People & Business: Treasury's forecasts are more of a flashback

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The Independent Online
There's nothing quite like red faces in Whitehall to cheer you up. You will no doubt recall that Ken Clarke and his merry Treasury men established a target of 2.5 per cent for inflation by the end of 1997. In his November Budget our Ken said he would meet that target. Ken also forecast GDP would grow by 3.5 per cent. Not according to his own department, however.

HM Treasury's Forecasts for the UK Economy; a Comparison of Independent Forecasts published this month tells a different story. On the third page is a summary of inflation forecasts for 1997, and under the column for RPI excluding mortgage interest payments (Q4) comes the puzzling entry: "HM Treasury - 3.0 per cent."

Three per cent? Has the Chancellor been misleading the House of Commons and the nation at large? And the figure for GDP growth in 1997 is 2.5 per cent, not 3.5 per cent. Is Ken expecting a collapse in growth as well as spiralling inflation?

No such luck. It's just an old-fashioned cock-up by the people who compiled the report. All the independent forecasts for 1997 have been correctly updated, but all the Treasury's figures have been carried over from 1996.

A Treasury spokesman says: "The Treasury holds its hands up. It's Groundhog Day. It's a spreadsheet thing - the figures for 1996 have been repeated for 1997. We'll change it for next month's report."

Her Majesty's Treasury - where time literally stands still.

Here's something slightly less cheerful. The Rev Dr Leslie Griffiths will give a speech in London this Thursday with the blood-curdling title "Within the City of London are the seeds of its own destruction".

The host is the Securities Institute at the City of London Club. Do they know something we don't?

John McLaren, director of Deutsche Morgan Grenfell and a venture capital specialist, has found time between deals to write a novel.

The blurb on the back of my review copy of Press Send says it's a "brilliantly inventive story of two smart but disillusioned Generation X-ers and their hilarious revenge on the ruthless corporate values of the 90s". Dangerous echoes of the Nicola Horlick fiasco?

The blurb adds that Mr McLaren's career has included four years at the British Embassy in Japan and a number of years in a San Francisco venture capital firm. Last October he launched Masterprize, an international competition for symphonic composition.

So, a Renaissance man, then. The blurb rather spoils this, however, by concluding that he "drives too fast and eats out too often". On the other hand, as long as he doesn't dine out too often with headhunters or ABN Amro, that should be OK.

How very kind. Christopher Rodrigues, chief executive of the Bradford & Bingley Building Society, has sent me some batter mix for Yorkshire puddings.

The "extra light and tasty" batter also makes pancakes, which explains the odd missive: It's an invitation to Bradford & Bingley's press party on 11 February, or Pancake Day.

Mr Rodrigues was brought in from Thomas Cook last June to spearhead the society's fight against the trend of mutualisation.

As for the pancake mix, I asked a society spokesman what I could do with it. "Do what you like with it," he said. "You can batter someone over the head with it if you like." Very mutual.

Fancy competing in a quiz with Dickie Davies and the Lord Mayor of London, Alderman Roger Cork? St John Ambulance is looking for businesses to take part in the charity's annual quiz, the Brain Game, on 20 February.

A reservation for a team of 10 costs pounds 2,000, but the fee includes champagne, supper and wine. The winners of the 1996 trophy, the modestly titled "Knowledgeable People, Mostly Geniuses, Also Known as KPMG", will be present to be knocked off their perch.

The aim is to raise pounds 50,000 for St John Ambulance. Anyone interested should ring Melissa Bullock at St John Ambulance on 0171-235 5231.