LOWER petrol prices sent inflation down for the first time in more than a year, official figures showed yesterday. The Consumer Prices Index (CPI) dropped to 2.3 per cent last month from 2.5 per cent in September as petrol pump prices fell back from recent record highs. The fall was slightly bigger than analysts had expected and further boosted the case for a cut in interest rates. It was the first drop in CPI inflation since September last year and sent the measure back towards the Government's two per cent target. The figures come ahead of today's key quarterly Inflation Report, in which the Bank of England will outline its forecasts for inflation over the coming months.

At its last Inflation Report in August, the Bank predicted CPI inflation would rise above the two per cent target in the short-term. It said it would then ease off before once again passing this level at the end of the two-year forecast period.

ON the sick: Civil servants took an average of nine days off work sick last year, down by a day from the previous 12 months, figures showed yesterday. The biggest Government department - Work and Pensions - recorded a 17 per cent fall, with workers taking an average of 9.6 days off last year compared with 11.6 in 2003.

PROFITS FALL: Contrasting fortunes on either side of the English Channel contrived to reduce Emap's first-half profits by two per cent, it emerged yesterday. The publisher reported that pre-tax profits dropped to £95m during the six months to September 30, down from from £97m a year ago