The Department for Communities and Local Government has issued a notice to five London councils warning them that Secretary of State Eric Pickles might take further steps against their council-run newspapers. Good.
Councils shouldn’t be wasting our money on ‘Town Hall Pravdas’, local propaganda rags handed out for free. They amount to unfair competition for real local papers and government officials should restrict themselves to providing only facts and information, even if the outlets are not subsidised with our cash.
It’s good news that the Government is taking action. Greenwich, Hackney, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest should cut back their spending on spin, declare a War on Waste and give the savings back to residents by cutting Council Tax.
We are looking for a pool of keen and enthusiastic volunteers who can spare a little time to get involved at the cutting edge of our exciting campaigns.
As a member of the TPA Action Team, you will:
To get involved in the TPA action Team, please contact our Campaign Manager (Grassroots), Sonia Khan, via [email protected] or on 0845 330 9554. We look forward to hearing from you.
We can today announce that Andy Silvester will be joining us after the Easter break as Campaign Manager responsible for Communications.
For the last two years, Andy has been Senior Parliamentary Affairs Officer at the Institute of Directors, from where he brings a wealth of experience in dealing with the media, delivering campaigns and engaging with the organisation’s members, supporters and other stakeholders.
He holds both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from King’s College, London, and in his spare time is an American Football coach.
With current Campaign Director, Robert Oxley, leaving to join Business for Britain, Andy’s arrival completes a raft of recent new hires, with Dia Chakravarty and Sonia Khan already ensconced in their roles as Political Director and Campaign Manager (Grassroots) respectively.
Andy will be the principal point of contact for press quotes, interview bids and other media enquiries.
Jonathan Isaby, Chief Executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said:
“I’m delighted to be welcoming Andy to the TPA as his knowledge, contacts and enthusiasm for our mission will make him a great asset. We are all hugely looking forward to working with him as we seek to promote our War on Waste and continue to make the case for lower, simpler taxes. In Andy, Dia and Sonia we’ve got a first-class campaign team in place. “Andy comes from the IoD, with whom the TPA has worked closely in the past, and I very much hope we will find ways of collaborating again in the future. Simon Walker, James Sproule and the rest of the IoD team make a vital contribution to the economic debates about growth, taxation and regulation in this country and long may they be loudly heard.”
Matthew Elliott, Founder of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said:
“I’m proud of the TPA’s record of nurturing up-and-coming talent over the years. From James Frayne who became Head of Comms at the Department for Education, to Susie Squire who became the PM’s spokesperson, to Mark Wallace at ConservativeHome and Emma Boon at Brunswick Public Affairs, we have spotted the best and the brightest over the ten years since our launch. “Andy Silvester is in the same league as these talented campaigners and working alongside Dia Chakravarty and Sonia Khan, I can see the TPA campaign team making a huge impact in the run-up to the general election, and beyond.”
Andy Silvester, incoming Campaign Manager (Communications) of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said:
“After two fulfilling years at the IoD, I’m thrilled to be joining Jonathan and the team at the TPA in this crucial period running up to the general election. I’ve always admired the TPA’s campaigning strength and am excited now about rolling up my sleeves and waging War on Waste.”
How do you solve a problem like the expenses crisis? This is a question that Westminster has failed to satisfactorily answer since 2009 and now the Maria Miller saga has reignited the debate about MPs, expenses and accountability. Regardless of whether the Secretary of State’s miserly apology and repayment of nearly five thousand pounds is enough to keep her in post, this case raises bigger questions about the systems we use to hold MPs to account
A lot of important work has been done to sort out the mess that was MPs expenses since 2009. The expenses system of today, while bureaucratic, is not open to the level of abuse that the old Fees Office once was. Despite this, there is danger that a particularly toxic mix of circumstances (questions over the commissioner’s findings, a lack of contrition from Miller and the inability of the voters to do anything about it) will undermine the public’s faith in Parliament.
Because of past scandals there is very little tolerance for any suggestion of impropriety. There remains a deep, mostly unjustified, cynicism about MPs and their expenses and that is not healthy for democracy. Unless proper reforms are put in place, that cynicism could do further irreparable damage.
Ultimately, the fate of Maria Miller actually matters far less than the systems with which she could and should be held to account. The manner in which MPs accused of breaking the rules are investigated and the measures that are in place to empower voters to punish wrong-doing are far more important.
Maria Miller was investigated by the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner, Kathryn Hudson following a complaint. As has been widely reported, Hudson made a recommendation that the MP should pay back more than £40,000, but the House of Commons Committee on Standards – which makes the final decision after an investigation – rejected this reasoning and opted for a far lower amount. We are left with one brief paragraph as explanation from the Committee.
