Personal Finance: Internet Investor

THIS TIME next week, we will all be digesting or, depending on how we have been hit by it, indigesting the Budget. Whatever comes out of Tuesday's performance by Gordon Brown, history is already delivering its verdict on him. He may be balancing the Government's books but this Chancellor is one of life's complicators, increasing the number of taxes we all have to pay and broadening the circumstances under which we have to pay them. But could you do any better?

Short of winning the next election, you may now install yourself in a virtual Number 11, Downing Street, thanks to a joint venture by the Institute of Fiscal Studies and the Bristol-based Institute for Learning and Research Technology. Their virtual-economy model is based on the Treasury's own economic model and is a development of the IFS's past website offering which allowed you to "Be Your Own Chancellor".

This new model is actually based around the Chancellor's Downing Street house and office. On the ground floor is the Chancellor's Office, with an introduction to the virtual economy; the first floor has case studies about the impact of changes in the economy on people, business and governments; the second floor is dedicated to the different economic variables in the model with advice, explanations, worksheets and relevant economic theories; the third floor is a library of economic theory and a glossary; and the fourth floor is the economic model itself, where you can change what you like and see the effect on the economy.

When you have had your fun and wrecked the virtual economy by juggling too vigorously with tax rates, while you may not agree with what Gordon Brown does, you may have new respect for the problems facing Chancellors of all political hues!

A couple of weeks ago, I was telling you about Virgin.net's plans to offer free Internet access. In addition to this, it has now announced plans to offer an online personal finance channel. It is unlikely to appear for a couple of months, but the channel will include interactive facilities such as mortgage and tax calculators, and independent advice on investments, mortgages and pensions. Given Virgin's position as a provider of financial services, any advice claiming to be independent will have to be seen clearly to be exactly that.

For the time being, if you want to use an independent financial adviser but don't know how to get in touch with one, check out IFA Promotion's website. The organisation exists mainly to signpost consumers towards IFAs. You fill in an online form and you will be e-mailed the details of three IFAs nearest to you, together with a voucher for a free initial consultation.

Virtual Economy: www.bized.ac.uk/virtual/economy/

IFA Promotion: www.ifap.org.uk

Robin can be reached at RobinAmlot@aol.com

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