Apr 2008 10

I suppose I ought to declare an interest in this story – I not only love lower, simpler taxes, I love chocolate teacakes. Even if I didn’t, though, this would stand out as a ridiculous example of the problems a complex tax system brings.Chocmarshmallow

The very fact that there has been a costly wrangle going on for years about the relative tax status of the chocolate teacake as regards to being a biscuit or a "traditional bakery product" should be a compelling sign that we have an overly complex tax system. The "brief" summary on the BBC web site takes over 160 words and a 2 by 3 tabulated explanation. Unfortunately, it’s not just a laughable tale about a tasty product, it’s been a very costly saga for all involved – consumers, Marks and Spencer’s and the taxpayer.

One interesting thing to note is that the headline is "Teacake set to cost taxman £3.5m". This is utterly wrong – this judgement won’t cost the taxman a penny. He will continue to receive his wages and unjustified performance bonuses regardless. The only people who have lost out in this are you and I – people who were wrongly charged tax when they bought teacakes and who have footed the bill for HMRC’s lengthy legal defence which they bizarrely continued on dubious grounds against M&S even after they had repaid supermarkets.

If we had a simple tax code – and tax officials who didn’t view taxpayers’ money as rightfully theirs to cling onto and splash about on lawyers on their every whim – none of this would have needed to happen, taxpayers wouldn’t have had to foot a massive legal bill and, most importantly, we could all have enjoyed cheaper chocolate teacakes.

Apr 2008 10

From Friction TV:

(if the video does not display try clicking the link to go and watch it on Friction TV’s website)

Apr 2008 02

LordsnapeThe Noble Lord Snape, former railwayman and MP, has rushed to the defence of speaker Michael Martin, calling the inquiry into his wife’s £4,000 taxi bill a “load of fuss and nonsense about nothing”. 

He states his position clearly in an interview with the BBC, which you can see here.  He says at 1.10 in the piece:

“Is the Speaker’s wife supposed to queue up for the number 12 bus outside when she does her shopping?”

Yes, Lord Snape, she is, or if she wants to get a taxi she can pay for it herself out of the £138,724 her husband earns a year.

This rebuke of the buses and public transport is interesting, and somewhat surprising, because Lord Snape likes to remind everyone about his background in the public transport sector.  In the Register of Lord’s Interests, Lord Snape declares a role as a non-parliamentary consultant to First Group plc (bus and train operators in the UK and USA) and in Hansard he has spoken of his pride in “working for the National Express Group—indeed, I was chairman of its major bus operator for some years”.

In the same debate, Lord Snape went on to argue that more people should ride the bus, saying that more should be done to “tempt motorists out of their cars”.

So apparently Lord Snape wants you and me to take the bus, but not the Speaker’s wife.  The buses he takes pride in clearly can’t be good enough for the Speaker’s wife. 

You should tell Lord Snape that, firstly, £4,000 is a lot of money; it’s a pension for some elderly folk trying to get by.  You should tell Lord Snape that Mrs Martin should get on the bus, like the rest of us.  You can drop him an email expressing just how important this investigation is.  Email [email protected] and let him know what you think.

Apr 2008 01

Further to our complaint to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner back in February, it has today been confirmed that Michael Martin is to be investigated over expenses claimed by his wife for taxi trips to the supermarket. You can read the full letter from the Commissioner here:

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We welcome the enquiry, as it shows the Commons authorities are taking the issue of MPs’ expenses seriously. Some people have been guilty in the past of dismissing the public’s concern over this issue as being either passing, inevitable or media-stoked. It is none of these, rather it is a genuine and serious worry for people firstly that their money may be being wasted or abused at all but especially that such things might be going on in Parliament, the hub of the British State. If anyone has abused taxpayers’ generosity, they deserve to be exposed and punished. People work very hard to make ends meet, and tax adds a severe burden to the lives of many people. This means those on the taxpayers’ payroll are duty bound to take care of every single penny.

The question of openness and accountability is central to this and other recent controversies over expenses and their possible abuse. None of this  – the Derek Conway scandal, the John Lewis list revelation or the new enquiry into the Speaker – would have come about had we had a culture of transparency in place. We believe that all MPs expenses, down to the receipts for tea and biscuits, should be published on the internet for all to see. After all, it is our Parliament, they are our MPs and it is our money, so we as taxpayers should have the right to know how it is all spent.

