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Chase Bank Limits Cash Withdrawals, Bans International... Before you read this report, remember to sign up to for 100% free stock alerts Chase Bank has moved to limit cash withdrawals while banning business customers from sending...

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Cambodia: aftermath of fatal shoe factory collapse... Workers clear rubble following the collapse of a shoe factory in Kampong Speu, Cambodia, on Thursday

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UK Uncut loses legal challenge over Goldman Sachs tax... While judge agreed the deal was 'not a glorious episode in the history of the Revenue', he ruled it was not unlawfulCampaign group UK Uncut Legal Action has lost its high court challenge over the legality...

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TUC warns of ‘lost decade’ as IMF arrives to scrutinise UK economy

Category : Business

Officials to investigate economic outlook as unions argue austerity policies are causing UK to lag behind in global recovery

International Monetary Fund officials arrive in London today for their annual health check of Britain’s economy as the government faces a fresh warning its austerity drive is causing a “lost decade of growth”.

Echoing the IMF’s recent warning that George Osborne, the chancellor, needed to ease up on austerity cuts in the face of a stagnant economy, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) has argued that the UK is being left behind in the global recovery.

It said the UK is experiencing a slower economic recovery than 23 of the 33 advanced economies monitored by the IMF. The TUC report, issued to coincide with the arrival of the IMF mission, also claims the vast majority of eurozone countries are performing better.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “We truly are experiencing a lost decade for growth. While other countries are already seeing a rise in economic output, the UK won’t return to its pre-crash level for another four years.

“The chancellor’s commitment to self-defeating austerity has prolonged people’s suffering and put the brakes on our economic recovery – so much so that escaping a triple-recession is considered by some to be a cause for celebration. Even George Osborne’s favourite economic institution, the IMF, is calling on him to change course.”

Looking at income per head, the TUC warned the UK would not return to its pre-crash level until 2017. By contrast, income per head in Germany and the US would be more than 10% higher a decade on from the financial crisis.

The TUC said the figures, based on the IMF’s latest GDP forecasts, also revealed how the UK is emerging from recession at a slower rate than at any time in recent history. The report says: “In 1985, UK income per head was 6% higher than it was before the 1980 crash. In 1995, UK income per head was 7% higher than it was before the 1990 recession. UK income per head is today still 6% below its 2008 level.”

Over the next two weeks IMF officials will be gathering information on the UK’s economic prospects from the Treasury, Bank of England, private sector economists, trade union officials and the government’s independent forecaster, the Office for Budget Responsibility. The IMF deputy managing director, David Lipton, is then expected to hold a news conference on or around 22 May at the end of the discussions.

IMF officials caused embarrassment for Osborne last month when, alarmed at the flatlining of the British economy in 2011 and 2012, they urged him to do more to boost growth and to rethink plans to cut the structural budget deficit by 1% of national income in 2013-14.

The Washington-based organisation was initially a strong supporter of the coalition’s approach to tackling the UK’s record peacetime budget deficit. But its chief economist, Olivier Blanchard, singled out the UK as a country that had the scope to ease fiscal policy to boost growth. Osborne was particularly irritated by Blanchard’s comment that the UK was “playing with fire” by refusing to change tack.

Osborne, however, will stand firm at meetings with the IMF delegation. Treasury officials intend to show that any change to the strategy they have followed for the last three years would damage the government’s credibility in the financial markets and the subsequent increase in long-term interest rates would outweigh any benefits from cutting taxes or increasing spending.

The Treasury will say that the economy is gradually on the mend and that the IMF’s anxiety about the weakness of growth has already been addressed in recent policy initiatives. They will also say that the sluggishness of the economy in 2012 was a result of the drop in exports to the crisis-hit eurozone, rather than weak consumer spending.

The TUC argues that many eurozone economies, including France, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands, are recovering faster in GDP per head terms and so Osborne “cannot blame Europe for the UK’s economic woes”. It wants the chancellor to ease off on austerity and focus more on jobs and spurs to growth and confidence such as an extensive house building programme.

“He should start learning from countries like the US whose ambitious programme of investment in jobs is helping to turn its economy around,” said O’Grady.

