr Speaker, the banks last year made collective losses of £80bn in this country alone. This would have been much higher without the unprecedented level of support from the taxpayer. There is no bank which has not benefited, either directly or indirectly, from this help. This should be a time for banks to rebuild their capital base and become stronger. A tax on profits, as has been suggested, will prevent them from doing this. So I have decided against a windfall tax.

However, there are some banks who still believe their priority is to pay substantial bonuses to their already high-paid staff. Their priority should be to rebuild their financial strength and increase their lending. So I am giving them a choice.

They can use their profits to build up their capital base. But if they insist on paying substantial rewards, I am determined to claw money back for the taxpayer.

I have decided to introduce from today a special one-off levy of 50 per cent on any individual discretionary bonus above £25,000. This will be paid by the bank not the bank employee. Anti-avoidance measures will be introduced with immediate effect. High-paid bank staff will of course also have to pay, as usual, income tax at their top rate on any bonus they receive.

On a cautious assumption, which includes our expectation that some banks will rein back bonuses, this one-off levy is expected to yield £550m. This additional money will be used to pay for the extra measures, already announced, like help for the young and older unemployed to get back into work.

Mr Speaker, under the existing rules, the highest earners benefit disproportionately. from tax relief on pensions. At the moment, a quarter of all the money spent on pensions tax relief goes to the top 1 ½ per cent of earners. To help to make this fairer, I announced in the Budget that we would reduce pension tax relief for people with incomes over £150,000.

I want do this as fairly as possible, and treat individuals the same regardless of whether they receive their pay as current salary or as a future pension benefit, and prevent avoidance. So I have decided to include employer pension contributions in the definition of income for this tax measure. To provide certainty, I will introduce a floor, so that irrespective of the size of employer pension contributions, no one with an income below £130,000 will be affected.

Mr Speaker, I believe it is right that parents should be able to pass on savings to their children. Before the financial crisis rocked the global economy, I enabled married couples to combine their inheritance tax allowances. And this will continue. I also said that allowances would rise to reflect inflation and the expected continued increase in house prices. But I do not believe that raising this allowance can be a priority, given the impact of the downturn on the country’s finances. So I have decided to freeze the individual allowance at £325,000 for the next year. This will still mean that fewer than 3 per cent of estates will pay inheritance tax.

Mr Speaker, I have decided against any further changes to income tax rates or thresholds next year, except for some changes in what can be tax-deductible. Because RPI inflation was negative in September, this will provide a real terms benefit relative to inflation. But in April 2012 I have decided to freeze the point at which people start paying income tax at 40 per cent for one year. No-one with income below £43,000 will be affected by this change.

It’s also fair that those who should pay tax don’t escape their responsibilities. I am determined to tackle activities, such as avoidance and evasion, which undermine tax receipts.

Since the Budget, HMRC has asked for details of at least 100,000 offshore accounts held at over 300 financial institutions.

This Pre-Budget Report sets out anti-avoidance and smaller tax measures to deliver additional revenues, and protect £5bn a year of existing revenues.

These are tough, but necessary, measures to increase tax. But I have done it in a fair way. Those on modest incomes are protected. Those on middle incomes will pay more depending on their earnings. The biggest burden will fall on those with the broadest shoulders.

Today’s measures, combined with those from the Budget and last year’s Pre-Budget Report, mean over half of the additional revenue raised will be paid by the top 2 per cent of earners.

Mr Speaker, fairness in tax is a crucial part of maintaining fiscal sustainability. But the majority of the reduction in borrowing will have to come from slower growth in overall public spending. We have already set out our spending plans until April 2011.

It would be dangerous, as the head of the IMF said only a couple of weeks ago, to reduce spending too soon. So, to continue to support jobs and the economy, we have decided to stick to our spending plans for next year.

