Public 'losing confidence in Brown' over economy

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Public confidence in Gordon Brown as the best leader to deal with the economic crisis has fallen sharply, according to a poll carried out in the wake of his tax-cut package to haul Britain out of recession.

The Populus survey was published in The Times today as Mr Brown and his senior colleagues travelled to Leeds for the second Cabinet meeting held outside London since the summer.

Conducted after Monday's Pre-Budget Report, it found Mr Brown was rated best to lead Britain through the recession by 42 per cent of those questioned, compared to 52 per cent in a similar poll a fortnight ago.

Meanwhile, the chief executive of Sainsbury's supermarkets warned that the 2.5 per cent VAT reduction announced in the PBR was unlikely to have the intended affect of luring customers back into the shops.

Asked if the VAT cut would make a difference, Justin King told BBC1's Question Time: "I don't think in terms of the context of the competitiveness of what is going on in retail today it will, no. If we walk down the high street today you'll see 20 per cent off, 30 per cent off, 50 per cent off, so really in that context it's a drop in the ocean.

"And certainly from our perspective we felt there were different ways that money could have been invested to encourage consumers back into the shops."

Mr King said he expected large retailers like Sainsbury's to pass on the cut to customers, but said it would be "incredibly difficult and complex" for small shops to follow suit.

"This is not a simple thing," he said. "And I think you'll find that a lot of smaller businesses find that the cost of doing this outweighs the benefit they are able to offer their customers."

The VAT cut formed the centrepiece of a £20 billion fiscal stimulus package unveiled in Monday's PBR, which also included plans to bring forward £3 billion worth of state infrastructure spending to boost the economy.

Massive increases in borrowing will be clawed back, in part by a new 45% top rate of income tax for high earners and a 0.5 per cent increase in National Insurance from 2011.

Conservatives have accused ministers of creating a "basket case economy" for them to inherit after the election, but Labour insists that borrowing is needed to limit the length and depth of the recession.

Just over one-third of those quizzed for today's Populus poll thought the Government's measures to boost the economy will make things better in either the short or long term.

Around the same proportion thought the package unveiled by Chancellor Alistair Darling will make no real difference to the economy, while about one-fifth said it would make things worse in the coming months and a quarter believed it would make things worse over the next few years.

Mr Brown remained ahead of David Cameron as the best person to deal with the crisis, with the Conservative leader on 36 per cent, up four points from the previous poll taken on 7-9 November.

Mr Cameron led Mr Brown as the preferred Prime Minister after the next general election by a margin of 41 per cent to 33 per cent.

More than half of respondents (54 per cent) said they would save any money gained from the PBR measures, while 28 per cent said they would use it to pay bills and 18 per cent would buy things they might otherwise not have bought.

Today's Cabinet meeting in Leeds follows a similar "awayday" to Birmingham in September, which was believed to be the first Cabinet session outside the capital since 1922.

Mr Brown believes that holding Cabinet in the regions shows that the Government is taking account of the needs of voters outside London and gives ministers an opportunity to learn from local people.

The Prime Minister and his Cabinet colleagues are expected to visit schools, hospitals and companies around Yorkshire during the course of the day, as well as holding round-table discussions with local people.

- Populus interviewed 1,010 adults by telephone on November 25 and 26.

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