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June 23, 2014

George Osborne mulls northern England high-speed rail links

George Osborne mulls northern England high-speed rail links

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Monday, June 23, 2014

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George Osborne.
Image: HM Treasury.

George Osborne, the United Kingdom Chancellor of the Exchequer, is to announce plans today for a proposed high-speed rail link between a number of cities in the North of England as a means to bring about economic development and build a “northern powerhouse” to compete with London.

Osborne says the individual cities in the north of England are strong, but “collectively not strong enough”. To remedy this, he is proposing plans be made to create high-speed railways between Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham, the latter to link up with High Speed 2, the planned high-speed railway to run between London and Birmingham.

“We need an ambitious plan to make the cities and towns here in this northern belt radically more connected from east to west — to create the equivalent of travelling around a single global city. I want us to start thinking about whether to build a new high-speed rail connection east-west from Manchester to Leeds.”

The shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, said: “We said months ago that we need value for money for the taxpayer and to improve the existing plans to maximise the benefits for the whole country and strengthen the links between northern cities. […] Nobody will believe the Tories can deliver the jobs, growth and investment we need for the north of England. Regional growth divides have widened markedly since 2010.”



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March 20, 2013

British Chancellor George Osborne downgrades growth forecast in annual budget

British Chancellor George Osborne downgrades growth forecast in annual budget

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

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A file photo of the British Chancellor George Osborne.
Image: HM Treasury.

The British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne delivered the budget today, an annually-held audit of the country’s finances deciding how taxpayers’ money should be spent. He set out plans to boost the housing market in his fourth budget, as well as stating the economy will grow by 0.6% — half his prediction four months ago.

George Osborne revealed plans to improve the housing market, including a “Help to Buy” shared equity scheme which would offer buyers who can place a 5% deposit on a new house, a 20% loan to buy it. He said: “This is a budget for those who aspire to own their own home”. He also offered a new Mortgage Guarantee, created in conjunction with mortgage lenders — the scheme would allow them to offer loans to homeowners without the need for a large deposit and offer guarantees to support up to £130bn of lending for three years beginning in 2014.

As a measure to attract investment to the British economy, he announced to reduce corporation tax from 21% to 20% taking effect from April 2015. The rate of corporation tax has fallen from 28% in 2010 to the current level of 21%. The United Kingdom is to have lower rates of corporation tax than the USA at 40%, France at 33%, and Germany at 29%.

The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) stated the government debt reduction programme to reduce the budget deficit will miss its targets. The government has forecast the total public sector debt will begin to fall by the financial year 2015/2016, while OBR says national debt will reach a high of 85.6% of GDP, £1.58 trillion, in 2016/17. Osborne defended the government efforts to reduce the deficit and said: “Our judgement has since been supported by the IMF, the OECD and the Governor of the Bank of England.”

In response to the Budget speech, the Leader of the Opposition Ed Miliband said: “At the worst possible time for the country. It’s a downgraded budget from a downgraded Chancellor […] Debt is higher in every year of this Parliament than he forecast at the last Budget. He is going to borrow £200 billion more than he planned.”

The Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer Ed Balls said to The Independent, “They are borrowing £245bn more in this Parliament, we said all along …said this two years ago, if they had moved more quickly with a sensible, targeted package of measures to kick-start the economy, which would have meant at that time more borrowing for a VAT [Value Added Tax] cut to bring forward housing investment, then we would have got the economy growing and the deficit coming down.”

The Business Secretary Vince Cable told the BBC in an interview, the “age of austerity” would probably end within the current decade, but made no more definite forecast.

The head of the British Federation of Small Businesses, John Walker, said: “The Budget opens the door for small businesses to grow and create jobs. The Chancellor has pulled out all the stops with a wide ranging package of measures to support small business. […] [W]e are pleased to see the scrapping of the 3p fuel duty due in September”.

Len McCluskey, the General Secretary of Unite the Union, criticized the budget for not helping working families. He said: “This is a Budget for the few by the few that attacks the many. Millionaires are days away from getting a £40,000 tax cut from the Tories, but George Osborne is using the budget to attack hard-working public sector workers. The worst chancellor in British history has gone further by giving big business another tax cut while staff caring for the sick get pay cuts. […] [H]e should have raised the national minimum wage by £1 and drop the senseless plan to give millionaires a tax break in a few days’ time”.



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February 25, 2013

Britain loses AAA credit rating due to poor economic growth and continued austerity

Britain loses AAA credit rating due to poor economic growth and continued austerity

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Monday, February 25, 2013

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George Osborne: “Far from weakening our resolve to deliver our economic recovery plan, this decision redoubles it”.
Image: HM Treasury.

The US-based credit rating agency Moody’s Investors Service announced on Saturday their decision to downgrade their rating of the United Kingdom economy from AAA to AA1 – stating that lack of economic growth and austerity continuing into 2016 are to blame.

Moody’s Investors Service said in a statement: “The main driver underpinning Moody’s decision to downgrade the UK’s Government bond rating to AA1 is the increasing clarity that, despite considerable structural economic strengths, the UK’s economic growth will remain sluggish over the next few years due to the anticipated slow growth of the global economy and the drag on the UK economy from the ongoing domestic public- and private-sector deleveraging process”.

George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, said that the move to lower the credit rating was a “stark reminder” of the debt problems that the country is facing and that the government is planning to stick to it’s original deficit reduction plan. He went on to say “Far from weakening our resolve to deliver our economic recovery plan, this decision redoubles it”.

The British economy shrank by 0.3% in the final quarter of 2012 and output remained flat throughout last year – the economy would have to grow in the first quarter of 2013 in order to avoid a recession. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development warned George Osborne last month that he should slow down the rate of his deficit reduction and austerity programme if Britain entered a triple-dip recession.