A Treasury spokesperson said: “This is an own goal by Labour’s paymasters. This analysis starts in 2008 and so includes the biggest recession in modern history – which happened under Labour. Clearing up the mess we inherited won’t happen overnight.”

Chris Leslie, shadow financial secretary to the Treasury, said: “George Osborne should not arrogantly dismiss the advice of hte IMF team flying into London this week. It is time the chancellor listened to their warnings that his failing economic poilicies are plahing with fire and that Britian now needs a plan ‘B for jobs and growth.”

The IMF cut its forecast for UK growth in both 2013 and 2014 last month. Its publication – the half-yearly World Economic Outlook – said GDP would rise by 0 .7% this year and by 1.5% in 2014 – in both cases a cut of 0.3 points from its last set of predictions in January.

Nick Clegg proposes tax breaks on bonuses at employee-owned firms

Category : Business

Deputy PM says he wants to encourage more owners to sell business on to employees

Nick Clegg will propose tax breaks on bonuses handed out to staff in employee-owned firms as part of an attempt to boost what he calls the “John Lewis economy”.

In a speech to the Employee Ownership Association, the deputy prime minister will outline plans to consult in the summer on “a relief on tax on bonuses paid through benefit trusts, where a significant chunk of the business is owned by employees”.

To qualify it would be necessary for the rewards to go to the whole company and not just those at the top.

It is the first time that Clegg has gone so far as to promise a specific consultation on the issue. He will say: “Employee ownership works because it so neatly aligns incentives and puts the workers at the heart of the business.”

The ideas go beyond the budget commitment to provide £50m capital gains tax relief from next year for a majority shareholder to sell his company to his employees.

Justifying that plan, Clegg will say: “Many owners end up selling to the investor who has the largest chequebook but little regard for the traditions, employees and customers of the firm.

“Others hand the business down to their children even if that isn’t what they or their children really want. What we want to encourage is for more owners to sell the business on to those people who know the business inside out, who will go the extra mile, the wider family who have worked to build it up and contribute to its success – in other words, the employees.”

In the past year there has been a 10% growth in the number of employee-owned firms.

In common with the Tories Francis Maude and Oliver Letwin, Clegg is pushing for a diverse model of companies in the UK, including mutuals in the public sector. He will say: “A diversity of business models in an economy is important because it ensures that not all firms are structured to take short-sighted, gung-ho risks on behalf of others.

“Crucially, employee ownership can drive employee engagement by aligning the incentives of ordinary workers and the business. In practical terms, it means lower absenteeism and lower levels of staff turnover. Across public service mutuals we have seen organisations who have decreased their absenteeism by an average 20% since spin-out. Many companies spend thousands of pounds to come up with quirky ideas to motivate their staff, yet fundamentally it is the structure of their company which fails to align incentives.

“The Cass Business School concluded in 2010 that employee-owned businesses are between nine and 19% more productive than traditionally structured companies. So not only does employee ownership help build a more motivated, more committed workforce, but it improves the bottom line too.”

Conservatives seek eleventh-hour press regulation deal

Category : Business

Newspaper groups including owners of Sun and Mail threaten boycott of regulator if plan proposed by Labour agreed to

Britain’s main political leaders are taking talks on the future of press regulation down to the wire amid signs that David Cameron is prepared to reach a last-minute deal to avoid a damaging defeat in the House of Commons on Monday.

As George Osborne insisted that the government was not “grandstanding” over the issue of press reform, the prime minister appeared to change tack by reopening talks with Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, days after abandoning all-party negotiations.

The renewed political discussions came as three of Britain’s largest newspaper groups, including the owners of the Sun and the Daily Mail, ramped up the pressure by signalling that they were prepared to boycott the proposed press watchdog and set up their own body if Labour and the Lib Dems succeed in creating a statutory underpinning of the new royal charter.

The deputy prime minister found himself effectively acting as a go-between between the prime minster and Ed Miliband . Clegg spoke to the Labour leader on three occasions during the day – twice before meeting the prime minister and once afterwards.

The reopening of limited all-party talks came amid signs that Cameron is heading for a defeat in the Commons over tabled amendments to the crime and courts bill to establish exemplary damages for media organisations that do not sign up to a new regulatory body. Labour and the Lib Dems, who have 314 MPs to the Tories’ 304 MPs, are planning to table their own amendments to strengthen the planned royal charter establishing the new body.

