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Editor’s letter: Brown’s blues

All well and good, and since when did companies vote in favour of red tape?
But the OFR will continue, if under a different name, as best practice compels
businesses to reveal more and more about themselves, their strategies and their
risks. So what, exactly, was Brown trying to achieve? We’re not sure that there
are many votes to be had in The Hundred Group of Finance Directors ­ and the
accountancy profession is unlikely to regard abolition of the OFR as unalloyed
good news. As for investors, well…

Brown’s cut in his own economic growth forecasts might suggest that he has
had his eye off the ball ­ though, admittedly, his track record has been better
than that of many of his detractors. But his £1bn pre-Budget report tax hit on
the North Sea oil industry came as a blow to countless exploration companies
that had spent the past few months explaining to HM Treasury, in words of no
more than two syllables, why a politically-motivated, oil price-fuelled
‘windfall tax’ on the continental shelf industry would be counter-productive.

The PBR also scrapped many of the benefits of self-invested pension plans
(SIPPs), many months after advisers and taxpayers had started planning for their
introduction ­ and after a long period of warnings about the impact of
SIPP-based buy-to-lets on the housing market. As for the Turner report, it was
comprehensively trashed as “unaffordable” by Brown’s Treasury team even before
it was published.

These otherwise relatively insignificant events (insignificant, that is,
compared to an old-style, Labour-induced currency crisis or industrial
‘in’action) hint at a Chancellor who is so uncomfortable in his own skin he is
losing interest in doing his own job properly. His brooding impatience to
succeed Blair may now be affecting his mastery of the Treasury, with clear
implications not only for the financial management of the economy, but for the
political outlook over the next year.

Here’s hoping your 2006 is more cheerful and prosperous.

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