We agree with the Commissioner that Mrs Miller should properly have designated London as her main home rather than Basingstoke. Nonetheless, we consider that Mrs Miller’s designation was reasonable in the light of the guidance available at the time, given that the matter was finely balanced. Accordingly we make no criticism of Mrs Miller for her error and we will treat this case as if the designation of the London property for ACA purposes had been correct.
The lack of a detailed explanation hugely undermines the committee’s report as much as its actual decision. Worst of all, it appears to some that MPs are marking their own homework and going easy on a colleague (the committee does contain lay members but they are unable to vote).
Inevitably there are calls to take away responsibility for the final say from MPs, but the rush to do so could just as easily undermine democratic accountability. The last time MPs empowered a bureaucrat to be the sole arbiter overt their pay and expenses we got IPSA and a ten thousand pound pay rise for politicians. Reform and a positive restructure of the Standards Committee are needed, not a hasty transfer of power to the unelected.
In time it may also become clear that the Standards Commissioner does need greater ability to investigate alleged wrong-doing in Parliament. Miller was reprimanded for failing to co-operate with the commissioner as was, Nadine Dories in another recent investigation. If the system is to work then MPs need to play ball. They can’t be allowed to frustrate an enquiry and get away with a 30 second apology to Parliament.
It’s particularly clear from the latest drama that another much needed reform is required to empower voters with the ability to boot out MPs they’re unhappy with. Much of the furore around Maria Miller has focused on whether David Cameron will sack the Secretary of State. But shouldn’t the people who Maria Miller is meant to represent – the voters of Basingstoke – those who ultimately footed the bill for her expenses, have a right to make that decision? I have written before about the need for a “Right to Recall” and this is yet another example of why a proper recall mechanism, as promised by all the parties, is long overdue.
It’s time David Cameron waded into the long grass, retrieved his promise for recall, and put a “proper” system for it in the Queens Speech. But it needs to a proper system, not a Westminster stich-up as the Government previously put forward. In many ways that would be worse than the status quo. Would Maria Miller even have been put up for recall if the Government’s proposed legislation were already in place? I doubt it. But the fact that we have to ask is proof of the problem with current proposals.
We can today reveal that the true scale of the liability facing taxpayers for unfunded public sector pension schemes stands at an eye-watering £1.7 trillion. This dwarfs official estimates of £1.1 trillion, and these numbers are in addition to the official National Debt.
The official National Debt is around £1.2 trillion. But that doesn’t include liabilities for public sector pensions, which are kept off the books. Unlike private sector and local government pension plans, no funds are saved to meet the expected pension payments when they become due. The bill is simply left for future taxpayers to pay.
Politicians must urgently confront the enormous debt mountain that has built up thanks to overly-generous but completely unfunded public sector pensions, the campaign group says. Failure to give taxpayers a better deal will leave our children and grandchildren with a frightening bill to pay for today’s public sector staff.
The Government’s estimate of the size of this shortfall is also not calculated in the same way as the private sector must calculate its liabilities. Both the Government and the private sector reduce the expected payments in future years by a ‘discount rate’, to account for the fact that money held now to pay for a commitment in the future should grow.
But these discount rates are not the same. Instead of using the market discount rates, the Government uses a more generous rate determined by a committee.
Pensions liabilities and finance expert Neil Record has calculated that:
Pont Briwet, a Grade II listed wooden bridge which crosses the River Dwyryd in Penrhyndeudraeth North Wales, has been closed since January due to safety fears. This is understandable – many of us have endured a difficult winter. This bridge was to be used until a new road and rail crossing costing £20 million which is completed in 2015.
Since the closure in January a number of measures have been suggested, including a temporary bridge which would have been installed this May to ensure that local road and rail users could get to where they needed to go.
This temporary bridge, which would have been in place until Gwynedd Council had concluded the development of the new project, could had provided a solution for local taxpayers, solving infrastructure issues. What’s more, if the works on the current project were delayed then surely the temporary bridge could have been more than sufficient to deal with this.
It has been announced that monies initially earmarked for the installation of a temporary bridge will now be used to employ a vehicle to guide traffic through a number of country roads, which have in the past been described as hazardous. Equally, if there are delays on the current build of the new bridge the costs could spiral out of control. The convoy will be operational for only twelve hours of the day, so those travelling after 6.30pm until 6.30am will get the help.
