Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Glimmer of hope on the buses?

This morning I had a meeting with the Managing Director of First Bus in Bristol, Justin Davies. I have had dozens of angry e-mails about the company's plans to cut bus services from South Gloucestershire, especially the 'express' services that go down the M32. (The consultation document mysteriously failed to mention the extra half an hour that this would add to peoples' journeys). To add insult to injury, the Transport minister has just announced millions of pounds for 'showcase bus corridors' into Bristol, including one down the M32!

I had a constructive conversation with Mr. Davies this morning, and I get the impression that they are actually going to change their plans as a result of the negative feedback (what? - a consultation process that actually changes things - whatever next??).

For the longer term, I hope that the bus company will work more closely with local councils in future before announcing plans of this sort. Personally, I think public transport should be run as a public service rather than for private profit, but given the world we are living in I think at the very least it should be a partnership between the company and the councils.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Darling to the rescue - but will it work??

A few minutes ago the Chancellor made a statement to the House of Commons setting out how the Government would dig itself out of the mess created by the Prime Minister when he abolished the 10p tax rate.

The doubling of the 10p rate created around 5.3 million losers, and their average loss was around £120 per year. To compensate for the 'average' loss, the Chancellor has therefore announced that the personal tax allowance for 2008/09 will rise by £600. Since the basic rate is now 20%, this will save most people 20% of £600 or £120. Gains won't only go to people who lost through the 10p rate, but also to basic rate taxpayers. To avoid higher rate taxpayers gaining, he is cutting the starting point for higher rate tax by £600. Because it will take a while to legislate and then issue new tax tables, people will get a £60 boost to their pay in September and then an extra £10 per month for the rest of the year.

Key points are:

- the cost of this is £2.7 billion, which the Government is simply going to have to borrow;
- although there will be 'average' compensation, 1.1 million families will still end up out of pocket, though not by as much as they would have done;
- there are no promises for next year - it is one thing to find the money for a one-off bail-out, but that is a very different matter to finding £2.7 billion year after year; the Treasury will be very busy between now and the Autumn identifying low-profile 'stealth taxes' they can use next year to make up the shortfall so that the allowance changes can be made permanent.

In terms of straight arithmetic, the announcement takes most of the sting out of the issue, and Frank Field has even apologised in the House this afternoon for being 'personal' in his campaigning. But I have my doubts that the electorate will want to praise the Government for coming up with a rescue package to largely undue the damage that they caused in the first place and which they pretended for a long period did not exist at all...

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Why you shouldn't believe what you read in the papers.....

This weekend the Department of Work and Pensions have announced that they are going to spend the next year trawling through the National Insurance computer to find women who might be missing out on part of their state pension entitlement - the part that relates to time at home with children.

I have some interest in this topic as I have been badgering the department about the issue for over a year. At first they were resistant, but they have been willing to look at case studies for me, and have now accepted that there is an issue here and they are going to do something about it.

On the face of it, you would assume that this was a good news story.

Now read how the Daily Telegraph wrote the story here.

Apparently this is scandalous news management and burying bad news.

In fact, I know that the DWP wanted to put out the story earlier than this but were prevented from doing so by rules which block announcements during the election period. Furthermore, what they are doing is likely to result in women pensioners getting tens of millions of pounds that they should have been getting all along. Given that this problem largely arises from dodgy record keeping in the 1980s, it's a bit rough to blame the current government - who are actually the ones trying to sort out the mess.

So, what appears in the Telegraph as a shame-faced Government hiding bad news, is actually a Government putting right a historic wrong when many previous governments failed to do so.

I'm not slow to criticise the Government when I think they have got something wrong, but on this one they are doing the decent thing and it must be pretty galling to be slagged off for it!

UPDATE: To see the story written straight - this is how Moneybox have reported it;