In 2010-11 total public spending will increase by £31bn, a growth rate of 2.2 per cent in real terms, providing continuing strong support for the wider economy until the recovery is firmly established. But once the recovery is secured, we must, as I made clear at the time of the Budget, reduce the rate of growth in public spending, and meet our ambitious target to halve the deficit.

Mr Speaker, we take these decisions from a position of strength. In 1997 our public services were in crisis. Chronic under-investment in health and education had taken its toll. Hospitals with too few nurses and doctors to meet the needs of patients. Schools with too few teachers, textbooks and computers. The country had failed too to invest in transport and vital national infrastructure. All damaging to our economy and prosperity.

We have worked hard to turn this round – through a combination of strong investment and far-reaching reform. So while the period ahead is going to be challenging, our public services are in a better state they have been for decades. But we have to be realistic – the spending environment will be tough over the next few years. As long as extraordinary uncertainties remain in the world economy, this is not a time for a spending review. We have already set out clear and firm departmental budgets for the next financial year, but to try and fix each department’s budget now, for the next 5 years, is neither necessary or sensible. But we can set out a clear direction, based on our economic priorities and our values as a Government.

We are clear that, following the investments made over the last decade, current spending growth can be set lower than in the past, and fall to an average of 0.8 per cent a year between 2011-12 and 2014-15. That will mean cuts to some budgets, as programmes come to an end or resources are switched to new priorities. And some programmes will need to be stopped altogether.

And we believe that, if departments can find further savings and cuts within their existing budgets, as many are already announcing, this will release resources so they can continue to improve services.

Already individual departments have made great strides in finding savings – £10bn in the NHS, £800m in education, over £400m in the police. But, even in this much tighter financial environment, we are determined to protect frontline services and sustain the improvements that have been delivered over the past decade.

The Pre-Budget Report sets out our plan to do this while halving the deficit.

Mr Speaker, first, we must make sure that we get maximum value for every pound we spend. Between 2005 and 2008, we delivered £26.5bn of annual efficiency savings – more than we promised. And between 2008 and 2011, we are delivering further efficiencies worth over 3 per cent of total department spending per year.

This week, we announced our plans to deliver another round of savings, amounting to £12bn a year by 2013-14. Abolishing quangos, cutting consultancy and marketing costs, improving procurement and streamlining back-office functions. And we will sell those assets that can be managed better by the private sector.

Second, we need to focus better on those areas that make most difference to people’s lives. We have begun a root and branch review to examine every area of government spending to drive through efficiency, cut waste and cut lower priority budgets. Today I am able to announce £5bn of savings from spending programmes, including: Phasing-in the roll-out of pension personal accounts; Cutting back on the scope of major IT projects; Reforming legal aid and outsourcing inefficient prisons; Refocusing regeneration spending so it is spent where it is needed most; Cutting the cost of residential care by supporting older people to stay in their homes. Tough choices, but necessary choices.

Third, public sector pay and pensions.

Public pensions need to be broadly in line with those offered in the private sector. So by 2012 contributions by the state to public service pensions for teachers, local government, NHS and the civil service will be capped – saving around £1bn a year.

Public sector workers will make a greater contribution to the increasing value of pensions, with those earning over £100,000 paying more. Public sector pay makes up around half of departmental spending. The senior civil service will take the lead with a cut in its pay bill of up to £100m over 3 years. And any new Government appointment over £150,000 and all bonuses over £50,000 will require explicit approval by the Treasury.

I can announce that, for the two years from 2011, we will seek to ensure that all public sector pay settlements be capped at 1 per cent.

As with previous pay decisions, we will recognise the special circumstances of the armed forces.

Mr Speaker, £12bn from greater efficiency, £5bn from scaling back or cutting lower priorities, and £4.5bn from reducing the cost of public sector pay and pensions. These are tough choices, but they are essential if we are to stick to our plan to halve the deficit and protect the frontline.

