Kenneth Clarke warns Britain is on the brink of meltdown

Kenneth Clarke, the former Conservative Chancellor, has warned the economy is on the brink of “meltdown” and unemployment could reach three million.

Mr Clarke, 68, said the British economy is headed for a “catastrophic crisis” that will be “far worse than anything that has occurred in my lifetime”.

“There will be a very serious recession next year,” he said in an interview with Telegraph TV. “I think the big problem in 2009 will be the catastrophic fall in consumer spending demand, spending in shops will get worse.”

Mr Clarke, who as Chancellor of the Exchequer between 1993 and 1997 led Britain’s recovery from Black Wednesday, called for a temporary cut in VAT to boost spending.

Speaking as the Office of National Statistics revealed unemployment has reached an 11-year high of 1.82m, Mr Clarke said the number of jobless could soon reach three million.

Read moreKenneth Clarke warns Britain is on the brink of meltdown

MPs seek to censor the media

Britain’s security agencies and police would be given unprecedented and legally binding powers to ban the media from reporting matters of national security, under proposals being discussed in Whitehall.

The Intelligence and Security Committee, the parliamentary watchdog of the intelligence and security agencies which has a cross-party membership from both Houses, wants to press ministers to introduce legislation that would prevent news outlets from reporting stories deemed by the Government to be against the interests of national security.

The committee also wants to censor reporting of police operations that are deemed to have implications for national security. The ISC is to recommend in its next report, out at the end of the year, that a commission be set up to look into its plans, according to senior Whitehall sources.

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RBS bank executives enjoy SECRET £300,000 champagne party… just weeks after £20bn bail-out by taxpayers

Last night an RBS spokesman said: ‘This was an entirely appropriate staff event to recognise outstanding performance by a small number of our staff.’
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The Royal Bank of Scotland has blown £300,000 on a secret champagne junket for executives – less than a month after being given a £20billion handout by the taxpayer.

Bankers and their partners enjoyed the lavish party to mark their ‘success’ after a year in which the collapse of the banking industry led to global financial meltdown.

The supposedly stricken bank laid on the celebration amid extraordinary secrecy to try to prevent details reaching the public, even cancelling the original venue, a top hotel in Hampshire, and transferring the party 350 miles north to Edinburgh.

Dancing in the street: Bankers threw a lavish party to celebrate 'success'
Dancing in the street: Bankers threw a lavish party to celebrate ‘success’

But despite holding the black-tie ball in private, executives gave the game away as they danced in the street and continued the fun back at their five-star hotel.

Read moreRBS bank executives enjoy SECRET £300,000 champagne party… just weeks after £20bn bail-out by taxpayers

Financial crisis: The banks just don’t get it – they’re lucky to be alive

“No, you can’t”. These are unfashionable words at the moment – and nowhere more so than in the banking industry.

While politicians were hoping for an outbreak of economic optimism after Thursday’s reduction in interest rates, our High Street bank managers were having none of it.

Nearly 24 hours after the Bank of England slashed the official price of money by a record-breaking 1.5 percentage points, only three of the 88 major lenders had said they would pass it on to their borrowers. In fact, only 30 of them had got around to sharing the proceeds of last month’s half-point rate cut. The fact they were much quicker to cut interest rates for many savers only served to rub in the message: No, you can’t have a cheaper mortgage. No, you can’t get a fairer rate on your savings. No, you can’t expect us to go without large profits and bonuses. Change is for wimps.

Well, let’s see about that. In scenes that would have been unthinkable only two months ago, the Chancellor of the Exchequer summoned the industry’s leaders to Downing Street on Friday and promptly pistol-whipped them into submission. Treasury officials were said to have waved press cuttings in their faces, pointing out that the word “banker” had become a popular term of abuse – and not just in rhyming slang. Out they meekly trotted, finally ready to cut their standard variable rate on most mortgages by the same 1.5 percentage points suggested by the Bank of England.

Read moreFinancial crisis: The banks just don’t get it – they’re lucky to be alive

City of London recession to trigger £11bn tax revenue black hole

The financial crisis will result in tax revenues from City bonuses alone falling by as much as £4bn next year, according to one of Britain’s most influential economic forecasting firms.


Restrictions on bonuses at the banks which the Government is helping to rescue will also have the unintended consequence of lowering tax revenues Photo: MICHAEL WALTER

As investment banks, hedge funds and private equity firms – three of the principal drivers of the Square Mile’s explosive growth of recent years – cut tens of thousands of jobs, the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) expects the Treasury to face an overall City-generated taxation “black hole” of more than £10bn.

The CEBR believes the Government will collect around £5bn less than previously-estimated in corporation tax, while tax generated by bonuses, National Insurance contributions and base salaries is likely to fall by around £6bn.

The bleak forecasts underline the many ways in which cutbacks in the City, which has become a crucial engine of national economic growth, will contribute to an expected recession in Britain.

Restrictions on bonuses at the banks which the Government is helping to rescue will also have the unintended consequence of lowering tax revenues from City firms.

The deficit means Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, may need to borrow up to £110bn in the next financial year to plug the hole in the national balance sheet – almost three times the estimate of the £38bn forecast in his Budget statement last March.

Read moreCity of London recession to trigger £11bn tax revenue black hole

UK: Perilous state of economy revealed by MPC’s shock move

The perilous state of the UK economy was exposed as the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee made an unprecedented 1.5 percentage point cut in interest rates.


