On both sides of the Atlantic the news is of slowdown and decline. US car output has been badly hit, UK housebuilders and construction companies are struggling and UK house prices are now falling in the way expected. There is deteriorating news from retailers. The leading indicators for UK manufacturing look bad.
People in the UK housebuilding and housing related areas are reporting a worse crunch than in previous downturns. This is the result of the badly managed credit and money policies of the last few years, and the result of the run on the Rock and its subsequent nationalisation. The most aggressive large lender of 2006 has been effectively withdrawn from the market by the need to get cash back for the government and because of the competition rules which rightly impede a nationalised subsidised concern making attractive offers to new borrowers.
In the House yesterday afternoon the government was still unable to tell us how it will compensate the 1.1 million remaining losers on lower incomes who have been hit by the abolition of the 10p tax band. The government declined to support a backbench Labour proposal to give them the money. Its promise to come forward with proposals at the time of the Pre Budget Report was sufficient to persuade the Labour rebels to back off. The longer it takes to solve the problem, the worse it is for consumer sentiment and spending power.
Today we turn our attention to Vehicle Excise Duty. Labour rebels are now concerned about the large hikes in VED planned for next year, which include increases on VED on older cars. The Opposition and these Labour MPs point out that hiking VED on them cannot affect behaviour over which cars people buy – if higher VED on high emission cars is a green policy it can only work by applying it to new vehicles.
Meanwhile the truckers will protest in London in an effort to tell the government that high diesel tax and other transport taxes here in the UK is another blow to the UK trucking industry. Far from maximising revenue, it encourages truckers to fill their tanks on the continent, and helps the foreign competitors to the UK businesses.
If the government feels the pain and wants to do something about it, it needs to bring the crazy increases in tax on fuel to a halt, and compensate those on lower incomes who have been clobbered by its tax changes. In this nasty squeeze every little relief would help.