Labour exposes Osborne's tax cut for bankers

New figures from the party show that 643 bankers earning more than £1m a year will receive an average of £54,000 from the cut in the 50p tax rate.

After a week dominated by welfare cuts, an area where public opinion favours the coalition, Labour is hoping to regain the political advantage tomorrow when the 50p tax rate is officially reduced to 45p. Polls have consistently shown that the public, including Conservative voters, are overwhelmingly opposed to the move and an increasing number of Tory MPs (such as Jesse Norman and Robert Halfon) recognise that the decision inflicted permanent damage on their party's brand. 

Labour has dubbed tomorrow "Tory Millionaires' Day" after calculating that the UK's 13,000 income millionaires will receive an average tax cut of £100,000 a year (nearly four times the median salary of £26,500). Now the party's number crunchers have produced some equally potent stats on the gains that the top earning bankers will make. Labour has calculated that 643 bankers, working in the UK's five major banks and earning more than £1m a year, will receive a combined tax cut worth at least £34.6m per year - an average of £53,775 per banker. Millionaire bankers in the state-backed RBS and Lloyds are set to get a tax cut of over £7.5m per year - an average of £63,686 each. In addition, the 40 highest paid senior bank executives will receive a tax cut worth almost £4m - an average of £99,694 each.

Chris Leslie, the shadow financial secretary to the Treasury said:

People on middle and low incomes, who are paying more in higher VAT and seeing their tax credits and child benefit cut, will be totally appalled at the size of this government's tax giveaway to highly paid banking executives.

While the average family will be £891 worse off this year because of tax and benefit changes since 2010, it cannot be right for David Cameron and George Osborne to give a huge tax cut to millionaires this weekend.

Forcing millions to pay more while millionaires pay less is the act of a government that is totally out of touch and consistently stands up for the wrong people. Bankers are getting a bonus from David Cameron and George Osborne, while Britain's families pay the price for their economic failure.

For Osborne, who was careful in the Budget to emphasise that the banks would not benefit from the reductions in corporation tax, the figures are a political headache. The Chancellor's consistent line is that the 50p rate was ineffective because the rich avoided it (in fact, as I explained here, it raised £1bn in its first year and would have gone on to raise more) but to most voters that sounds like an argument for clamping down on avoidance (as the coalition claims it is doing), not for cutting taxes for the highest earners. 

People walk past the Royal Bank of Scotland building in London. 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.