Mr Speaker, our first priority must be to make sure our armed forces have all the resources they need. The whole House will want to join me in praising the dedication and valour of our troops, especially those engaged in the conflict in Afghanistan. They deserve all our support and we must match that support with resources. For next year, I can announce that a further £2.5bn will be set aside for military operations in Afghanistan. At the same time, we will continue to improve the effectiveness of core defence spending, reducing the civilian workforce and restructuring the department.

I also want to do more to help those who have served in combat zones and are retiring from the forces. I can announce that we will allocate £5m from the expanded Strategic Investment Fund to help ex-service personnel who want to set up their own business.

Mr Speaker, in 2005, we led the way towards abolishing the debts of the poorest countries. And we have committed to doing more in the fight against global poverty. Spending on overseas aid remains a very small proportion of our overall budget. But it makes a huge difference to the lives of millions of people as well as creating a fairer world, helping build markets for our goods and countering extremism. I can confirm that we will honour our commitments – so spending on overseas aid will rise to reach 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income by 2013.

Mr Speaker, our top priority is to protect those services which are absolutely essential to the health of our society and the strength of our economy: the health service, crucial for our well-being. Our police force, crucial for our safety. And our schools, crucial for our future. I am determined we will protect the improvements in these front-line services on which millions rely. This cannot be done without a further difficult decision.

I intend to increase all employer, employee and self-employed rates of National Insurance by a further half a per cent from April 2011. To protect those on modest incomes, I have also decided to raise the starting point from which national insurance is payable. No-one earning under £20,000 will pay any more national insurance contributions as a result. This will raise £3bn a year from 2011-12.

As a result, Mr Speaker, I am today able to offer guaranteed minimum real terms increases in spending on front-line NHS and schools for two years from 2011. As well as providing sufficient funding to maintain the number of police and community support officers. This means I can confirm not just that we will increase spending as planned next year, in hospitals, schools and policing. But we can also pledge that spending on these crucial front-line services will continue to rise, over and above inflation, after 2010-11, so that we can meet the improved public service guarantees and entitlements we have set out.

Mr Speaker, I have one further announcement to make. Because of my decisions today, I am able to extend free school meals to half a million primary school children of low income working parents, who previously would not have been eligible.

Once fully rolled-out, this will lift up to an additional 50,000 children out of relative poverty, towards our target of abolishing child poverty by 2020.

Mr Speaker, the decisions this Government has made have helped support business and families through the deepest global recession for over 50 years. Decisions which have been followed across the world, but opposed by some here.

The steps that I have announced today are aimed at securing recovery, reducing borrowing, and through targeted investment, providing a springboard for long-term growth. The choice facing the country is between securing recovery or wrecking it. Between investment to build a fair society where all prosper and a divided society that favours the wealthy few. A choice between ambition driven by the values of fairness and opportunity, or austerity driven by an out-dated dogma.

I commend this statement to the House.

Civil Service Job Cuts On Way

(Telegraph) – A MASS CULL OF SENIOR MANDARINS will see redundancies across Whitehall as part of plans to reduce staffing costs by £100 million a year.

Gordon Brown plans to announce that this week’s pre-Budget Report will contain £12 billion in efficiency savings, including £650 million from sacking consultants and press officers.

The Prime Minister will also claim that £500 million can be saved through energy efficiency measures such as turning out lights in government buildings.

The redundancies are part of a package of Whitehall cuts called Smarter Government, to be outlined by Liam Byrne, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, which is designed to achieve a 20 per cent reduction in the senior civil service budget.

As well as job losses, savings will be made through relocating hundreds of staff outside London, tackling sickness levels, and renegotiating pay settlements.

Department heads will be responsible for deciding where the axe will fall, with up to one in five civil servants jobs at risk.

In a speech later today, Mr Brown will say: “As the country emerges from recession, taxpayers want more than ever to see their contributions used in the same way they manage their own finances – by getting maximum value for money.

“And these new forces are leading to new and greater demands from the public for more accountability, more openness, more control and more efficiency.

“In order to protect the front line services we value at a time when budgets are tighter it means we need to do what households up and down the country do.