Tudur Williams, head teacher at Ysgol Ardudwy in Harlech, said it was:
“very, very disappointing” that a temporary bridge would not be put in place… it’s going to affect the local economy some of the restaurants here already say that their trade has gone down”
This decision has two major consequences: firstly, for local taxpayers the convoy approach is going to harm the flow of traffic – inevitably there will be delays. And as Mr Williams points out, it could even cost jobs. Secondly, due to the time restrictions on escorted travel there could be more accidents.
It is time for officials to start taking a common sense approach to the local economy and local taxpayers.
The TaxPayers’ Alliance – Britain’s independent grassroots campaign for lower taxes and less government waste – is seeking a talented and motivated campaign manager to take a lead in communicating the organisation’s messages to the public through the national print and broadcast media, social media and the TPA’s website.
The successful candidate will:
Closing Date:30 March 2014
How to apply: please send a CV and covering letter/e-mail to: Emma Bennett at [email protected]
University of Birmingham students joined our campaign to Call Time on Duty armed with our drinks coasters. After starting the day on the Edgbaston campus, the campaign soon moved and gained more momentum at one of Birmingham’s finest – The Old Joint Stock and Theatre pub.
Many were shocked to hear of the 79 per cent tax on a bottle of spirits, with Birmingham student and local girl Zoe Zapper exclaiming: ‘I think it’s shocking how much goes on taxes from our alcohol, I definitely think the public should be made more aware of how high this tax is’.
The same thought is echoed by final year politics student Ben Woodward, who argues that ‘an enormous part of the student experience is to able to socialise with friends’. He also warns that ‘the government is pricing the poorest students out of this opportunity’.
The day ended as a great success with many drinks coasters also distributed around the popular student town of Selly Oak. Those who attended vowed to do more about this unfair escalator.
Go to Call Time On Duty and send a letter to your local MP in calling time on duty and help bringing down the shocking duty on wine and spirits.
The Business, Innovation and Skills Committee joined the growing chorus of Business Rates critics yesterday, describing the tax on business premises “not fit for purpose.” Just last week, the former Chief Executive of Tesco, Sir Terry Leahy said that the “ancient” system should be reformed and “probably scrapped” because it hasn’t worked for years.
Indeed, in the Mirlees Review the Institute for Fiscal Studies demonstrated some of the shortcomings of a system which discriminates between different sectors (agriculture is exempt for example) and distorts production decisions.
The on-going furore about how much multinationals pay in Corporation Tax is perhaps the best illustration of how the changing, increasingly global economy has rendered some of our old-fashioned taxes obsolete. The committee suggested a separate system of businesses taxes for the retail as so much shopping now takes place online. This may be true, but there are simpler ways to improve Business Rates.
Our 2020 Tax Commission recommended that control of the tax (specifically the multiplier) should return to local authority control and that they should keep the proceeds. This would give local authorities a direct stake in the success of local businesses and encourage competition between authorities.
At the Autumn Statement in December, George Osborne announced a range of piecemeal, targeted measures to give businesses (some more than others) some respite from relentless rises. They usually go up in line with the Retail Prices Index, but inflation was above-target for four years until February, and this has hit businesses hard. In 2012-13 alone they faced a whopping 5.6 per increase, so a rise of 2 per cent instead of 3.2 per cent is scant consolation.
At the budget in two weeks, if George Osborne cannot significantly overhaul the system, he should take action to lighten the load on businesses. He should cut, or at the very least freeze Business Rates.
Reacting to the report in this morning’s Independent that the Government has dropped plans to allow voters to petition for a recall ballot if they feel their MP has let them down, Jonathan Isaby, Chief Executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said:
“If the reports are accurate, it is deeply depressing that the Coalition Government has done a U-turn on recall. Establishing the right of voters to petition for a recall ballot when they feel their MP has let them down would be a powerful accountability mechanism to keep our elected representatives on their toes.
“The measure was in the Conservative and Liberal Democrat manifestos and then enshrined in the Coalition Agreement, so its abandonment is an arrogant move which will only serve to distance the political elite even further from the voters they are supposed to be representing.
“There is a profound irony that the ditching of a commitment which would have gone a long way to restoring public confidence in the political process will only add to voters’ cynicism and distrust of politicians.”
Reacting to the Shadow Chancellor’s proposals to reintroduce the 50p rate of Income Tax, Jonathan Isaby, Chief Executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said:
Reintroducing the 50p rate would be an unmitigated disaster for Britain. It flies in the face of the evidence, which shows that cutting the top rate has brought in more cash to treasury coffers and boosted the economy. Ed Balls has rightly identified the need to balance the books, but the best way to do that is to cut spending, not hike taxes.