Winston Churchill meets the Queen in 1955. Photo: PA

The shock vote brought interest rates down to 3pc for the first time since January 1955, when Winston Churchill was prime minister. Economists forecast that the cut could pave the way for further reductions – with some claiming that rates could hit a historic low of 1pc.

Thursday’s move was interpreted as a desperate attempt to protect the UK economy from a severe recession.

“There has been a very marked deterioration in the outlook for economic activity at home and abroad,” said the MPC in an explanatory statement, adding that the threat of inflation was now receding.

It warned that after the most serious crisis in the global banking sector for almost a century, households and businesses were likely to find it difficult to obtain credit “for some time.” The MPC counted falling share prices, a sharp reduction in UK output, and a squeeze on household budgets among a nasty cocktail of circumstances that have combined to hit both businesses and consumers hard.

The MPC’s decision came amid a raft of gloomy news and data emerged. Figures from Halifax, the UK’s biggest mortgage lender, showed that house prices have fallen by 15pc over the past 12 months.

It was the sharpest drop since the survey began in 1983 and brought the average house price down to £168,176 in October, compared with almost £200,000 in the same month last year.

Read moreUK: Perilous state of economy revealed by MPC’s shock move

IMF urges radical action to fight global recession

The International Monetary Fund has slashed its forecast for the world economy next year, predicting outright contraction for the rich economies of North America, Europe, and Japan for the first time since the Second World War.


Taxi driving through Tokyo at night. Photo: GETTY

“Prospects for global growth have deteriorated over the past month. The financial crisis remains virulent. Markets have entered a vicious cycle of asset deleveraging,” said the fund yesterday.

Britain’s economy will suffer and will see the steepest decline in G7 club of leading powers, shrinking 1.3pc as the crunch in the City of London leads to more job losses. Germany will decline by 0.8pc, The US and Spain by 0.7pc.

Sending shivers through stockmarkets everwhere, the Fund cut its world outlook next year to just 2.2pc, down from 3pc just a month ago. This is a global recession under the IMF’s 3pc rule-of-thumb.

“Financial stress is likely to be deeper and more protracted than envisaged in October. Markets are pricing in expectations of much higher corporate default rates, as well as higher losses on securities and loans,” it said.

“Activity is increasingly being held back by slumping confidence. As the financial crisis has become more entrenched, households and firms are increasingly anticipating a prolonged period of poor prospects for jobs and profits. As a result, they are cutting back.”

Olivier Blanchard, the IMF’s chief economist, called on authorities around the world to respond rapidly with combined monetary and fiscal stimulus, saying risk on an inflationary surge had subsided as commodities prices slump.

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Darling summons bank chiefs over rate cut failure

Alistair Darling summoned the chief executives of Britain’s biggest banks to Downing Street today to demand that they immediately pass on the Bank of England’s interest rate cut to their customers.

Treasury sources confirmed to The Times that the Chancellor told the heads of all Britain’s big high street lenders – including HSBC, Barclays, Lloyds TSB, HBOS Nationwide and Abbey – to implement rate cuts immediately.

Yesterday, the Bank of England slashed interest rates by 1.5 per cent to 3 per cent, the lowest level in 54 years, and today, the shock reduction helped to ease the strain in nervous money markets.

Libor, which is the rate at which banks lend to each other and is key for pricing mortgages, fell by more than one per cent from 5.561 per cent to 4.496 per cent.

However, the figure remains almost 1.5 per cent higher than the official interest rate.

The spread between the Bank of England’s borrowing cost and the rate that banks charge to borrow money over a three-month period – a key measure in the wholesale money market – is the widest since October 22. The day before, Mervyn King, the Governor of the Bank of England, publicly acknowledged for the first time that a recession in the UK is now likely.

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Hundreds of small firms to go bust by Christmas


Business Secretary Peter Mandelson, is being urged to do more to help small businesses

Hundreds of small firms will go bust by the end of the year if ministers fail to deliver quickly on their pledge to increase bank lending, business leaders have warned.

Despite repeated calls for action from Gordon Brown and Chancellor Alistair Darling, it emerged that companies were still suffering from banks doubling overdraft charges and increasing interest rates.

The squeeze on bank lending puts huge pressure on the Government amid public expectation of a return for its £37 billion bailout with taxpayer cash.

Abbey yesterday increased rates by half a percentage point and Mr Brown was facing further embarrassment today as the nationalised northern Rock was expected to axe its tracker mortgages.

As Business Secretary Lord Mandelson prepared for a grilling by the House Of Lords, it emerged he had been personally warned by business leaders yesterday that firms were facing bankruptcy before Christmas.

Read moreHundreds of small firms to go bust by Christmas

Government black boxes will collect every email

Home Office says all data from web could be stored in giant government database

Internet “black boxes” will be used to collect every email and web visit in the UK under the Government’s plans for a giant “big brother” database, The Independent has learnt.

Home Office officials have told senior figures from the internet and telecommunications industries that the “black box” technology could automatically retain and store raw data from the web before transferring it to a giant central database controlled by the Government.

Plans to create a database holding information about every phone call, email and internet visit made in the UK have provoked a huge public outcry. Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, described it as “step too far” and the Government’s own terrorism watchdog said that as a “raw idea” it was “awful”.

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