The fact that the Speaker has overseen the spending of tens of thousands of pounds on legal fees so far to try to keep MPs’ expenses secret, that he has just launched a High Court appeal in a last ditch attempt to keep us all in the dark and most importantly that he is chairing the enquiry into MPs’ expenses, makes the Standards’ Commissioner’s enquiry particularly important.

Mr Martin quite clearly should not be the person in charge of reviewing MPs’ expenses at a time when he is doing everything within his power – all paid for by you and me – to keep those expenses secret. He certainly should not be charged with a review that is meant to be about restoring a the Commons’ reputation for probity at a time when he is himself under investigation.

I don’t know whether Mr or Mrs Martin have broken the rules or not – that is something for the Commissioner to investigate and decide. In the meantime, the Speaker must remove himself from any involvement in the MPs’ expenses system immediately if that process is to retain any credibility at all. If, ultimately, guilt were to be established in this or any other similar case, we at the TaxPayers’ Alliance hope that any punishment would be strong and swift. We were very outspoken earlier this year in calling for proper punishment when Derek Conway was found guilty of abusing staffing allowances, and he was swiftly punished by Parliament and disowned by his Party. We trust that any other MP abusing the allowances system would be punished at least as severely.

In the longer term, people need more than simply individual enquiries when allegations happen to surface. Taxpayers have fundamentally lost faith in Westminster and recent opinion polls show that while MPs’ expenses remain secret, the populace will continue to assume many or even most are corrupt. That probably isn’t the case, but if Parliamentarians want to clear their collective name, dispel any suspicions and prove that our money is being well spent, the only way to do it is to throw open the shutters and publish all of their expenses for all of us to see.

Apr 2008 01

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14 TPA Activists gathered on Monday morning to protest with Steve Peers, who was taken to court over £65 non-payment of Council Tax.  This isn’t the first time he’s withheld council tax either.  He was sent to prison back in January, on his 40th birthday no less, for non-payment of £40.  You can read coverage of our protest here in the local St Albans media.

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We were joined by TPA supporters from as far away as Norfolk, even, as Steve’s case was heard.  It’s a sad reflection of the Council Tax regime that Steve wasn’t the only one in court for non-payment of Council Tax.  Dozens filled the list to be called in and, like Steve, given a liability order – meaning the Bailiffs are coming.

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Nonetheless, Steve continues to campaign on this as a matter of principle.  You can see from our many reports that our money is being wasted.  Below is a message from Steve.  Heed his words; it’s all well and good complaining, but it’s the doing that gets results.

So stand with us.  Join us by registering here.  Recommend us to your friends, neighbours and colleagues.  Email me to get some leaflets so you can recruit in your area.  We know you’re over taxed, but the question is – what are you going to do about it?

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Mar 2008 27

DonotfeedthetaxmanThe Department for Communities and Local Government has issued its ridiculous defence of this year’s Council Tax increases, much along the lines of “it’s the least worst rise in 11 years”, which is as much of a paradox as ‘helpful botulism’ or ‘medicinal anthrax’.

You’ll read in today’s and tomorrow’s papers the government, councils and the Local Government Association lauding this year’s tax INCREASES as some kind of gift from the gods that they proclaim to be.  Yet this year’s average increase is still above the government rate of inflation and comes on top of ten years of council tax increases.

You can find the data on the Local Government department website here.

You can also see from this chart here how per dwelling, Council Tax has doubled in the last ten years.

So, find your council here and give them what for and please leave in the comments section below your council’s tax increase (or cut if you live in Hammersmith and Fulham) so we can compare and contrast across our supporter base.

Mar 2008 26

After a three year battle by the redoubtable Heather Brooke of Your Right to Know and a number of other investigative journalists, the Commons authorities have found themselves backed into a bit of a corner over MPs’ second home expenses. Sadly it seems the Commission doesn’t know when to quit – a characteristic some would say is shared by its Chairman, Michael Martin.

Having teased the media for weeks with leaks and whispers that they were going to surrender the fight after the Information Commissioner’s most recent judgement, they are now going to appeal the case in the High Court. M’learned friends will undoubtedly be jumping with joy at the thought of that double whammy – a client who has no realistic sense of when to let matters drop and a bottomless, taxpayer-funded chequebook.