“To prioritise the necessities and postpone the things we can do without. And government will do the same.

“So to pay for frontline services we must be relentless in finding new ways to save money – and make the tough decisions that will yield them.”

As part of a new emphasis on “value for money,” Mr Brown plans to say that £665 million will be saved by allowing the public to use technology to access the state, such as to book doctors’ appointments or claim benefits online.

A “bonfire of the quangos” will save another £500 million, with a 50 per cent cut in consultants’ fees, and 25 per cent reduction in marketing and communications budgets across Whitehall bringing in another £650 million.

By making a 300 per cent increase in energy efficiency, the Government plans to save £550 million.

In the pre-Budget report on Wednesday, Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, is expected to announce that he has commissioned Bill Cockburn, head of the senior salaries review board, to carry out an audit of civil service pay.

He will tell MPs that it is unacceptable for the swollen public sector to leave private business to bear all the pain of the recession.

The PBR is likely include a number of measures designed to shift the current financial burden on to the wealthy, including moves on inheritance tax and banking bonuses, while introducing severe economies in most departmental budgets.

Mr Darling is preparing to say that in future there will be more transparency over high earners on the public payroll.

Appointments subject to ministerial approval, such as the top civil servants, quango chief executives, regulators and some crown servants, will have to receive the approval of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury if they are paid more than £150,000 a year or £50,000 in bonuses.

A public body wanting to pay a doctor, judge, member of the Armed Forces or council chief a figure above that would be required to write a letter to the secretary of state of the relevant department publicly justifying the move.

And in future, all public servants earning more than £150,000 in pay or benefits in kind should be listed on websites.

The FDR union, which represents senior civil servants, described the proposal for 20 per cent cuts as “irresponsible”.

Alistair Darling To Target High Earners

Alistair Darling (Telegraph) – HIGH EARNERS HAVE BEEN WARNED by Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, that they will be expected to “bear the greatest burden” of economic recovery in this week’s pre-Budget report.

Mr Darling is considering levying one-off windfall taxes on bank profits and a super-tax on bankers who receive bonuses above a certain level, and indicated that he expected the rich to pay more in tax.

Taxing profits at 10 per cent would bring in around £2 billion this year alone, but while both moves are said to be “on the table,” a final decision ahead of the pre-Budget Report has yet to be taken and the Chancellor has discussed the options with Gordon Brown today.

Mr Darling indicated there would be no back-tracking on the new higher rate of income tax, of 50p on earnings of more than £150,000, to be introduced from next April.

Amid warnings from business groups about the impact of hefty tax rises on the people he needs to drive growth, he is thought to have resisted calls to extend the rate to those earning £100,000 or more.

David Frost, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce said raising taxes on middle and high earners would be “enormously damaging” for Britain at a time when it needs talented people to drive an economic recovery.

“The very people we need in this country to create wealth could be located anywhere and will simply go somewhere else.

“Taxes above 50 per cent would be hugely harmful for the UK. This is the very time that we need as much business in the UK as possible.”

However, with borrowing expected to reach £180 billion, the highest level since the Second World War, Mr Darling warned that the rich would have to expect tax rises, saying: “You would expect the broadest shoulders to bear the greatest burden.”

Any windfall levy on banks’ profits would be designed to apply not just to UK banks such as the Royal Bank of Scotland and Barclays, but also to the British arms of global firms including JP Morgan and Deutsche Bank.

The decision has gone to the wire, however, as officials have been clashing over the legality and administrative complexity of the plans.

Mr Darling is considering two versions of a tax on bonuses, which are predicted to reach £6 billion this year despite the recession. The first would be a levy on payouts above a certain rate, the alternative would be a substantial increases in national insurance charges for banks which pay bonuses.

Mr Darling is said to be tempted to exploit voter anger at bankers awarding themselves large bonuses so soon after being bailed out by the tax payer.