The Tories and Labour played hardball in what appeared to be something of an operation to paper over changes on all sides. Maria Miller, the culture secretary, was despatched on to the airwaves to say Labour had climbed down.

“Labour has been trying to push through a tough form of statutory regulation for the press with really unacceptable consequences for freedom of speech in this country,” Miller told Sky News. “I think their climbdown from that position has put them much closer to our position and I think that is to be welcomed.”

Labour dismissed Miller’s remarks and insisted that it was standing by its core demands – statutory underpinning of the royal charter, a guarantee of prominent apologies by errant newspapers and no press veto on members of the new regulatory body.

A senior Labour source said: “We are in lock-step with the Lib Dems on this. We are clear we are not going to accept [Cameron's] royal charter. Any agreement must be on the basis of our royal charter. We are planning to go ahead with the votes in the Commons.”

There was silence in Whitehall as the government parties prepared for another round of talks in the runup to the votes in the Commons.

The Tories claim that talks between the party leaders broke down last week when Labour sought to strengthen the royal charter on the basis of last-minute proposals by the Hacked Off campaign group. This prompted the prime minister to call for a Commons vote on his proposals.

One observer said: “It is like a game of poker. On Tuesday, the prime minister called their bluff. Then, at the weekend, when they published their royal charter and seemed to revert to their earlier position, they folded their hand.”

This was dismissed by Labour which said the prime minister appeared to be changing his position. The chancellor indicated that Downing Street may be adopting a more flexible approach when he said he was still hopeful of an all-party agreement.

Osborne told the Andrew Marr Show on BBC1: “It would be great on Monday if we can get some kind of agreement, even at this late stage, between the parties. Frankly, press regulation that is achieved in a way that divides the political parties is not a press regulation that is really going to last and it is not a press regulation which is deeply rooted in our culture.

“I would say there is still an opportunity for us to get together and get a press regulation that works.

Ultimately we are not about grandstanding on this. We are about getting a press law that works and protects the press and gives justice to victims of press abuse.”

It is understood that the prime minister may be able to live with a statutory underpinning of the royal charter – one of the key Lib Dem and Labour demands. The legal underpinning is designed to ensure that the royal charter can only be changed by agreement of two thirds of MPs, and not simply, like other royal charters, by ministers.

Cameron believes such underpinning is not necessary but is willing to be flexible because he has seen off what Osborne described as “some all-singing, all-dancing Leveson law”.

But there are still differences over the composition of the regulatory body and on how apologies would be carried.

The prime minister is understood to share the concerns of many in the press that leading lights in the Hacked Off group, such as Brian Cathcart, could find themselves on the new body.

Downing Street said it was unable to answer the latest of several requests from the Guardian to reveal how many meetings the prime minister has had with editors, publishers or representatives of the press.

David Cameron faces double defeat over press reform

Category : Business

Peers expected to approve royal charter with statute, and MPs to vote against press veto for board membership

David Cameron is on course for a double defeat on press regulation on Monday when peers are expected to vote to underpin a newspaper royal charter with statute, and MPs to vote against the industry retaining a veto over the members of a new independent board to regulate the industry.

Tory whips will spend the weekend trying to put the squeeze on its backbenchers to back a still radically reformed system of regulation, but which stops short of the demands being made by Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the victims of press intrusion organised by Hacked Off.

In an attempt to show leadership, Cameron pulled the plug on the talks on Thursday, saying the gap between the two sides was unbridgeable, and could only be resolved by a vote in parliament.

Rival royal charters setting out new systems of press regulation were published on Friday by the Conservatives, and by Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader and deputy prime minister, said: “I have not given up hope of finding a cross-party agreement, which is why today we are publishing a strengthened version of the royal charter that can deliver what Leveson wanted. We will also put in place an explicit safeguard in law against future governments playing around with the royal charter – a crucial guarantee for both the public and the press.

“I have always been clear that I don’t dismiss out of hand a legislative approach. I hope the approach we are publishing today plots a middle course between the dangers of doing nothing and the fears some people have of a full-scale legislative approach.

