Comment: The farce of union pilgrims
Oct 2012 31

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.

Click here to continue reading the full article

COMMENT: The housing affordability crisis is caused by planning rules and taxes
Oct 2012 23
An abridged version of my letter to the Evening Standard in response to their leading editorial on the housing affordability crisis was published today. The full version is copied below:
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



TaxPayers’ Alliance responds to Saturday’s TUC demonstration
Oct 2012 20

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 financesIndividual 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.”
COMMENT: The reason Cameron is wrong in humiliating energy tariff debacle
Oct 2012 19

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.

Click here to continue reading the full article

Robert Halfon MP demands fuel tax transparency
Oct 2012 18

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 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.

COMMENT: Why Tax Cuts are Needed to Generate Growth
Oct 2012 18

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.

Click here to continue reading the full article (beginning on page 56)

Save The Photographers!
Oct 2012 10

For all the Government’s attempts to present itself as a champion of small business, one industry in particular is being undermined by what is essentially an arm of the state.

The previous government’s decision to award the Post Office ‑ owned and heavily subsidised by the government – an exclusive contract to provide photographic ID for driving licences amounts to little more than a taxpayer funded hijacking of private business. Even more worryingly, the Identity and Passport Service is trying to steer applicants through the Post Office’s process as well.

ID photos represent a £50 million-a-year industry which specialist photographic shops rely on for 30% of their turnover. Thousands of jobs (mostly in small businesses) are under threat from this government monopolisation.

Save the Photographers is campaigning on behalf of retailers against this ill-conceived removal of consumer choice. They rightly point out that the Government can deliver its digitalisation agenda without damaging this industry by allowing the Post Office to scan printed photos – it really is that simple. A similar campaign in France managed to do just this and it is very much in the interests of consumers and taxpayers that the same should happen here in the UK.

COMMENT: The West Coast Main Line debacle – where does the buck stop?
Oct 2012 04

Writing for Public Service Europe Alex Wild asks who is responsible for the West Coast Main Line debacle.

If £40m can be wasted on a simple tender process, you have to question how bad things will get as British ministers get ready to spend £32bn on high-speed rail – warns campaigner

British taxpayers have sadly become accustomed to politicians and bureaucrats squandering their cash. But the announcement from the Department for Transport that citizens must foot a bill of at least £40m for seemingly nothing more than incompetence is particularly frustrating. One may be able excuse the DfT for a few minor muddles, given that it has had three permanent secretaries and three secretaries of state since 2010, but the revelation that the West Coast Main Line contract awarded to FirstGroup is to be cancelled and re-tendered is unforgivable.

Click here to continue reading the full article

North Lincolnshire Council ends the taxpayer funding of unions
Oct 2012 01

It was announced last week that North Lincolnshire Council is going to end the taxpayer funding of trade unions. The council currently has one employee who works full-time for his union, and this costs council taxpayers £50,000 a year. This is what council leader, Cllr Liz Redfearn had to say:

By removing taxpayers’ money from funding trade union posts, we will be able to create 10 new apprenticeship posts. I know many residents struggle to reconcile that taxpayers’ money is spent on payments to trade unions, especially when they supply millions of pounds to fund some political parties.

Unions clearly pay an important role in representing their members. However, given that we have historically only subsidised two out of the 10 unions, there is also an issue of fairness. We of course remain committed to working with the unions in the interests of their members.

This is, of course, very welcome news, and something we have been arguing for a long time. When this story was debated on ‘The Peter Levy Show’, which is broadcast simultaneously on BBC Radio Humberside and BBC Radio Lincolnshire, listeners were shocked this practice took place. Somewhere between 80-90% of listeners who contacted the show said this practice should stop. The debate continued on BBC Look North on Wednesday evening and ran into a second day on the radio. Last Thursday, I went up against Cllr Chris Shaw, leader of North East Lincolnshire Council, on ‘The Peter Levy Show’.

North East Lincolnshire Council currently has three members of staff who work for unions, at a cost of £98,000. I argued that if unions want full-time representatives, they should pay for it themselves out of their members’ subscriptions. Cllr Shaw replied by saying this would mean an increase in union dues, and staff would want a pay rise to cover this.

