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Moore&#39s code

Looking at the Government&#39s record, like it or not, historians are likely to see Gordon Brown as one of this country&#39s greatest chancellors in terms of economic stewardship.

But the stable, low interest rate environment he and Bank of England governor Eddie George have created comes at a price, as those who save as opposed to borrow are learning.

This means that if people&#39s savings are to get anywhere close to where they need to be, the 1 per cent charging world of stakeholder pensions is essential. But as we all know, the 1 per cent world comes at a price.

The life insurers which will offer stakeholder pensions are effectively taking a punt on these products being profitable several years down the track, which is not guaranteed by any means.

The other problem is that margins on the product are so low that, as I have said before, there is little or no room within them to pay people to go out and sell the things.

Pensions need to be sold. People do not just go out and buy them on a whim.

With stakeholder, the Government is asking the financial services industry to take a big risk and for companies operating within it to alter their business models radically to make this low-margin product economical.

That is fair enough because for the consumer it is vital. But the Government also ought to show it is prepared to give a little too.

Stakeholders are going to be equity-linked products. That means every time a stakeholder fund manager deals, he or she will incur a 1 per cent stamp duty.

The total cost of this may be small in proportion to the total cost of the stakeholder but, in a low-margin product like stakeholder, every little helps. In fact, stamp duty impacts on just about every financial services product you could care to mention.

The Government&#39s decision to force companies to absorb the cost within the 1 per cent maximum charge to enable them to say their Isas have a Catmark, for example, was the height of cynicism.

Stamp duty, in fact, is perhaps the ultimate stealth tax. The poor punter will rarely have any idea it is there.

It is deeply hypocritical for the Government to criticise financial services companies for overcharging in the past when, with stamp duty, it is indulging in its own kind of profiteering.

Last year, the tax yielded £4.7bn. The London Stock Exchange estimates it will take in the region of £5.9bn this year and the cost of collecting it is small.

Of course, abolishing stamp duty or even significantly reducing it would gain the Government little credit. Very few voters realise it is there and, even if they do, its effect is hard to gauge. Far easier to gain cheap points by lopping a penny off income tax or, in the case of the Tories, cynically pledging to cut fuel tax.

Yet, according to a study by London Economics commissioned by the London Stock Exchange, the economic benefit of cutting the tax would amount to around £3bn a year and the 40 per cent increase in share trading volumes that would result could net increased income, capital gains and corporation taxes.

The Government should also look to the health of the financial services industry.

At more than 10 per cent of GDP, it makes a significant contribution to the UK economy – a greater contribution than it does to most of our competitors.

But there is growing evidence that the City of London, the engine of the industry, is being damaged by the tax.

Financial services is more than mobile. If people can ship factories lock stock and barrel from the US to China to take advantage of cheaper costs, think how easy it would be to shift a financial services business from, say, the UK to Germany.

If the Government is really serious about retaining British competitiveness and wants to show a real commitment to the consumers it is constantly telling to save more, it should show it by acting to cut this tax.

It would also show that there is more than just cynical spin behind its pretty words about championing the consumer and creating an efficient, trustworthy, low-cost financial services industry for the British public.

James Moore is a finance reporter at The Times


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