The way the Commons Commission has handled this is deplorable. By refusing to publish the information on expenses in the first place they have totally misjudged the public mood and failed to realise that we have a right to know how our money is being spent. This attitude that people asking for transparency are insolent upstarts who are just trying to cause trouble is insulting to the public. It’s our Parliament, they are our MPs and it’s our money – why shouldn’t we be told how it’s being spent? 

In PR terms, they have also proved about as savvy as Heather Mills. Opposing openness is never going to go down well with the media in any case, but the policy of brinkmanship is simply annoying and deliberately inconvenient to anyone covering the story. Having dragged out appeal after appeal for three years, sources at the Commission have seemingly told the press numerous different things, announcing that the expenses details will be published, then retracting the prediction, then promising an appeal, then telling people publication would be going ahead, then backtracking and so on ad nauseam. Some of the chops and changes can be seen in the recent updates to Sam Coates’ Red Box blog at the Times.

Now, as if the money spent on second homes and furnishings from John Lewis wasn’t enough, they have hired new lawyers and are going to the High Court, all of which will be paid for by the taxpayer. They genuinely don’t seem to register how bad all this makes them look or how angry ordinary taxpayers are about this. For a House full of people who were keen to tell us over ID cards that "if you’ve got nothing to hide you’ve got nothing to fear", this desperate scramble to keep expenses claims secret makes them look guilty as hell.

Until the details are published, the majority of the public will continue to assume that most MPs are on the make. Those innocent MPs who feel hard done by in terms of public opinion should be advocating transparency as loudly as possible.

Browncameron Two MPs whose information is amongst that being fought over in this legal battle are Gordon Brown and David Cameron, both of whom have apparently said they are happy for their information to be published. In that case, why not do it themselves? Ben Wallace is one MP who has published in detail his expenses claims (including £123.22 for an iris scanner, which is weird), and has shown it is easy to do, painless and popular.

Gordon and Dave can’t have it both ways – courting public opinion by saying you don’t mind publishing but sitting back in comfortable secrecy while the Commission continue to hire lawyers willy nilly is not good enough. If they don’t mind transparency, they should publish the details themselves – now and in full.

Mar 2008 20
Mar 2008 17

TPA supporter Peter Heaton writes today about how his Parish Council is increasing the parish precept tax as a means of increasing its political ‘empire’, seeking to do more at a greater cost to the taxpayer.  Peter, however, points out that his Parish Council are charging him to so they can do things the district council already does.  Clearly local government wants taxpayers to pay twice for a service:

Pheaton_2Just when it seems hikes in council tax are at last beginning to come under some control, we have cases around the country of parish councils imposing enormous increases. One in Northamptonshire tried to get away with more than 80%.

My local one, in Milton Keynes is Shenley Brook End Parish Council. It wants to increase its share of council tax by more than 10 times inflation (to £43.50 per Band D household – an increase of £9.50 per household per annum).

Now an extra £9.50 a year may not sound like a lot of money. But we don’t have any choice about paying it, and didn’t have any voice in how that figure was arrived at – or indeed whether we think we need a parish council at all, or if we think we do, what we would like it to do and at what cost.

To quote their newsletter, “This is an expanding parish, and we must take account of a rising population that will make greater demands on our resources”. But hang on; if more people are moving in, more people pay council tax.

They also say, “Compared with other parishes in the borough, we are still far below the biggest spending parishes, and well below the average.” So what. That’s a justification for a massive increase in spending?

If some of them decide to spend more, the average will go up – then they’ll all be able to justify spending more if they are below average. It’s easy when it’s not your money.

And they imply that they are so good, they have been able to keep the increase down by taking £39,200 from their reserves. That’ll be £39,200 of our money then.

Hardly anyone votes for these empire builders. They might say we’re doing this, that and the other, but they need to get real. What planet are these people on?

They are operating on the old local government adage of needing to spend more and more all the time, thinking up things to do which often are being done adequately already.

So they have decided to pay for extra community support officers (even though we already pay for those through our police element of the council tax), extra youth workers (we pay for them already through council tax) and a parish warden to patrol for litter and graffiti (we already pay for that through council tax too).