“This is a system that both myself and [Labour leader] Ed Miliband back, and that I believe Conservative MPs can also support. It reassures the press that there is no danger to their historical freedom, while giving assurance to the victims that they will be protected from unwarranted bullying and harassment.”

Miliband’s aides said Labour would have preferred MPs to be given a straight choice on Monday between the two royal charters, but Cameron had blocked that option, forcing Labour instead to make amendments to the crime and courts bill.

Unless Miliband suffers a much larger internal rebellion than expected, it is hard to see how Cameron will find sufficient support to overcome the newly combined forces of Labour and the Lib Dems.

Cabinet members are being dragged back from overseas to participate in the vote, but Cameron’s officials acknowledge that defeat is still likely.

For the second day in succession, No 10 said Cameron would respect the will of parliament if the Labour and Lib Dem amendments were passed. “Parliament is sovereign,” the spokesman said.

Cameron will tell the industry that he put precious political capital on the line to protect it, but it will now be down to a divided newspaper industry to decide whether to fight the outcome in the courts.

Oliver Letwin, the minister for policy, had initially proposed a royal charter as a means of regulating the press without the need for statute – Cameron has said any statutory oversight would be crossing a rubicon.

Apart from the statutory underpinning of the royal charter, supported by Labour and the Lib Dems, the two versions of the charter published yesterday differ over the right of the regulatory body to direct corrections, the right for the industry to veto members of the regulatory body and the treatment of complaints by third parties.

Differences over other contentious issues, such as responsibility for drafting the press standards code, and the imposition of exemplary damages on newspapers that do not join the system of self regulation, have narrowed.

The Conservatives still claim that, under Labour-Lib Dem proposals, a court could take account of membership of a recognised regulator in deciding damages, but if the newspaper was a member of the regulatory body, they would still be at risk of exemplary damages.

George Eustice, a Tory MP sympathetic to greater reform, urged the three parties to seek an 11th-hour compromise. At one point Eustice had claimed that 70 Tories supported tighter regulation, but that number will wilt to below 20 as the two charters are examined, and party loyalty kicks in.

Eustice claimed: “All the party leaders were remarkably close to an agreement yesterday. It is a shame that they ran out of time. There were a lot of small, rather nitpicking differences.

“In the end the prime minister concluded he was not going to be able to resolve differences by Monday. I still hope that come Monday calm heads will prevail and people will still come together to resolve a deal. We are very much nearly there.”

He urged the prime minister to move on the newspaper veto over the membership of the self-regulatory board.

A second Tory MP, Robert Buckland, wrote in the Guardian: “The independence of the regulator should be clear and unequivocal. That means that the press should not have a veto on appointments to the board of the regulator. There are plenty of other precedents – besides the legal one – for such a system.”

Eastleigh is a hollow victory for the Lib Dems | Deborah Orr

Category : Business

Despite all their talk of rejecting the ‘old politics’, Nick Clegg’s party is now clearly part of the problem

They may be claiming Eastleigh as a great victory, and who can blame them? But the truth is that the Lib Dems lost 14% of their vote, compared to the 2010 election, which was exactly the same as the percentage of votes that the

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George Osborne hasn’t just failed – this is an economic disaster | Seumas Milne

Category : Business

Coalition austerity has delivered depression and a lost decade. Labour has to avoid locking itself into more of the same

It would be comic if the consequences weren’t so grim. There is no economic failure, it turns out, which cannot be hailed by George Osborne as a vindication of the policies that brought it about. Faced with the decision by the credit agency Moody’s to scrap Britain’s AAA rating, the chancellor declared it was yet another reason to stick to austerity – and the “clearest possible warning” to anyone who might think of breaking with it.

No evidence from the real world, it seems, can divert Osborne and David Cameron from their chosen course. The pronouncements of agencies such as Moody’s, which gave the US investment

Coalition guilty of ‘astonishing omission’ in audit, says Labour

Category : Business

Ministers publish report saying UK is on course to meet fiscal mandate but does not mention failure on debt-to-GDP ratio vow

The coalition has declared that it is on course to meet its central economic pledge after omitting a “supplementary” element of the government’s fiscal mandate from an audit of its achievements.

Labour said the government was guilty of an “astonishing” omission after failing to mention George Osborne’s pledge in his emergency budget of 2010 to ensure debt is falling as a share of GDP by 2015-16.

