One of David Cameron’s first acts as Prime Minister was to order all 17 central Whitehall departments to publish information relating to spending and salaries. So it is deeply depressing to find out that more than two and a half years later only half of departments have complied with the Prime Minister’s instruction.
The PM’s idea was to ‘shine a light’ onto Government expenditure so taxpayers could find out how their money is being spent. However, the Civil Service has responded in a woefully slow fashion, forcing Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude to admit that just nine out of seventeen departments have ‘met their commitments to make data available.’
Mr Maude believes that this shows that ‘the release of open data is steadily becoming the norm within government.’ Taxpayers probably won’t be as forgiving of the pathetically slow pace of change as the Minister. Two and a half years is more than long enough for Whitehall to have got its house in order and fully complied with what was a perfectly reasonable demand.
Inevitably, this abject failure will lead taxpayers to suspect that Whitehall has something to hide. Why are these departments so afraid to expose exactly how much they’re spending?
Moreover, if ministers and bureaucrats are either unwilling or unable to do something as simple as publishing the spending data required of them, how can we begin to trust their ability to deliver taxpayer value for money?
Taxpayers demand transparency today, not in another two and a half years. At the end of the day, we are footing the bill, so it’s only fair that we know exactly where our cash is going.
The House of Commons Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has suggested Air Passenger Duty (APD) on short-haul flights should be eliminated. The tax was said to be a “major stumbling block” to rebuilding the Northern Irish economy. With the Autumn Statement tomorrow, my colleague Rory Meakin earlier suggested that the Chancellor should cut APD to tackle the cost of living. He’s right, and where the Northern Ireland Committee leads, the Chancellor should follow and deliver for the rest of the UK.
The tax has very little to do with cutting emissions. The Government’s own data has previously suggested climate change costs were comfortably met with APD, with excess revenue to spare. To make matters worse, it is a regressive tax – hitting those on lower incomes the hardest, especially at a time when living standards are already squeezed.
In Northern Ireland’s case, the lack of realistic alternatives to air travel means that those needing to travel in and out are usually left with no choice but to stump up a large bill. The harm to businesses is worrying – firms have to pay more to trade and invest in Northern Ireland, meaning they might go elsewhere. By scrapping APD, doing business would be cheaper and Northern Ireland could compete with other, far cheaper European destinations.
But in the longer term, we should look to freeze and then eventually abolish APD in the rest of the UK. Compared to the rest of Europe, the UK is a far more expensive destination to fly to. But without stifling APD, tourists will find flying into the UK much less expensive than before. A greater influx of tourists would prompt much needed spending in the country and allow business to expand and create jobs.
It’s often argued that the Schengen Agreement is the real reason more tourists fly to Europe rather than the UK. But if we make our visa applications a bit easier and cut APD, we’d be in a much better position to attract the growing numbers of tourists from around the World.
Lastly, hard-pressed families who are going on holiday would have some welcome relief. At present, a family of four flying to Spain would pay £62 in APD, while choosing Florida instead would cost a£240 in APD. The UK’s tax on flying is the highest in the world and the Chancellor should get to work on getting rid of it.
Last year, a vote was held in Hull on whether to retain the Business Improvement District (BID) in the city for another 5 years. To be approved, BID proposals must receive both a majority of votes cast, and a majority of rateable value with businesses in the area. Local Authorities are also eligible to vote. Of the 596 votes cast, 318 (53 per cent) were in favour with a majority of rateable value also in favour.
Given the closeness of the result, the TaxPayers’ Alliance sought to find out how Hull City Council had voted through Freedom of Information requests which were initially refused on the grounds that the ballot was secret.
A few weeks ago however, the council bowed to the pressure and concluded that it was in the public interest for the information to be made available. It turns out that the council voted in favour of retaining the BID with its 8 per cent block of votes. So, had they voted no or left the decision to the local businesses affected by the levy, the proposal would have been rejected. The council then promptly issued a press release explaining why it voted “yes.”
The council’s rationale for voting in favour of retaining the BID claimed, amongst other things, that the ’Eat Drink Enjoy’ colour dine brochure hadhelped raise awareness of the offering in the city. The Council also said supporting the installation of Christmas lighting was evidence of the BID’s success.
If the BID provided value for money and was so good for business, it wouldn’t have required the council’s block of votes to force through its renewal. Apparently this council, like others, think they know how to spend local businesses money better than the businesses themselves.
It beggars belief that during these challenging economic times, with almost one in four shops vacant in Hull city centre, the council sees fit to force through what is essentially an additional tax, against the will of local businesses that create wealth and employment.
Legislation should be amended to prevent councils burdening businesses with more costs at a time when they face sky-high business rates and a litany of other taxes. The Hull vote shows that while larger businesses may get value from additional security and cleaning provided by the BID, smaller ones consider them an unaffordable luxury. They are the ones with the experience of getting value for money, not town hall politicians.
Motorists everywhere will be disappointed that MPs voted down yesterday’s attempt to reverse the Government’s proposed fuel duty rise. The proposed 3p increase is totally unacceptable when car owners are already paying 15 pence a litre more for petrol than they were in 2010 and 5 pence a litre more since this summer. UK consumers face the highest fuel taxes in the European Union, with 60% of what they pay at the pump going to the taxman.
