IMF hurts Brown with forecast
The International Monetary Fund yesterday slashed its 2011 UK growth forecast, delivering a pre-election blow to the government. The Washington-based fund cut its growth forecast for next year from 2.7 per cent to 2.5 per cent. It maintained its 2010 forecast. Its forecast is signficantly lower than that of chancellor Alistair Darling who predicted a 3.25 per cent increase in GDP in March’s Budget. The IMF expects the unemployment rate to rise to 8.3 per cent in the UK this year.

1,100 more oppose NIC raise
More than 1,100 small and medium-sized business owners yesterday added their support to Tory plans to unwind a Labour pledge to increase the rate of national insurance. They join some of the UK’s largest employers in backing the Conservative plans. Labour claims the raise is vital to slash the yawning budget deficit but George Osbourne says the tax on jobs will hit employment figures and damage the economic recovery.

Leaders prepare for live debate
The party leaders will once again line up in front of the nation for a live TV debate. Gordon Brown. David Cameron and Nick Clegg will take audience questions on Sky News at 8pm tonight. The debate will take on extra significance in the light of Clegg’s remarkable popularity bounce after last week’s ITV debate. He overtook his chancellor Vince Cable in the popularity stakes this week after his straight talking performance.