The lengthy audit – described by David Cameron as full, frank and “completely unvarnished” – was panned by Peter Riddell, the director of the non-party Institute for Government, who called the section on university tuition fees “completely misleading”.

In an interview with Channel 4 News, Riddell said the audit had not mentioned that university tuition fees had been trebled to £9,000. The audit said a “new funding regime” had been agreed and institutions wishing to charge more than £6,000 in fees would have to sign an annual access agreement to ensure that students from modest backgrounds are helped.

“There is no reference to what actually happened, which is the £9,000,” Riddell said. “So what is said there is defensible in the narrowest of narrow terms. But it is completely misleading about what happened.”

Downing Street dismissed the criticisms, on the grounds that the audit was simply marking the coalition agreement, which was published in May 2010. This said nothing about the £9,000 ceiling on university tuition fees, agreed in late 2010, and nothing about the fiscal mandate outlined in Osborne’s emergency budget.

But Labour was scathing about the coalition’s claim that it was meeting its fiscal mandate. A party source said: “It’s astonishing that this so-called audit refuses to acknowledge the government’s failures on the economy. The audit claims the government is meeting its fiscal mandate, but only last month George Osborne was forced to announce that he would break his pledge to start getting the debt down by 2015.

“And as for the broken promise to secure economic recovery, this audit does not mention any growth figures from the last two-and-a-half years let alone the double-dip recession. David Cameron and George Osborne are in denial that their failing policies have led to broken promises on the economy. And the price for this failure is being paid for by millions of working people who will be made worse off while millionaires get a tax cut.”

The audit makes its claim about the deficit on the basis of the judgment by the Office for Budget Responsibility last month that the government was “on course to meet our fiscal mandate”.

The OBR said last month’s autumn statement that the government was “more likely than not to meet the mandate” – the elimination of the structural budget deficit.

But in his autumn statement on 5 December the chancellor admitted that the OBR had also said in its assessment that he would fail to meet the “supplementary” element of the fiscal mandate – that debt should be falling as a proportion of GDP by 2015-16. This did not technically count as failing to meet the fiscal mandate because the debt target was defined as a “supplementary” element.

Osborne told MPs: “We will meet our fiscal mandate. But the OBR assess in their central forecast that we do not meet the supplementary objective that aims to have debt falling by 2015-16. The point at which debt starts to fall has been delayed by one year, to 2016-17.”

The 119-page audit published on the Cabinet Office website says Osborne is on course to meet his deficit reduction target – the elimination of the structural budget deficit through spending cuts and tax rises. This is because it is assessed on a rolling, forward-looking five-year basis in which no definitive judgment needs to be made.

But in his emergency budget in June 2010, the chancellor he said he would achieve this by 2015-16 and that he even hoped to do so a year earlier. He said: “The formal mandate we set is that the structural current deficit should be in balance in the final year of the five-year forecast period, which is 2015-16 in this budget

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UK Border Agency texts tell legitimate immigrants to leave UK

Category : Business

Agency admits inaccurate files were given to private company Capita as part of £40m contract to trace illegal immigrants

The home secretary, Theresa May, has promised to look into the cases of people entitled to live in Britain who have been wrongly told to leave the country by a private company acting on behalf of the UK Border Agency (UKBA).

Capita, which won a £40m UKBA contract to trace 174,000 migrants living illegally in the country from September, has been sending text messages and emails to them telling they are required to leave Britain. But immigration lawyers say those who have received Capita’s texts in recent weeks include a woman with a valid British passport and a man with a valid visa who had invested £1m in a UK-based business.

The standard text message from the firm reads: “Message from the UK Border Agency: You are required to leave the UK as you no longer have the right to remain.” It urges recipients to contact UKBA immediately.

Lawyers say the texts were sent out over the Christmas period and those who were wrongly informed they needed to leave the country were left extremely distressed and upset.

Alison Harvey, of the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association, said it had asked for the messages not to be sent over the holiday period: “We were concerned at reports of people who had valid leave to be in the UK receiving the texts and that, over the holiday period, it would be difficult for them to get in touch with their lawyer and they would be anxious and distressed with no possibility of reassurance. Our request was declined.”

Capita said it was working on the basis of information received from UKBA.

