Julian Knight: This kite had holes even before Labour tried to fly it

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The Independent Online

I never thought kite flying could be classed a dangerous sport, but last week's attempt by the Government to float the idea of a stamp duty holiday was extremely perilous.

Instantly, those involved in the housing market cried foul. Many of them liked the idea – though it didn't work when it was tried during the last house price crash – but not the way it was leaked way ahead of any firm decision.

I phoned an estate agent I have known for years and he wondered what homebuyer would go ahead with a purchase now, with the potential of a duty holiday just around the corner. He was worried that the very few sales he had going through would collapse as someone in the chain chose to sit tight.

And the policy itself has big gaps in it. First, how will the Government pay for it? Stamp duty brought in £6.5bn last year, and though that figure will probably be halved this year as house prices dive, £3bn-plus is hardly small change.

And it's a bit of a blunt instrument: anyone who bought would benefit, regardless of their financial position; they could be a struggling first-timer or multi-millionaire.

What's more, it doesn't address the fundamental issues of overtight mortgage lending and house prices that are still too far ahead of earnings.

Ultimately, the market will only recover when prices have fallen so low that enough people feel buying a property is worthwhile.

One policy kite from last week that I did like, though, and it didn't do any harm for being flown, was allowing first-time property buyers to pay into a special tax-free individual savings account for a deposit.

Of course, there are questions. Who polices whether the person enjoying the tax- free status is in fact a bona fide first-time buyer? And would the account be open to people who are returning to home ownership after time spent renting, say after a divorce?

Assuming these questions are answered and the practicalities ironed out, that the Government might now think encouraging savings is a good idea should be welcomed.

Howard's way out

It's the end of an era as the Halifax ditches singing branch manager Howard Brown from its adverts. I suppose that also means the end for the remaining singing staff members featured on our TV screens.

Over the eight years the ads have been running, each new campaign has brought a breathless press release and yet another butchered pop song. The last artists to come to the chopping block were – unforgivably – the Beach Boys.

The bank says Howard has gone because it wants to hit a "serious note" in these recession-haunted times. I presume by "serious note" that the Halifax mean ads will be shot only in black and white, offering a masterclass in moodiness or perhaps one in being patronised – like the goons fronting First Direct's adverts. You know, once I have witnessed this "serious note", I may actually begin to wish for the return of Howard Brown.

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