JEFF PRESTRIDGE: Tighten belts for a stormy autumn

JEFF PRESTRIDGE: Tighten your belts, autumn storms and power cuts are coming – it is time to stock up on candles, I fear

Autumn has arrived – and it isn’t going to be financially pleasant for most of our glorious readers. Despite Liz Truss’s rallying speech last Wednesday at the Conservative Party Conference in the splendid city of Birmingham (yes, a wonderful place to live), let’s not beat around the bush. 

As a nation, we’re right up against it. Rising fuel bills (yes, the discounts are much welcome Prime Minister); the threat of interrupted power supplies; soaring mortgage costs (frightening for those coming off fixed rate loans); and rampaging inflation are challenges that are going to test our financial mettle in the coming months. 

Many household finances are going to be stretched to the limit – and in some cases beyond. 

Trouble ahead: Autumn storms and power cuts are coming – it It is time to stock up on candles

Sadly, there are no easy answers or solutions. Putin’s determination to destroy Ukraine, in the same way his bombs razed Syria to the ground, means that high energy prices will remain formidable hurdles to restoring economic growth – and financial stability. 

And while the Government’s U-turn on tax cuts for the wealthy was welcome, Truss and her lieutenant Kwasi Kwarteng have yet to convince financial markets that this is a Conservative administration determined to keep a lid on the country’s precarious finances. 

Political dogma, rather than financial pragmatism, has so far dominated Truss’s premiership. 

There are many who believe Truss should get a mandate for her bold political agenda by calling for a General Election. It’s a view that has merit – there is a fear that her Government will do no more than limp along until 2024, jumping from crisis to crisis. 

What to do with benefit payments is the next issue awaiting her – to link increases to inflation or not? Tricky. Very tricky. 

Of course, calling for an election would be a brave move (many believe the Conservatives are due a spell in the wilderness). But it would, at least, require Starmer’s Labour to reveal their cards. 

So far, we’ve been told little beyond an economic regeneration plan based around greening our homes. What about their taxation plans? Wealth taxes? Higher income taxes for Middle Englanders? Increased business taxes? 

When set against Truss’s agenda – economic growth propelled by lower taxes – Labour’s recipe for economic rejuvenation may not look quite so appetising. 

Tighten your belts, readers. Autumn storms and power cuts are coming. It is time to stock up on candles, I fear.

Not much to salvage from funeral plan train wreck 

We have yet to be told what money administrators have managed to salvage from the train wreck that is failed funeral plan provider Safe Hands. Not much, that’s for sure, and certainly not enough to dampen the pain 46,000 plan holders (many elderly) have suffered as a result of seeing the pre-paid funeral plan they bought in good faith being cancelled. 

Although Dignity and Co-op are offering Safe Hands victims discounted-price funeral plans, I trust that this financial scandal is not allowed to be swept quietly under the carpet. 

As I reported earlier this year, financial wrongdoing at Safe Hands was rife. The trust fund – where customers’ money was held – was plundered to pay dividends to directors. Also, at the company’s death, most of the money in the trust fund had been mysteriously shifted into untraceable offshore investments. Those involved in this financial travesty must now be held to account for their actions – especially Richard Wells, the owner of Safe Hands at the time the business collapsed. 

Despite the dark clouds hanging over Wells’s head, he remains as bold as brass. A lover of fast cars, he will be racing at Donington Park, Leicestershire, on October 22 in the British Automobile Racing Club Car Championships. Fast money, fast cars. 

A number of aggrieved Safe Hands plan holders, I am told, are hoping to be there to vent their feelings peacefully. As one said to me on Friday: ‘It seems invidious that he will be enjoying his rich man’s sport while the money we entrusted to Safe Hands has disappeared off the face of the earth.’ 

Surely, justice must prevail.