“A contact telephone number is provided for applicants to discuss their case, and any individual contacted who believes they have valid leave should make use of this number,” the company said.

“Capita has been instructed to contact individuals regardless of their legal representation as many of the details the UK Border Agency has on file may be inaccurate and out of date given the age of the cases.”

UKBA admitted the problem was with the accuracy of its records: “We advise anyone contacted in error to contact us so records can be updated. Where our records show that people are here illegally, it is vital we are able to contact them as we are determined that they should return home. This is the first time a government has taken proactive steps to deal with this pool of cases, some of which date back to December 2008.”

The Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, Julian Huppert, pressed May at Home Office questions in the Commons on Monday to halt the practice.

May told him she would look into any individual cases for which he could provide details.

The £40m contract covers the 174,000 migrants who have been refused permission to stay in Britain but whose whereabouts are unknown to the authorities. The existence of this “migration refusal pool” was disclosed last July during an investigation by John Vine, the independent inspector of immigration. UKBA said at the time that 40% of those in the “pool” had not been formally told that they must leave Britain. Many may have already left voluntarily.

Nearly 50,000 new homes will be built in 2013, Nick Clegg pledges

Category : Business

Competition to build new garden cities and suburbs among plans being revealed by Liberal Democrat leader

Nearly 50,000 homes could start going up next year as a result of the government intervening to unblock stalled projects. In a preview of next month’s autumn statement by the chancellor, Nick Clegg will outline on Thursday the plans in a speech warning of a housing crisis in which more than 100,000 new homes are needed to meet demand.

Housing groups and business leaders have also been calling for a boost in housebuilding, which would quickly create jobs and stimulate growth in the UK’s stagnant economy.

The Lib Dem leader will also detail the government’s plans for a competition to build new “garden cities and suburbs”, modelled on the more ambitious new towns such as Letchworth and Welwyn, built in the early 20th century, and Corby, Basildon and Milton Keynes, created after the second world war.

“Unless we take radical action we will see more and more small communities wither, our big cities will become every more congested as we continue to pile on top of each other and the lack of supply will push prices and rents so high that – unless you or your parents are very rich – for so many young people living in your dream home is going to be a pipe dream,” the draft of Clegg’s speech says. “There’s only one way out of this housing crisis: we have to build our way out.”

Clegg’s speech follows a host of government announcements that have promised to “kickstart” the house building industry, including a major housing strategy announced a year ago with the promise that it would be “ambitious” and “deliver homes and strengthen the economy”; an independent review of the problems led by the chairman of 3i investment group, Sir Adrian Montague, which reported earlier this year; and an ongoing review of house building standards intended to cut red tape for builders.

Statistics released last week show that in the 12 months to the end of September, new housing starts fell 9% to less than 100,000, though completions rose by 6% to 117,190.

The government is also competing with half a century of under-building of new homes, and the failure of the Labour government’s ambitious “eco-towns” project which, similar to the coalition’s new towns programme, had intended to construct new settlements of up to 20,000 homes.

Clegg will argue that the “politics of housebuilding is shifting” as parents are increasingly worried about how their children will get on to the housing ladder – potentially counterbalancing a long history of local opposition to new developments. The average age at which people can now afford their first home has risen to 35.

“As we, as a society, become more open to development that creates the space for politicians to be bold,” say extracts of Clegg’s speech.

Clegg will announce that the government has found “a number of large locally-led schemes” – of between 4,000 and 9,500 homes – which had “hit a wall” and pledge to “intervene directly”, including providing funding in the form of loans which would be repaid when the homes were sold. If all the schemes went ahead, they would build 48,600 new flats and houses, he adds. All were ready to start building new year if they could be helped, said sources close to Cameron.

However the deputy prime minister is set to disappoint housing experts who have called on government to release public land to speed up new developments by only demanding payment once the homes were built and sold, signalled sources.

The National House Building Council welcomed the focus on a long-term programme rather than “ad-hoc initiatives”, adding: “But such an ambitious programme shouldn’t come at the expense of other shorter-term measures which could deliver growth quicker, for example giving small parcels of public sector land over to developers to be built on.”

Jack Dromey MP, Labour’s shadow housing minister, said: “On house building the government has made announcement after announcement followed by failure after failure.

