News in brief.

Cuts in capital gains tax are among plans to encourage investment in UK business, unveiled this week by Gordon Brown. As part of the Labour government’s policy for its second term, the chancellor said he would cut the rate of CGT from 30% to 10% on business assets held for at least two years. He also announced that CGT on assets held for one year could be cut from 35% to 20% from April next year.

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VAT reforms for small firms, including a voluntary flat-rate VAT scheme for those with a turnover of under #100,000, will be discussed in a consultation document in next spring’s Budget, the government said this week. It claims this will mean ‘hundreds of thousands of small companies paying less tax and facing lower compliance costs’. The scheme would remove the need for businesses to account internally for VAT.

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Small businesses with a turnover below #100,000 should benefit from the removal of automatic fines for late payment of VAT, according to the government. Fines would be levied only after a written communication offering help to sort out problems. Trade secretary Patricia Hewitt said: ‘We must remove obstacles to innovation, and make competition work properly for the consumer.’ The government has also unveiled a review of DTI support for small business, a simplification of VAT accounting and better tax treatment for share options as part of its ‘Enterprise For All’ plans.

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The Inland Revenue has appointed advertising agency M&C Saatchi as its lead strategic agency, alongside branding consultancy Corporate Edge, who will rebrand the department following January’s retirement of Hector the tax inspector. The two agencies will work closely to create ‘a customer driven department’ in line with the government’s ‘modernising government’ agenda.

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The Financial Action Task Force will this week decide which countries it deems uncooperative in its fight against international money laundering at its annual review in Paris. Those that remain on the blacklist face the possibility of economic sanctions, while there is also the likelihood that more names will be added to the current fifteen. A FATF spokesperson said no decision had yet been taken on any tax centre, but options would be thrashed out during the meeting, which finishes tomorrow.

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Sir Andrew Foster, head of the Audit Commission, has called on the government to trust local authorities with greater freedom to deliver services. He said the government had to hold its nerve and ‘let go’ of local public service provision. Complaining that change had been driven too much by central government, he told the CIPFA national conference that public faith in local service provision could be restored if authorities were given greater autonomy from top down decisions. ‘It is important to demonstrate to a sceptical world improvements in local services,’ Sir Andrew said.

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Throwing a sickie or crying-off – missing work for the fun of it – is placing a significant burden on UK business. Each employee takes an average of nine days off a year citing stress and flu as reasons for being absent – at a combined cost to business of £12bn annually, according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

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Customs & Excise this week released the first of a new style report required by government departments as part of the new resource accounting and budget requirements. The report includes expenditure plans for 2001-2002 to 2003-2004 as well as Public Accounts Committee reports. Together with the autumn report, Customs will now produce two reports a year instead of seven four.

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Gavin Casey, chartered accountant and former chief executive of the London Stock Exchange, received nearly a million pounds in compensation when he quit the exchange. Casey, who resigned in September last year, received a severance payment of £950,000. He also received salary, bonus and benefits of £317,000, according to the LSE’s listing prospectus published this week. Casey stepped down at the LSE under immense pressure from City institutions following the failure to merge with Deutsche Borse.

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