Teresa Hunter: Labour's promised tax cuts only exist in a virtual world

LAST week's story about the divorce of a couple who met on Second Life must have been the kiss of death for the online virtual world.

Did you catch those pictures? Not exactly the stuff that dreams are made of. For readers who didn't see the stories, Second Life allows the, how shall we put it, visually challenged to act out a second life by pretending to be drop-dead gorgeous supermen or women.

But now all their covers are blown, largely because one pug-ugly couple took the whole thing too far and got married, and then took it further still and got divorced. She said he was unfaithful to her, again on Second Life. Leopards, spots, change…

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I'd never heard of this virtual world for sad losers before reading the story. As someone who has difficulty holding one life together, the thought of a second one has little appeal.

Many, though, welcome a second chance. Take Prime Minister Gordon Brown. He's enjoying a renaissance, charging round the world like Superman, single-handedly solving all the problems of the global economy. Yet his alter ego stumbles through Prime Minister's Question Time. Who brought in the Kryptonite?

And which one is promising us tax cuts? The one who won't stop at anything to save the world, or the other who dithers and obfuscates.

This weekend Brown has called on the world for co-ordinated tax cuts. Given our diverse systems of taxation it is hard to imagine what such an animal might look like, other than the horse which when designed by a committee ended up as a camel, bringing us back to Second Life.

In real life you have to kiss a lot of frogs, no disrespect to the French, before you meet your prince. But if I had to put money on it, I'm guessing Chancellor Alistair Darling will turn out to be more of a tax toad than a prince when he stands up to deliver his pre-Budget speech in just over a week. Leopards, spots, change…

The rhetoric will be full of slash and burn all right. But like many Labour Budgets, in all probability the detail will fall apart in our hands when examined in the cold light of day.

For example, personal allowances are in a mess after the Chancellor increased them by 600 in May as part of the adjustment over the 10p tax band. It was announced as a one-off, but as we said at the time, tax conventions do not permit allowances such as these, once added, to be removed.

So expect this to be continued after April but proclaimed as a tax giveaway, which it is not. The threshold for National Insurance could be raised to the same level, of 6,035, bringing relief to the lower paid.

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Brown has already hinted that the planned increase in car tax, doubling the tax on many family cars, will be postponed, at least for cars bought before 2006. This too will be announced as a tax-cutting measure, which it is not.

There will be changes to tax credits, but as no one understands them, we'll never know if they are genuine cuts.

Darling should scrap stamp duty. Later this week the Council of Mortgage Lenders will report lending falling to unimaginable new lows. The property tax is producing no revenue, so should be ditched to kick-start the housing market, if only temporarily.

If they have any sense, they will boost tax breaks on savings. But as for 2p or 4p off the basic rate of tax, dream on. As Einstein said, tax is too difficult for mathematicians and should be left to philosophers. And what are philosophers if not dreamers?

Investors face delays

WE CONTINUE to be inundated with e-mails from investors with failed Edinburgh firm Cameron Farley, which is currently in provisional liquidation pending a court hearing to appoint Grant Thornton, prior to a wind-up.

Investors are understandably distraught that not only are their savings frozen, but no one will tell them what is happening, and when or if they will get their money back.

We have some bad news for them: they are extremely unlikely to hear anything significant, or certainly see any money before Christmas.

No date has been set for the hearing. Even if this takes place over the next couple of weeks, Grant Thornton's first move will be to call a creditors' meeting to see who is owed money. Whether this can be done before Christmas is anyone's guess.

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Then it will have to investigate what money is available, and decide the best course. If that is to wind up the company and distribute any assets, it could take between 28 and 48 days to get a wind-up order. Roll on a merry new year.