“Rather than more empty promises we need the Government to take real action now and to tackle the housing crisis and boost our flatlining economy.

“That is why they should back Labour’s call to use the windfall from the 4G auction to build 100,000 more affordable homes, and give a stamp duty holiday to first time buyers.”

Energy policy negotiated as coalition leaders meet to discuss green agenda

Category : Business

Cameron and Clegg concerned about threats by major investment companies that they might leave the UK

Senior coalition figures meet on Wednesday for crisis talks about the UK’s stalling energy investment program amid growing political concern about the rising cost of customer bills and threats by power station companies to pull out of the UK because of delays.

The meeting of what has been dubbed the ‘green quad’ is expected to set the Conservative-run Treasury against the Liberal Democrat-run energy department, which have been rowing over the issue for months.

Sources on both sides of the coalition said that both the prime minister David Cameron and his deputy, the Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, were frustated and worried by the continuing dispute, particularly following a series of warnings by major investment companies that they might quit the UK. Just last week seven global electricity and nuclear giants, including Alstom and Mitsubishi, who between them employ tens of thousands of workers, threatened to reassess their investment plans because lack of decision-making and threats to axe key green targets had raised the “political risk” of the UK.

Cameron and Clegg will meet with the chancellor, George Osborne, and his deputy, the Lib Dem chief financial secretary Danny Alexander – the core quad of top ministers – and Ed Davey, the Lib Dem energy and climate change secretary, for what one senior source warned would be an “unholy war” between the Treasury and Davey’s department, Decc. The figure, who opposes cutting renewable energy subsidies, said: “Perhaps Osborne is railing against the climate change act, or perhaps he believes the hype of shale gas.”

A senior Conservative told the Guardian that David Cameron is now personally re-engaging with the green agenda, recognising it as one of the few growing parts of the economy. “The PM wants to bring the Treasury and Decc on to the same page,” the source said. “The Treasury has to sign up to the renewable energy agenda, while Decc has to reassure on costs.”

Clegg on Tuesday acknowledged top level concern about the continuing delays, telling MPs in response to a question about how uncertainty was damaging for investment that: “This is not just about whether we think it is right for the environment, but about what is right for our economy. The green sector employs close to 1 million people, was growing at about 4% or 5% last year and is one of the few sectors that runs a trade surplus.”

Sources familiar with the negotiations said a likely deal would give the chancellor more leeway on the decision to limit the subsidies that can be charged to energy customers’ bills, via an existing power called the levy control framework (LCF), with a fresh cap currently being negotiated to begin in 2015. In return, Davey would get a new carbon target – to virtually eliminate emissions from electricity generation by 2030 – written into the energy bill due to be published in early November. That target has had the backing of some major energy companies and the renewable energy industry, and conditional support from the Confederation of British Industry, representing the country’s biggest businesses and employers. However, there is growing political pressure over the rising cost of consumer fuel bills – raised again on Tuesday with the powerful consumer group Which? demanding an independent inquiry into whether fuel costs or political policies were pushing them higher and higher.

Other negotiating chips on the table include cutting some of the four demonstration plants for carbon capture and storage technology promised in the coalition agreement, and the inclusion of pollution from aviation and shipping in the nation’s carbon cutting targets.

Restricting renewable subsidies via the LCF could mean the UK would be unable to meet its legally binding target to produce 15% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020 from domestic sources. Renewable energy credits would have to be bought in from abroad to make up the shortfall. But one government adviser told the Guardian: “That is not a credible strategy. You would need to provide credible evidence for where you would get it from and there is no reason to think there will be countries willing to export.”

Tim Yeo, Conservative MP and chair of the influential House of Commons energy and climate change committee, said: “You can’t have a cap on the levy control framework and guarantee meeting the carbon budgets, because no-one knows what the cost of low-carbon energy will be.”

But Yeo said Davey winning a new 2030 carbon target might be the more significant victory. “The levy control framework will not be an issue for years” and could be challenged afresh in future, he said. “The 2030 target would be a win because it will provide more certainty for investors, which is valuable. But it also a very useful building block towards 2014, when there is a review of the carbon budgets. That is a very dangerous time when the government may come under pressure from Conservative backbenchers one year ahead of an election.”