David Cameron's 'tax cut' plan, Eastbourne pier fire and driverless car verdicts

With an election less than a year away, the topic of tax is gaining prominence in the press.

Comments from David Cameron that he would "love" to raise the threshold for the higher rate of income tax are interpreted as a plan for a Conservative tax cut on some front pages. The i describes it as a measure "for the middle classes" - people who don't consider themselves wealthy - but, as the Daily Express points out, the prime minister says he "can't make that promise today".

Meanwhile, another Conservative figure's tax ambition - policy chief Oliver Letwin's idea of a flat rate for all taxpayers - cops some flak in the Daily Mirror, which describes "poor cleaners" paying the same rate as "rich bankers". The paper quotes Lib Dem Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander describing the idea as "unspeakably unfair" and shadow chancellor Ed Balls saying: "That would mean... a massive tax rise for working people."

But it is Labour under fire elsewhere, namely the idea mooted by shadow health secretary Andy Burnham of a compulsory levy on estates to fund long term care - dubbed a "death tax" by critics. The Daily Mail reports that senior Labour figure Lord Glasman came under fire for joking that: "It's good to tax the dead as they don't vote."

The Times reports on a radio phone-in during which shadow chancellor Ed Balls ruled out such a measure and pledged Labour would not raise national insurance to pay for greater funding of the NHS although, the paper notes, "he stopped short of committing the party over the course of the next parliament".

The Daily Telegraph's editorial argues: "Labour has accused the Conservatives of being obsessed with cutting taxes for the rich... Rather than running scared of such accusations, the Conservatives might do well to embrace them - for it will remind the public that they are the party which believes that lowering the tax burden... is the best way to make everyone more prosperous."

"Taxes would go up under Labour," suggests the Sun's editorial. "It's in their DNA."

End of the pier?

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Many front pages feature photographs of fire tearing through part of the Victorian pier in the Sussex town of Eastbourne. Inside, picture spreads display the full extent of the damage to the structure which opened in 1870.

"Where young couples once danced the summer nights away, yesterday it was flames that swept across the ballroom floor of Eastbourne Pier," writes Joe Shute, in the Daily Telegraph.

"Tearful onlookers posted dramatic photos as the 144-year-old East Sussex landmark was consumed. But others were spotted taking 'selfies' in front of the fireball," reports the Daily Mail, which describes the structure as a "survivor of storms, war and arson". It recalls how during World War Two its wooden decking was removed in case German invaders tried to land on it.

The Sun renames the structure "Eastburn Pier", while the incident is summed up by the Daily Mirror with the headline: "144 years of history destroyed in one hour." The latter profiles the pier's designer, Eugenius Birch, whose background involved working on the Calcutta to Delhi railway line.

The bill for repairs is likely to run into millions of pounds, according to a National Piers Society representative quoted in the Times. The paper sets out other structures "lost at sea" to fires in recent years, including nearby Hastings Pier which is undergoing a £13m restoration.

Generating profits

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Energy firms could enjoy doubled profits this year after "refusing to pass on to customers huge falls in the cost of wholesale oil and gas", reports the Times in citing figures from the regulator Ofgem.

The Financial Times quotes the watchdog's chief executive threatening "stricter remedies for retailers if competition is not being seen to work".

Daily Mirror business editor Graham Hiscott notes that Ofgem's "tough talking" triggered a row with fuel suppliers who pointed out the figures used were estimates which could turn out to be wrong. But he adds: "What customers want is fairness, and when they see bills rocket when suppliers' costs rise, but take an age for prices to drop when costs fall, it feels anything like fair."

The paper's editorial says it's time to "pull the plug on the power barons" by bringing the energy sector back under public control. Meanwhile, the Times says: "Executives from some of the biggest suppliers have said privately that Ed Miliband's pledge to freeze bills for 20 months if he wins the general election had made them more reluctant to cut prices."

The Daily Express has some good news for consumers, reporting that householders will save £12 a year on average thanks to a new deal Ofgem has negotiated with the firms that maintain local electricity networks.

And the Daily Mail reports the David-and-Goliath tale of the "little man who beat [gas supplier] Npower" by sending debt collectors to the firm's headquarters to collect a bill for unpaid compensation awarded to him for his time and trouble taken fighting a disputed charge. Barry Payling had incorrectly received demands for payment of a £490 bill run up by tenants and - after various battles by telephone and through the courts - eventually received more than £2,500.

"If he had notified us that he had not received the payment it would not have been necessary for him to instruct enforcement officers," a company spokesman is quoted as saying.

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Business Secretary Vince Cable's launch of a bidding process offering cities the chance to become the first places in the UK to trial driverless cars - guided by GPS - sparks plenty of debate. James Dean takes a trip in one for the Times and gets off to an inauspicious start. "It's fail-safe, our driver said as he grabbed the wheel of a car that had been driving itself a few moments earlier. But an alarm had sounded and a red light was flashing as a satellite link had been lost."

Later, however, the car operates without difficulty and the writer notes: "If it passed you in the street you wouldn't bat an eyelid because there are no big external cameras, wires or aerials."

The Daily Mirror enlists Top Gear host Richard Hammond to comment and he wonders: "What would I do for five hours if it was driving? I'd be bored with no one to talk to and nothing to do... What would a driverless car be worth after a bump? Nothing, even after repairs, as it would've proved itself unable to drive itself without incident."

Likewise, the Daily Telegraph's Erin Baker argues: "We enjoy the way a car handles and we love the noise and the smell. Given all this, is the government really expecting us to embrace the rented driverless pod? Why would we?"

The idea provides inspiration for cartoonists. Mac, in the Daily Mail, imagines a couple of backseat drivers telling the vehicle: "Not too fast! Mind that cyclist... Left here... Brake... BRAKE YOU FOOL! Careful, there's a dog..." Meanwhile, the Daily Express's Paul Thomas has the Queen in the back of a limousine, telling the Duke of Edinburgh: "Think how much we're saving the public purse with no chauffeurs."

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