Brown's initiatives: The promise and the reality
Saturday 07 March 2009
Initiative: In January, Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary, announced a £2.3bn scheme of loans and guarantees for car makers to invest in green technology.
Reason for action: Growing numbers of car firms and component manufacturers have axed jobs or put staff on short weeks. Almost a million people are believed to work in the motor industry. The sector warned that world-beating technology was in danger of being lost overseas.
What happened next: The Business Department said yesterday the scheme would be finalised "within weeks". An industry source said it was "far off coming". The van maker LDV is on the brink of closure.
Initiative: The Government allocated a £20bn loan support package for small- and medium-sized businesses struggling during the credit crunch in January. It included a £10bn "working capital scheme" and up to £1.3bn of bank loans to firms with a turnover of up to £25m.
Reason for action: Lack of credit in the banking system is threatening to scupper companies that otherwise have a sound business model.
What happened next: The Government says £40m has been advanced to 400 companies from the £1.3bn pot. The Federation of Small Businesses said there had only been a "trickle of lending". Some 60,000 firms have used a scheme enabling them to defer tax.
Initiative: The Chancellor, Alistair Darling, announced in the Pre-Budget Report in November that £3bn of public works – upgrading motorways, improving schools and energy efficiency projects – would be brought forward to 2008-09 and 2009-10.
Reason for action: The next two years are likely to be the worst of the recession, with unemployment expected to top three million. The move will provide work for the construction industry and benefit infrastructure. Gordon Brown said the initiative would "create probably 100,000 additional jobs".
What happened next: The money will begin to be spent from April. Dozens of projects are on hold because of a lack of cash and firms' reluctance to invest.
Initiative: Suspension of stamp duty for houses between £125,000 and £175,000 for a year at a cost of £600m; it will help 500,000 people.
Reason for action: The property market was in crisis by last summer, with the number of new mortgages plunging by 71 per cent to a historic low of 33,000 in July.
What happened next: Last year was one of the worst for sales in decades. Since Christmas, the National Association of Estate Agents said the average number of househunters on estate agents' books had risen from 200 to 242 – but they still sell only six properties per month.
Initiative: Mr Darling's Pre-Budget Report contained a surprise cut in the VAT rate from 17.5 to 15 per cent, effective from 1 December until 1 January 2010. Reason for action: Fears of a collapse in confidence on the high street spurred the Government to pump £12.5bn into the economy.
What happened next: The meltdown did not materialise, although the value of sales dropped by 0.8 per cent compared with December 2007. It is a moot point how much difference the VAT cut made: retailers were already slashing prices.
Initiative: Mr Darling has unveiled two spectacular bailouts for Britain's largest banks and taken huge taxpayer stakes in some. In October, up to £400bn of public money was made available to the largest banks to save the banking system from collapse and get banks lending to each other. It included £250bn in loan guarantees and £100bn of short-term loans from the Bank of England. Last month, the Treasury announced a state-backed insurance scheme against banks' exposure to bad debt to get banks lending. The Bank of England will be able to buy up to £50bn worth of "toxic assets" in companies to inject fresh cash into the markets. On Thursday, the Royal Bank of Scotland struck a deal with the Treasury that will see the Government inject £25.5bn into the bank and insure £325bn of assets. Talks on a similar insurance deal with Lloyds continue. The deal could take the taxpayer stake in RBS up to 95 per cent.
Reason for action: Some of the world's largest banks were teetering on the brink of collapse in the autumn and needed vast capital injections to keep them afloat. A second bailout was announced to try to unblock lending. Thursday's action to insure toxic assets is widely seen as the last throw of the dice to unblock lending.
What happened next: Despite posting vast losses, RBS and the merged Lloyds/HBOS superbank have not collapsed, although efforts to secure their future and isolate "toxic" assets continue. However, ministers have yet to crack the crucial issue of restoring lending, seen by most commentators as the key to economic recovery.
Home energy efficiency
Initiative: The £910m programme, offered with energy companies, included free cavity and loft insulation for pensioners and poorer households and an offer of half-price insulation for every family. Ministers announced a freeze on fuel bills for 500,000 with low incomes and promised to lift cold-weather payments from £8.50 a week to £25 a week for pensioners, disabled people and unemployed families with children under five if temperatures dropped below freezing for more than a week.
Reason for action: Announced in September, this was the first of the major initiatives designed to help Britons beat the downturn. Despite union criticism that "lagging the loft" would not help hard-pressed families, ministers argued that upgrading housing would provide jobs and cut spending.
What happened next: The package gave extra cash under the Carbon Emission Reduction Target program- me funded by energy companies, offering free insulation for those on benefits and over 70, with up to half-price loft and cavity wall insulation for other householders. The number of people receiving cavity wall and loft insulation under the scheme has since nearly doubled to 400,000.
Initiative: Rescue packages to help people cover their mortgages. A scheme to allow households to defer mortgage interest for up to two years if they suffer a drop in income will start in April. Benefit rules have been changed from January to allow the unemployed to get mortgage interest paid after 13 weeks on the dole rather than the previous 39 weeks. Ministers pledged to ensure court rules encourage lenders to see repossessions as the last resort.
Reasons for action: Ministers have been worried at the sharp rise in repossessions since the downturn.
What happened next: The mortgage relief scheme for middle-class households will be on stream next month after talks with lenders. The Government moved in December to cut a time lag between claiming benefits and getting help with mortgage payments. The first to benefit should get payments next month. Civil court rules requiring lenders and homeowners to try to resolve problems before repossession takes place came into force this month.
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