However, there are signs that the Government may finally be listening to public outrage over fuel duty. Robert Halfon MP, who has campaigned tirelessly on behalf of motorists, claimed his lack of support for Labour’s motion was due to the Government being in ‘listening mode.’ Speaking to the Financial Times , Mr Halfon said that there was every sign that the Government is prepared to listen to the widespread fury about the proposed rise. We can only hope that Mr Halfon’s faith is well placed and the Government does indeed back down on this unacceptable tax hike.
Economic Secretary to the Treasury, Sajid Javid, has hinted that the Government is reconsidering its position. He told The Guardian that ‘the Government is doing all it can to help hard-working families with the cost of living and putting money back into their pockets. Action on fuel duty is part of this.’
While the TaxPayers’ Alliance of course welcomes the Economic Secretary‘s language, he has not gone far enough. Mr Javid claims that the Government is ‘determined’ to help struggling families to makes ends meet, but families are already struggling with prices at the petrol pumps even before the planned tax raid is implemented. The best thing ministers could do to help struggling families would be to promise not to make a bad situation worse and not just postpone the rise but cancel it for good.
To join in the campaign to freeze fuel duty, visit www.freezefueltax.com
17: 00 Update: Following Denis MacShane’s announcement of his resignation Matthew Sinclair, Chief Executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance commented:
“It is absolutely right that Denis MacShane has resigned, having systematically and disgracefully abused taxpayers’ money. With the report finding that he routinely misled parliamentary authorities about his expenses, it would have been unthinkable for him to remain as an MP. If he had stayed, it would have meant twelve months without proper representation for the people of Rotherham and then potentially years more before he could be replaced at a General Election. This case underlines the need for a recall mechanism to ensure that constituents can boot out an MP who has let them down. And there still needs to be a proper examination of whether there should be further sanctions for these severe and repeated breaches of the expenses rules.”
13.30 Matthew Sinclair, Chief Executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, has issued the following response to today’s Standards and Privileges Committee report into Denis MacShane MP’s expense claims:
“This report has exposed a systematic and disgraceful abuse of taxpayers’ money by Mr MacShane which brings shame upon him and the office he holds. It suggests that he routinely misled the parliamentary authorities about his expenses, which is a severe breach of Commons rules.
“If the House of Commons endorses this report and Mr MacShane is suspended from Parliament, the people of Rotherham will go unrepresented in the Commons for a whole year. This is simply not fair.
“A politician cannot claim to be a credible representative of his electors if he is suspended from the Commons for twelve months.
“This case underlines the urgent need for a recall mechanism to be introduced. This would enable constituents to decide at the polls if they believe their MP is fit to remain in place or whether they would rather see a by-election to elect a successor.
“The Coalition Agreement proposed a right to recall but the Government has failed to propose effective legislation in this area. It should now do so as a matter of urgency.”
The TaxPayers’ Alliance yesterday exposed the scandalous amount of taxpayers’ money being used to subsidise trade union activity through both direct grants and so-called facility time. Finding out how our money is spent should be easy. But ferreting it out proved to be an arduous task as many public bodies provided incomprehensible or misleading responses to our requests for information. You can listen to our Chief Executive, Matthew Sinclair, discuss the findings of the report on yesterday’s BBC Radio 4 Today programme below:
Shockingly, nineteen public bodies never replied to our requests at all despite being legally obliged to under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Another 461 either did not provide or confessed that they do not to record some or even all of the staff time they provide to trade unions at all.
One offender was Derbyshire Fire Service who refused to provide a response without first being paid £450 claiming the request would generate too much work for their HR department. Other bodies appeared unable to comprehend what was being asked of them, repeatedly giving confused or unintelligible replies despite repeated clarifications. The standard accounting and HR terminology of “full time equivalent” staff numbers seemed beyond the grasp of the HR and finance staff who would have dealt with our response, raising questions about the level of competence in the public sector.
Clatterbridge NHS Foundation Trust listed a number of trade unions in their reply, before going onto say that these were only the main ones their HR departments are ‘aware of.’ This bizarre phrase makes you wonder whether their HR department even knows which trade unions are operating within their trust. More alarming still was the response from Dudley and Walsall Mental Health Trust, who copied and pasted a standard text issued by the trade union Unite, presumably keen for councils and other public sector bodies to keep the true cost of its disgraceful subsidy hidden from taxpayers issued this standard reply to public bodies:
“It is acceptable to respond that the organisation does not collect information on the daily interaction between union representatives and managers or union representatives and their members and that it would be financially prohibitive and impractical to do so”.
The difficulty we encounter when trying to expose how much of our money is being spent on trade unions raises serious questions about the commitment to transparency and efficient use of taxpayers’ money in some organisations. This is unacceptable and cannot be allowed to continue. All public organisations must ensure in that they provide full and frank disclosures about how they spend our money and if they don’t keep proper records about how it is spent then that should change urgently, too.