The Labour Party has said that the government must reduce the number of spending cuts and focus on growth. Ed Balls, the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, said: “This credit rating downgrade is a humiliating blow to a Prime Minister and Chancellor who said keeping our AAA rating was the test of their economic and political credibility.”



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December 5, 2010

UK Parliament to vote on tuition fee rise on Thursday

UK Parliament to vote on tuition fee rise on Thursday

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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Students protesting outside the UK parliament in November.
Image: BillyH.

The controversial plan to raise university tuition fees in England and Wales will be voted on in the House of Commons on Thursday, December 9. The policy has been the cause of protests across the United Kingdom by students, some of which have turned violent. It has also been a source of considerable criticism and political difficulties for the Liberal Democrats and has raised questions as to the long-term viability of the Coalition government.

The new policy on tuition fees will allow universities to double the current tuition fees from £3,290 per year to around £6,000 per year, as well as allowing some universities to get special approval from the Office For Fair Access (OFFA) to raise their fees to £9,000 per year. If passed, the new fee structure will apply starting in the academic year of 2012/2013. The vote on Thursday will only be on the fee rise, with other matters being voted on in the new year following publication of a new higher education white paper.

Vince Cable and Nick Clegg will likely vote for the changes, but how many Lib Dems will join them?
Image: Nick Clegg.

In addition to increasing fees, the policy will increase the payment threshold at which payment is made. It is currently set at £15,000 and will rise to £21,000, but the interest rate will also rise. It is currently 1.5% but will now vary from between 0% and 3% plus inflation (using the Retail Price Index).

The fee increase follows the publication of an independent review by Lord Browne, former chief executive of BP, a process started by Peter Mandelson, the former Business Secretary. Before the election, two main options were mooted for funding reform in higher education: either an increase in tuition fees or a graduate tax. The Browne Review endorsed the former and the findings of the Review form the basis of the government’s policy. The graduate tax was supported by the Liberal Democrats before the election, and in the Labour leadership elections it was supported by Ed Balls and the winner of the leadership election, Ed Milliband.

Conservative members of the Coalition intend to vote for the reform, and the Labour opposition have been vociferous critics of the rise in fees, despite the previous government’s introduction of top-up fees. The Liberal Democratic members of the Coalition have been left in a politically difficult position regarding the fee hike and have been target of much criticism from protesters. Liberal Democrats have opposed the rise in tuition fees: their party manifesto included a commitment to ending tuition fees within six years, and many signed a pledge organised by the National Union of Students to not vote for any increase in tuition fees.

The Coalition agreement allows Liberal Democrats to opt to abstain on votes for a number of policies including tuition fees. Many Liberal Democrats are expected to abstain, and a few MPs have stated that they will vote against it including former party leader Sir Menzies Campbell, and the recently elected party president Tim Farron, as well as a number of Liberal Democrat back-benchers. Liberal Democrat party leaders have said that they will act collectively, but the BBC have said senior Liberal Democrats have admitted in private that government whips will not be able to force all Liberal Democrats to vote for the policy.

On Tuesday, the Liberal Democrats parliamentary party will meet in the Commons to decide on their collective position. If all ministers decide to vote for the policy, it will probably pass, but if only cabinet ministers (and maybe parliamentary private secretaries) vote for the policy, there is considerable risk of it not passing. If the Coalition does not manage to get the policy through Parliament, it will fuel doubts about the continued effectiveness and viability of the government.

How deputy prime minister Nick Clegg and business secretary Vince Cable vote has been of considerable controversy. Although under the Coalition agreement, they are allowed to abstain, suggestions of doing so have prompted criticism. It was suggested last week that Cable may abstain even though as business secretary he is directly responsible for higher education policy, and has been heavily involved in designing the proposals. Cable has said that Liberal Democrat support of the tuition fee changes has allowed them to push it in a more “progressive” direction.

Cable has now decided that he will vote for the policy, and argues that the policy has “a lot of protection for students from low income backgrounds and graduates who have a low income or take time out for family”. He also believes “there’s common consensus that the system we’ve devised is a progressive one”.

“Dr Cable has performed so many U-turns over the issue of university funding that he is spinning on his heels,” said National Union of Students president Aaron Porter. “That may stand him in good stead with the Strictly Come Dancing judges but the electorate will see it differently.”

Former deputy PM John Prescott has joked about Vince Cable’s u-turns on Twitter.
Image: Steve Punter.

Former deputy prime minister John Prescott joked on Twitter that “On tuition fees we’ve noticed Vince Cable’s remarkable transformation in the last few weeks from stalling to Mr In Between”—a reference to a previous attack Prescott made on Gordon Brown as having transformed from “Stalin to Mr Bean“.

On Question Time this week, Liberal Democrat treasury secretary Danny Alexander also confirmed he is prepared to vote for the policy but delegated the question to the meeting of Liberal Democrats on Tuesday.

The politics of the tuition fee debate may also affect the by-election taking place in Oldham East and Saddleworth following the removal of Phil Woolas, where Liberal Democrat and Conservative candidates will both be standing for the first by-election following the formation of the Coalition government.

Opposition to the policy has become the focus for a large number of protests across the country by both current university students, many school pupils and political allies of the student movement.

On the Nov. 10 demonstration, protestors occupied Millbank tower.
Image: Charlie Owen.

On November 10, between 30,000 and 52,000 protesters from across Britain marched through central London in a demonstration organised by the National Union of Students and the University and College Union, which represents teachers and lecturers in further and higher education. At the November 10 protest, a number of people occupied My (UK),

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