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Bills of fare

Our industry can look forward to some key announcements emanating from Westminster in the coming weeks. The Queen&#39s Speech, followed closely by the pre-Budget report, will reveal the Government&#39s intentions and, for the first time in a generation, financial services look set to take centre stage.

The Government is rolling out a number of initiatives to improve lifetime savings. Most notably, the child trust fund is to be born formally in the legislative process, having been conceived in the 2001 general election campaign.

If the Treasury select committee&#39s hearings into the CTF are anything to go by, the bill is set for an interesting ride.

The other big wave to come in on the savings and investment tide will be a new Pensions Bill. Pensions were a central issue at this year&#39s Labour conference in Bournemouth and dominated many of the fringe events, partly as a result of the worrying closures of final-salary schemes such as Allied Steel & Wire.

The new Pensions Bill is based around the proposed pension protection fund. The Government intends to set up this insurance scheme to give more protection to members of final-salary schemes in situations where the employer goes bust. The fund will guarantee a member&#39s benefit to a set level of 100 per cent for existing pensioners and 90 per cent for members who have not yet taken their benefits.

We are also likely to see the creation of “safe harbours” for employer-based pensions which will allow companies to promote their schemes to employees without fear of misselling claims in the future.

Former Labour pensions minister Frank Field MP has attacked this potential legislation on the basis that it is too retrospective. There are also concerns that companies will receive a significant disincentive to promote pension products if they are pressured into protecting them without any support from the Government.

Other legislative gems to look out for include reforms to corporation tax and company law, the latter being up in the air for three years after a review was initiated in 1998 and well due after the Enron and Worldcom collapses.

Hot on the heels of the Queen&#39s Speech will be the pre-Budget report on December 10. The Budget is likely to underline further spending commitments by the Chancellor in the public services arena, especially around health and education. In response to rising insurance costs, there are also likely to be changes to employers&#39 liability insurance.

There were rumours floating out of the porous screen surrounding the Westminster village that the Chancellor was likely to introduce capital gains tax on buying a second home. Tried out in some of the national media, this was quickly pushed under the carpet and seems set to be replaced with a hike in stamp duty.

Rates in the UK lag behind other European countries. Stamp duty provides a way of raising money while restraining the housing market. The drawbacks of this approach are that it will have a direct impact on middle-class homeowners, the most fluid electoral group and the ones who voted Labour into office in both 1997 and 2001.

The rules that allow those who do not treat the UK as their long-term home to avoid tax on overseas income are also due to be overhauled. People living in the UK for five years could be deemed as UK-domiciled for tax purposes.

The Chancellor will also pave the way for the Pensions Bill and present the findings of the Inland Revenue&#39s review of the proposed £1.4m personal lifetime limit on pension savings. There is not much chance of change but plenty of scope for people to bust the limits through unapproved arrangements with the Inland Revenue.

The pre-Budget report is also likely to unveil a raft of tax credits for innovative companies. The Government perceives innovation to be the lifeblood of a modern company and has placed this initiative high on its Budgetary agenda.

The Miles review into fixed-rate mortgages is also set to report on December 10. There are already signs that the Government is warming to the idea of incentives for fixed rates to help calm the hyperactive property market. This would prove to be a welcoming respite to the many first-time buyers and key workers struggling to grapple with exorbitant house prices.

I think we can expect to see Labour trying to maintain momentum on its public sector reforms with an array of stealth taxes while at the same time trying to halt the ever deteriorating savings culture with a Pensions Bill designed to instil confidence back into retirement income.

Iain Anderson is a director and chief corporate counsel at Cicero Consulting


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