Writing for The Commentator Alex Wild argues the farce of taxpayer funding of trade unions must end.
The Taxpayers’ Alliance has today exposed the scandalous extent to which the public are still subsidising trade unions. Taxpayers are shelling out at least £113m a year in paid staff time (£92m) and direct payments to unions (£21m).
Whilst the full-time equivalent number of staff provided for unions has fallen slightly in absolute terms from 3,084 to 3,041, the faster fall in public sector employment means that the proportion of public sector staff who really work for unions has increased.
How can two articles and a leader on the housing affordability crisis and the fact that housing supply isn’t nearly keeping up with demand not once mention what’s stopping entrepreneurial homeowners and developers from creating enough housing supply: our highly restrictive planning rules? When property owners aren’t allowed to build another story on top, a large extension at the back or new developments entirely in the green belts or in large gardens, it should surprise nobody that the only options left, basement excavations and a few developments in selected regeneration areas that still manage to make financial sense despite onerous taxes like so-called “section 106” payments, just aren’t meeting the enormous demand from London’s booming population.There’s only one thing that can possibly happen when planning rules mean there aren’t enough homes in London to go round: the price of homes will rise until enough people are priced out and the numbers of buyers and renters in the market matches the number of available homes.
Rory Meakin, TaxPayers’ Alliance
Today unions and anti-cuts activists led by the TUC are descending on London to argue against necessary spending cuts.
The TPA has recently produced a Fiscal Factbook making clear the dire state of the public finances. Individual charts are available for publication
The following resources may also be of use in relation to the demonstration:
Reacting to the protest on Saturday, Matthew Sinclair, Chief Executive of TaxPayers’ Alliance said:
“The protestors are arguing against necessary spending cuts and pension reform in favour of preserving an unaffordable status quo at the expense of families struggling in the recession.“Militant union leaders oppose any cuts in public spending but most people know that the level of public spending has become unsustainable. The Government is living beyond taxpayers’ means.“The unions continue to portray changes to their generous retirement packages as attacks on their pay and pensions, but the reforms they oppose are both moderate and necessary if their retirement deals are going to last.“Unless something is done to tackle the deficit and growing debt, our children and grandchildren will be paying off our bills for decades to come.”
Writing for the City A.M Matthew Sinclair Chief Executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance looks at the energy tariff debacle.
IT is always disappointing for politicians when a confused announcement turns a popular idea into a communications disaster. George Osborne experienced that pain earlier this year when he announced a freeze in fuel duty and, thanks to the timing, the front pages the next days were about U-turns and not lower taxes. At Prime Minister’s Questions this week, the Prime Minister announced that the government would “be legislating so that energy companies have to give the lowest tariff to their customers”.
The press has been absolutely scathing. Ministers have refused to admit he simply misspoke and tried to pretend that he simply restated a far more moderate policy announced earlier by Nick Clegg. That policy was, although so far unclear, to encourage firms to offer lower prices, particularly to vulnerable customers.
Robert Halfon MP has continued his campaigning on fuel prices. He has proposed legislation that would make the taxes more transparent to motorists. The MP for Harlow has submitted a Bill to Parliament that would ensure that customers know exactly how much of their huge petrol and diesel bills is tax by making it law for receipts to include break downs of how much Fuel Duty and VAT people pay at the forecourts.
The TPA has also worked on exposing the level of tax levied at the pumps. Earlier in the summer we launched freezefueltax.com and placed fuel tax stands in forecourts across the country showing that 60 per cent of a motorist’s fuel bill was going straight to the chancellor.
Speaking in Parliament, Halfon argued that:
Every receipt of every fuel bill, the tax burden should be clear and transparent so my receipt would say ‘Fuel Duty £25, VAT £10.’
Mr Halfon also wants receipts to state how much is actually spent on improving Britain’s roads. Our work on local motoring taxes has shown how drivers pay far more in taxes than is spent on roads and mitigating the impact of motoring. Talking to theTelegraph, Mr Halfon observed that just a measly fifth of taxation raised from motoring taxes is currently invested back into our roads.
The other aim of the Bill is to make putting up Fuel Duty harder for the current and future governments. With bills clearly stating what’s being taken by the taxman, consumers would be in a better position to resist any further hikes.
Mr Halfon has worked tirelessly to keep fuel taxes down and the TPA commends his latest effort. The UK has the highest fuel taxes in Europe but there are prominent voices out there fighting the taxpayers’ corner. The bill will have a second reading on the 30th of November and the TPA urges all politicans to support this worthy campaign.
I wrote for the Bow Group’s Crossbow magazine on why tax cuts are needed for economic growth.
Deficit reduction, the Big Society, NHS reform and free schools; none of these big agendas compare to the importance of the economy because failure on growth is the one thing voters won’t tolerate, irrespective of other achievements. But growth is the elixir that’s eluding the Government’s clasp, despite the ready availability of evidence on what would secure it. Plenty of well-intentioned but job-destroying obstacles block the road to growth, from employment regulation to planning restrictions but one rock stands out as the most obvious candidate for rolling off the road to prosperity: tax.