Labour attacks Osborne over "£2bn tax cut" for the banks

The party releases new figures showing that the banks have paid £1.9bn less in tax than David Cameron promised after cuts to corporation tax.

Parliament officially returns from its Easter recess today and Labour's number crunchers are already causing mischief for George Osborne. The party has accused the Chancellor of handing banks a £2bn tax cut after releasing new figures showing that the coalition's bank levy has raised significantly less than expected in the last two years. 

David Cameron pledged that the levy would raise £2.5bn a year and offset the gains to banks from the cuts in corporation tax. But figures from the OBR show that the levy raised just £1.6bn in 2012-13, while banks received a corporation tax cut of £200m, leaving the Treasury with a net gain of £1.4bn - £1.1bn less than promised. The previous year (2011-12), the levy raised £1.8bn, while the banks gained £100m from the corporation tax cut, a net gain of £1.7bn, or £800m less than promised. In total, then, the banks have paid £3.1bn in tax, £1.9bn less than pledged by Cameron (see table below).

 

2010-11

2011-12

2012-13

Labour bank bonus tax (£bn)

3.5

n/a

n/a

Tory-led Government bank levy (£bn)

n/a

1.8

1.6

Corporation Tax rate (%)

28

26

24

Corporation tax cut for banks from 2010-11 level (£bn)

n/a

0.1

0.2

Net amount raised from banks (£bn)

3.5

1.7

1.4

Amount raised compared to £2.5bn promised by govt (£bn)

n/a

-0.8

-1.1

Chris Leslie, the shadow financial secretary to the Treasury, plans to raise the figures when the Commons debates the second reading of the Finance Bill later today. He said: 

On top of last week’s tax cut for millionaires, this is effectively a tax cut of nearly £2 billion for the banks at a time when millions of working people are being forced to pay the price for this government’s economic failure.

Whether it’s on tax or watering down reforms to separate retail and investment banks, David Cameron and George Osborne have repeatedly failed to stand up to the vested interests of the banks.  

Labour is still urging the coalition to repeat Alistair Darling's bank bonus tax, which raised £3.5bn in 2010-11, in order to fund a jobs guarantee for every young person unemployed for more than a year (a measure the party is particularly keen to highlight as the benefit cap and other welfare reforms take effect). 

The Treasury has responded by stating that the "fragility of global financial markets" means it is unsurprising that the levy has raised less than by expected and by promising to review it this year "to ensure it is operating efficiently". 

As for the bank bonus tax, we can expect Osborne to point out that Darling himself described it as a "one-off" on the grounds that "the very people you are after here are very good at getting out of these things and will find all sorts of imaginative ways of avoiding it in the future". To most voters, however, that will sound like an argument for tackling avoidance, not for cutting taxes. And the banks' toxic reputation, combined with the image of a government devoted to the rich, means this remains fertile political territory for Labour. 

In the last two years, the banks have paid £3.1bn in tax, £1.9bn less than the government promised. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.