The City has warned that the move would hamper the ability of institutions such as the Royal Bank of Scotland to attract the talent needed to restore balance sheets and ultimately delay banks’ ability to pay off the taxpayer loans and return to the private sector.

George Osborne, the shadow chancellor, said that he was not opposed to a banking windfall tax in principle, but that the Tories would focus on taking steps to stop banks offsetting losses against future tax bills once they began to make profits.

Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman, accused both parties of a “lack of clarity”

The Daily Telegraph also understands that this Wednesday’s pre-Budget report will see the inheritance tax threshold frozen at £325,000, with plans to raise it to £350,000 cancelled.

This would allow Mr Brown to continue his strategy of accusing the Tories of seeking to deliver tax breaks for the wealthy. The Conservatives are committed to raising the threshold at which tax must be paid to £1 million.

However, Mr Osborne, disclosed that the impact of the recession meant that a Tory government would not legislate to raise the threshold for the first “year or two” in office. He said: “This country is virtually bust.”

KPMG have suggested that the Government might seek to levy a new 50 per cent inheritance band on estates worth more than £1 million.

However, Mr Darling refused to respond to predictions that he would use the PBR to “soak the rich”.

Accountants BDO had predicted that Mr Darling would raise the rate at which profits on capital investments are taxed from 18 per cent to 20 per cent. They suggested that there could even be a new Capital Gains Tax rate of 40 per cent on short term gains.

Ernst and Young forecast that he could introduce a new 60 per cent band for those earning more than £500,000 a year, raising an extra £2 billion annually.

Meanwhile, the accountants Grant Thornton suggested that an extra 70,000 people a year could to be dragged up into the 40 per cent tax bracket if Mr Darling froze the personal allowance on which no tax is due, even though average earnings rose 1.2 per cent.

Mr Darling is understood to be keen to give Labour ammunition with which to fight at the next election by painting the PBR as an equality budget.

He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show: “It wouldn’t be right to be giving further tax breaks to people at the very top.”

Mr Darling said: “We are not going to be held to ransom by people who believe you can pay extraordinarily high bonuses without regard to what’s going on.”

The Chancellor warned of tough times ahead, saying: “On Wednesday I will set out what I think we need to do. That will involve some very difficult choices,” he said.

“It will mean making public spending much tighter.”

Tomorrow, ministers will make clear that high earners in the public as well as the private sector be made to bear the costs of the recession, with as many as one in five senior civil servants to lose their jobs.

In a speech, Mr Brown will promise £12 billion in efficiency savings across Whitehall, including £100 million a year from staff costs.

Mr Darling is likely to announce that some departmental budgets will face cuts of as much as 20 per cent while frontline services such as cancer care and teaching are protected.

As a first step, he disclosed that plans for a multi-billion pound super computer for the National Health Service would be cancelled.

Incentives and stimulus measures will continue, with Mr Darling poised to announce a new scrappage scheme, based on that for old cars, with households being paid £300 to trade in old boilers for new green models.

There will also be more money for jobs, after Yvette Cooper, the Work and Pensions secretary, disclosed that unemployment would continue to rise next year, above the current level of 2.5 million.

Speaker John Bercow Ensures ‘Flippers’ Get Away With It

(Telegraph) – MPS WHO ‘FLIPPED’ THEIR SECOND HOMES to maximise their expenses or avoided paying capital gains tax will escape censure under the official House of Commons inquiry while those with far less questionable claims are asked to repay tens of thousands of pounds.

John Bercow, the Speaker, has turned down a request by Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, to widen the scope of his audit into MPs expenses amid concerns that some of the worst abusers of Commons allowances are escaping punishment.

A number of MPs whose claims triggered public outrage, including Elliot Morley and David Chaytor who claimed thousands of pounds for ‘phantom’ mortgages, have been given the all-clear by Sir Thomas Legg.

Meanwhile, others with far less questionable claims have been asked to repay thousands.

