Neil Woodford's refusal to budge over fund fees is breathtaking | Nils Pratley


The song remains the same from Neil Woodford. The gates will remain closed on his Equity Income Fund, meaning unit holders still can’t access their investments. But management fees will continue to be charged because Woodford’s operation still has overheads to cover.

The tin ear on fees is extraordinary. The chief executive of the Financial Conduct Authority, the chair of the Treasury select committee and Hargreaves Lansdown, his chief cheerleader, have urged him to waive charges in the period in which dealings are suspended. But he won’t budge.

One assumes, from his talk in his latest video about the “attractive” investment opportunities ahead, that Woodford still harbours hopes of reviving the fund and his career. But how does he expect to appeal for loyalty when it matters?

Investors now know that Woodford Capital, the company 65% owned by Woodford and 35% by his business partner, has received £97m since the fund management venture set out in 2014. And the fees are still rolling in at £60,000 a day during suspension. Even diehard fans are being given a strong daily incentive to say good riddance when they are eventually given the chance.

As a candidate for PM, Hunt should know his numbers

The Tory leadership race, bizarrely, has become a contest in which both candidates make unfunded spending pledges in an attempt to make Labour’s plans look austere. Even the intervention of the chancellor, Philip Hammond, making the bleedin’ obvious point that the Treasury’s £26bn of “fiscal firepower” would evaporate in the event of a no-deal Brexit, hasn’t halted the procession of loose promises.

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In his latest outing, Jeremy Hunt would throw £6bn at the farming and fishing industries to help then prepare for a no-deal Brexit. He justified this on the grounds that “we spent just over £1tn bailing out the banks after the financial crisis”, so why not do the same for others in their hour of need?

Let’s skip over the important detail that, unless Hunt is proposing to nationalise farming and fishing in the UK, the comparison doesn’t work. More revealing, from the point of view of assessing the candidates’ ability to present numbers honestly, is Hunt’s sloppy claim that “just over £1 trillion” was spent on the bank bailout.

Yes, we know the exercise was vastly expensive. But, come on, the outlay – which is what is implied by the word “spent” – was not £1tn. The country would have been bankrupt several times over if that had been the case. The entire national debt was less than £1tn in 2009.

Hunt’s number isn’t entirely plucked from thin air, it should be said. Taxpayer support for the banks was estimated by the National Audit Office to be £1.16tn at the peak. But “support” is not the same as money spent. Crucially, the vast bulk of NAO’s figure – some £1.03tn – was non-cash support in form of loan guarantees, indemnities and liquidity schemes.

The actual cash outlay, principally from buying shares in Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group, plus loans to insolvent banks, was £133bn, according to the NAO. That is still a staggering figure, even though the sum had fallen to £32bn by March 2018, thanks to share sales and loan repayments. But the sum spent was never £1tn-plus. A would-be prime minister should know this stuff.

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