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George Osborne is looking at relaxing the Treasury’s assumption of deep austerity over the coming five years in next week’s Budget, countering Labour’s claim that his “extreme” policies would take state spending back to 1930s levels. In December’s autumn statement, Mr Osborne’s assumption for total public spending after 2015-16 saw its level falling to 35.2 per cent of national income, sufficient to build up a projected £23bn surplus in the public finances by 2019-20.
An influential committee of MPs has called for a significant shake-up of pensions regulation, after warning that savers were at risk from fraud and mis-selling when radical pension reforms come into force next month. In a report published just weeks before the coalition government’s flagship pension reforms are due to roll out, the Work and Pensions Committee said it was not convinced that the Financial Conduct Authority was “sufficiently focused” on pensions.
Acknowledging the limited scope for big reforms before the election on May 7, the Federation of Small Businesses wants George Osborne, the chancellor, to focus on simplifying regulation. It suggests a single tax account system for small businesses and that HM Revenue & Customs accept monthly tax payments.
The plunge in oil prices is already having a dramatic effect on the US shale industry. The US, uniquely among large oil producers, bars its industry from international sales, two crude gluts have emerged: one in world markets and another in the US.
The price of oil is set for a fresh lurch downwards as temporary constraints on supply begin to ease, analysts have warned. Factors including extreme weather in Iraq and Iran and violence in Libya have been keeping prices up in recent weeks, but yesterday Goldman Sachs joined a chorus of voices anticipating another round of falling prices.
BP has made a big gas discovery in the Mediterranean off the coast of Egypt in what could be a test case for negotiations with Cairo’s military-backed government. The company, which already has a $12 billion investment in Egypt’s West Nile Delta project, said that it had made a significant discovery at its Atoll well in the East Nile Delta.
America’s biggest carmaker has become the latest large US corporation to embark on a share buyback, saying that it would repurchase $5 billion of its stock to avert a clash with an activist investor who helped to rescue it from bankruptcy.
The euro slipped to a seven-year low against the pound after Eurozone central banks started buying up sovereign debt in the markets, as the currency bloc’s €1.1 trillion quantitative easing programme got under way. The single currency remained on course for parity with the dollar on the back of the European Central Bank’s effort to resurrect growth and stave off deflation.
The energy giant confirmed it is investing £12bn with partners in the West Nile Delta concession, which is eventually expected to produce 1.2bn cubic feet a day, equal to 25 per cent of Egypt’s current gas production.
Brighton and Hove council has joined the war on real money by phasing out all its coin-operated parking ticket machines. Inevitably, other councils will soon follow.