Mr Bercow, who was elected as Michael Martin’s replacement after claiming he was the right candidate to clean up Parliament has admitted using a legal loophole to avoid paying CGT.

Now he has ruled against broadening the Legg inquiry, claiming such an investigation would take too long.

The decision was approved by the Members Estimates Committee, a group of senior MPs including Harriet Harman, the Leader of the House, and her shadow, George Young.

In his reply to Mr Clegg, seen by the Daily Telegraph, the Speaker said: ‘Extending the review to cover changes of home designations for personal gain and the payment of capital gains tax would unquestionably involve significant retrospective changes to the rules on allowances…’

‘Agreeing to your proposal would therefore considerably lengthen the timescale of the review and the MEC did not feel it could support this.’

Mr Clegg said that he was ‘dismayed’ by the ruling, which was taken in private and referred to only briefly in published minutes of the meeting.

He had warned that the audit would not be ‘credible’ if abuses such as flipping and non-payment of CGT were not investigated.

‘This response shows that despite people’s anger at the expenses scandal the worst perpetrators are still being let off the hook,’ he said.

‘Only in a place as mad as Westminster can MPs make fat profits playing the property market with taxpayers’ money and get away with it.

‘Despite all the rhetoric of cleaning up politics we now know that at the very heart of the Westminster establishment there is still no will to deal with the biggest offences.’

On Tuesday it was disclosed that Bernard Jenkin, a former vice chairman of the Conservative Party, has been asked by Sir Thomas to return more than £63,000, including £50,000 which he claimed in rent for a property owned by his sister-in-law. This represents the largest repayment demand to be made public.

He has written to Sir Thomas challenging his ruling on the grounds that his arrangement had the approval of the Commons fees office.

Critics of the Legg inquiry will argue that Mr Jenkin’s case is not as questionable as those involving flipping (where MPs changed the designation of their second homes to maximise their claims) and CGT avoidance.

Both attracted widespread public anger when they were exposed by The Daily Telegraph during the expenses scandal earlier this year.

Mr Bercow himself legally avoided paying thousands of pounds in capital gains tax on the sale of two properties by declaring them as his main residence to the taxman despite nominating them as his second homes for the purposes of his expenses.

He volunteered to repay £6,500 after his claims were questioned by The Daily Telegraph. However, this was not raised by Sir Thomas who instead asked him to repay nearly £1,000 that he had overclaimed for his mortgage interest costs.

Kitty Ussher resigned as a Treasury Minister in June after it emerged that she had avoided paying CGT by changing her second home designation for a single month on the advice of her accountant when selling a house in her constituency of Burnley, enabling her to declare that it was her main home.

Hazel Blears, the former communities secretary, Eleanor Laing, shadow justice minister, and Greg Barker, a shadow environment minister, all voluntarily wrote cheques for five figure sums to assuage constituents’ anger over their legal non-payment of CGT.

Margaret Moran, the Labour backbencher who announced she would stand down at the next election after being heavily criticised over her expenses, ‘flipped’ her designation between three properties, spending thousands on decorating each home.

Other prominent ‘flippers’ include Keith Vaz, chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Committee, who switched designation from his London house to his Leicester constituency home and back again within the space of a year.

Andrew Lansley, the shadow health secretary, was criticised for decorating his constituency home before ‘flipping’ and selling the property, while Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, changed his designation between three properties on four occasions.

While some of these MPs have revealed that they have been asked to pay back money by Sir Thomas in relation to other claims judged excessive or incorrect, none have been asked to make any repayment in relation to ‘flipping’ or CGT.

Ordered by Mr Brown at the height of the scandal as a means of ‘cleaning up’ the Commons, the audit led by Sir Thomas Legg has now made provisional rulings on every MP. They have until Monday to challenge the findings.

The process has provoked a storm of protest from MPs who were angered that Sir Thomas had focused on items such as excessive claims for gardening and cleaning, while over-looking some of the practices attracting the most public concern.