Now they’ve got themselves offices, staff and a van. What next? Some assistant chief executives? Voting to put their expenses up? Or a health and safety officer to oil the wheels of the £400,000 gravy train they are running at our expense.

If you want to make your voice heard on the local tax situation in your area, email a short 300-400 article to me and we’ll look to publish it on the blog.

Mar 2008 14

It is hard to imagine how Populus could have made their poll, given prominent coverage by the Times, on the budget tax changes less reliable.  They make just about every mistake in the book.

Misleading questions

Populus found support for tax increases on "large, so-called gas-guzzling" cars; the poll accepts the accuracy of the Chancellor’s spin as a given.

The very term "gas-guzzling" is clearly leading as it carries undertones of greed and wastefulness.  Even if the question had been framed in a more neutral manner, though, that isn’t what we had in the Budget.  The Telegraph reports the findings of our research on this issue:

"Analysis shows that over the next two years, millions of drivers will face soaring bills as road tax on some popular family models doubles.

However, duty on Rolls Royces and Porsches will rise by less than the typical family saloon – undermining claims that the taxes are meant for gas guzzlers."

Put that in your poll and see what result you get…

Polling before the measures in the Budget were really understood

All the fieldwork for this poll was done on Wednesday evening, not long after the Chancellor’s speech and before the morning papers.  At that stage the main news source will have been the BBC, which largely accepted the Chancellor’s presentation of his VED changes.  Since then the true picture has been emerging.  With the most popular broadsheet and tabloid newspapers slamming the changes and exposing how misleading their initial presentation in the Budget was do we seriously think that public opinion won’t have changed?

Small sample size

The last TaxPayers’ Alliance annual conference poll (PPT) by YouGov surveyed 2,162 people.  By contrast, this new Populus poll only asked 596 people.  That means its results are far less reliable.  This is true for all of the results that the Times cites so confidently but particularly when they focus on particular social classes.  The number of, for example, "professionals and managers" in the survey will be very low.

No past vote weighting

Mike Smithson of the respected PoliticalBetting.Com website notes that:

"The survey did not include a voting intention question and was almost certainly not past vote weighted. This is likely to have produced a smallish but significant nevertheless pro-Labour sample."

This will probably mean people look less favourably on the Budget changes than this poll suggests.

Mar 2008 13
Mar 2008 13

BallsAnyone picking up the Daily Express today will find on the front page the embodiment of the political class smugly jabbing his finger at the British public. 

In David Cameron’s budget response yesterday, Mr Cameron listed the areas where Labour had failed, concluding that Britain now lives under record levels of taxation, to which Ed Balls – Children’s Minister – shouted “so what?”.  You can see the exchange and David Cameron’s astonished reply here on the Guido Fawkes’ blog.

If Eddie doesn’t know what’s bad about Labour’s levels of crippling taxation, let’s list him a few.  The government have effectively doubled income tax on low earners by making the 10% band a 20% levy.  Pensioners, part time workers and those who should be the first to receive tax relief will be hit hardest.  The government tried to fob them off with more benefits and a measly £50 increase in the basic winter fuel allowance for pensioners.  But they’re giving £50 whilst taking a hell of a lot more.

While the government can take an easy line on criminals, even this week informing judges that drug addicted burglars shouldn’t be sent to prison, there’s always room in the nick for the odd Council Tax protester, as Mr Peers and Mr Fitzmaurice have found out.

Then there was the MP expenses fiddle, your Council Tax going to fund lavish salaries for Council Cabinet members as well as bureaucratic high earners and Council non-jobbers.  Never mind that councils use your money for their own publicity and MPs were caught propagandizing on your buck, the politicians will continue to tax you, to waste your money until you do something about it!

Email Ed Balls through his website and let him know you’re overtaxed.  You can also get recruiting for the TaxPayers’ Alliance by sending this link around to your friends, neighbours and family urging them to sign up and get involved. 

You’ll see on our website the waste we find, the 7 of us working full time and our activist volunteers scanning local papers.  But what we find is just the tip of the iceberg.  We need your help.  Please take some time from your busy day to recommend free membership of the TPA, copy this link from our registration page and forward it to your email contacts.  How many more years can you afford these record levels of taxation?  It’s time to do something about it!      

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