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Lloyds gets "multi-billion" offer for Scottish Widows

Evening Standard reports take-over rumours.

The Evening Standard is reporting that Lloyds Banking Group, the owner of Lloyds TSB and HBoS, has been approached by private equity magnate Edmund Truell hoping to buy Scottish Widows, the life assurance, pensions and savings business.

Truell has joined his brother Danny to launch an investment vehicle called Tungsten, which is intended to target "good, sustainable financial services companies" in Europe. Scottish Widows would fit the bil Analysts predict that if a sale occured, the value of the company would be between £5bn and £6bn, but neither Lloyds nor Truell are commenting on the rumours.

Lloyds, which is 40 per cent owned by the taxpayer after it and HBOS were bailed out in 2008, is also having seperate problems selling-off  630 branches under orders from European Commission ordered. The requirement came about because of the company's receipt of state aid, but last week it ended discussions with the Co-op, which had previously been the frontrunner to take control of the branches. It is widely believed that the Co-op dropped out of the running because owning that many branches would have fourced it to fundamentally reconfigure its corporate structure to become much more finance-focused.

Doubts are already being raised over the veracity of the take-over rumours, however. Alphaville points out Truell's questionable history, and suggests that the muttering could be just a handy piece of PR for Tungsten, rather than a serious bid.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.