While a handful of MPs are waiting to hear whether they must answer criminal charges for practices such as claiming for ‘phantom mortgages,’ the tax authorities are also investigating the tax affairs of 27 MPs in the wake of the Telegraph’s disclosures.

Earlier this month, the Standards and Privileges Committee was criticised for ruling that Jacqui Smith, the former home secretary, need not repay any money after she was found to have broken rules by declaring a spare room in her sister’s house as her main residence, allowing her to claim £116,000 in expenses on her family home.

As well as the Speaker, who chaired the meeting, the decision was approved by Miss Harman, Sir George, and Sir Stuart Bell, a veteran Labour backbencher who has urged MPs to refuse to pay money asked of them by Legg.

Also present were David Maclean, a Tory backbencher who led the battle to keep MPs expenses secret, and Nick Harvey, representing the Liberal Democrats.

Recession Lingers As Economy Contracts

(Reuters) – THE ECONOMY CONTRACTED IN THE THIRD QUARTER of this year, quashing hopes the downturn was ending and instead marking the longest recession on record.

The pound plunged more than a cent against the dollar and government bonds surged as traders and analysts bet the Bank of England was more likely to expand its quantitative easing program of buying up debt market assets to secure a recovery.

Friday’s figures are also a blow to Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s Labour government, trailing in opinion polls and hoping for recovery to take hold well before an election due by next June.

The Office for National Statistics said the gross domestic product fell by 0.4% between July and September, meaning the economy has contracted for six successive quarters for the first time since records began in 1955.

This was much worse than analysts’ expectations of a 0.2% rise. Not a single analyst out of the 35 polled by Reuters before the data had predicted a negative reading.

‘Third quarter GDP is awful, with no positive news within the report,’ said James Knightley, economist at ING.

‘More worryingly from sterling’s perspective is the fact that the UK may be the only major economy to have contracted in the third quarter.’

Japan, Germany and France all pulled out of recession in the second quarter and economists expect the United States to have returned to growth in the third.

The data will pose a major challenge for the Bank when it reviews its growth and inflation forecasts in early November and analysts remain divided over whether the bank will expand its £175 billion quantitative easing scheme.

August’s forecasts showed the Bank would meet its inflation target over the medium term; but this was based on an annual economic decline of only 4.6% in Q3. Friday’s figures show a 5.2% fall, only marginally better than the record 5.5% annual fall registered in the second quarter.

‘It’s fair to say that these figures might be an argument that the Bank of England will be using to expand QE… It clearly tilts the balance in favour of those who wish to expand the program,’ said Commerzbank economist Peter Dixon.

Chancellor Alistair Darling said he still expected growth to return by the turn of the year, reiterating a forecast made in the budget in April. Darling will update that forecast in the pre-Budget report due in the next few weeks.

‘We’re facing the worst global financial crisis and recession in 60 years,’ he said. ‘That’s all the more reason to continue the action the government is taking. To remove it now would be madness.’

But Darling’s Conservative counterpart, George Osborne, said Germany and France’s better economic performance showed government policy had failed.

‘We now know that Gordon Brown’s recession plan has not worked, and this news has destroyed Labour’s claim that Britain was better placed than other countries to weather the storms.’

The ONS said there had been a peak-to-trough GDP fall of 5.9% during the current recession, compared to 6.0% between the second quarter of 1979 and the first quarter of 1981 — a period when there were some quarters of growth.

The quarterly decline between April and June was unrevised at 0.6%.

Analysts had been pinning their hopes for recovery on months of survey evidence that had pointed to a sharp rise in confidence and activity in the services sector, which makes up three quarters of Britain’s economy.

But services contracted by 0.2% over the quarter, with the distribution, hotels and catering sub-sector leading the decline with a 1.0% quarterly drop.

Economists had already expected industrial output to be weak, following a sharp monthly drop in August, and the GDP data bore this out. Industrial production fell by 0.7% over the quarter, taking its annual decline to 10.4%.