He then went on to claim paying full-time union officials out of council taxpayers’ cash was giving value for money. He informed us there were 78 shop stewards in North East Lincolnshire Council, and if they were to apply for facility time, he would be forced to employ agency staff. He also argued that facility time must be granted in all circumstances. This is simply not true.

In a briefing published last month, we looked at the practice of paying for full-time union officials. Here is an extract from it:

The practice of permitting trade union officials to work full time on union business is one that appears to have arisen in ad hoc arrangements between employees (and especially public sector organisations) and trade unions. It is not required – or even mentioned – in the legislation or in the ACAS Code, although the latter does advise about the desirability of agreements between employers and trade unions concerning practical arrangements for time-off and related requests.

One of the biggest drawbacks of employing full-time officials is that employers do not exercise their legal right to refuse permission to officers to perform certain tasks. By making unions apply for facility time, the amount of time taken off would reduce, as many full-time officials perform functions that are clearly outside the legal framework. Last year I wrote about Dave Mathieson, UNITE convenor at Hull City Council, who addressed a rally of striking public sector workers even though his union was not on strike that day. The law clearly states that if he had requested facility time to do this, it would have been refused, but as Hull City Council allows Mr Mathieson to work full-time for his union at our expense, taxpayers had to pick-up the bill for his speech calling for more industrial action.

If taxpayers are expected to pay for just about all union activities in the public sector, what is the money raised in subscriptions used for? We know the answer to that question. It goes on political campaigning and funding political parties, particularly candidates during elections. As unions appear to have millions of pounds to fund their political campaigns, they should also have enough money to pay for officials who wish to take time off work to carry out their union duties.

It is unions who should be paying – not taxpayers.

David Cameron’s overseas aid spending target is arbitrary, random and could be seriously counter-productive
Sep 2012 27

David Cameron has been at the United Nations in New York this week, reaffirming his pledge that 0.7 per cent of national income should be spent on overseas aid by 2013.

The TaxPayers’ Alliance has long argued against increasing the budget of the Department for International Development (DfID). It should not be immune from having to find ways of delivering more for less like all other government departments (except Health), especially when serious concerns remain about whether value for money is being delivered out of its existing budget.

Earlier this month, Andrew Gilligan at the Sunday Telegraph exposed how £500 million of the DfID budget goes to consultants, some of whom are earning six-figure salaries.

Taxpayers expect that whatever of their cash ends up at DfID will go to the world’s poorest, not line the pockets of Western ‘aid barons’.

And just the other week Lord Ashcroft persuasively set out one reason why the arbitrary target of 0.7 per cent of national income is so ludicrous:

Quite rightly, the government has attacked targets for distorting priorities. Unfortunately, it is so focused on the anachronistic and random target of giving away 0.7% of Britain’s income that it ignores the obvious failings of its policies. So even declared successes melt away under scrutiny.

To give one example, ministers like to brag how many millions of impoverished children go to school thanks to British aid. Yet when the Independent Commission for Aid Impact investigated the spending of more than £1bn in three east African countries, it found it was failing to improve basic literacy and maths skills. It was all about hitting targets and creating headlines rather than examining whether children were learning or teachers bothering to turn up. No wonder Giles Bolton, Dfid’s former man in Rwanda, called aid ‘the least effective major public service funded by Western taxpayers.’

At present, DfID trumpets the fact that 0.56 per cent of British national income is going on overseas aid.

Yet as a Spectator (£) editorial pointed out last week, this is already far more than countries like France or the USA. In fact, the UK Government is already giving a greater proportion of national income in aid than any other G8 nation.

But here’s the most pertinent point in that Spectator editorial: the Government figures completely ignore the money donated to charities providing aid and development assistance overseas which comes from private individuals in the UK – people digging into their own pockets, independently of government, to help those less fortunate than themselves. Someone once called it the Big Society.

Indeed, figures from the NCVO/CAF’s Overview of Charitable Giving for 2010/11 estimate that Britons are donating to charity to the annual tune of £11 billion, of which 10 per cent goes overseas.

Adding £1.1 billion of privately-given aid to the state’s £8.6 billion for last year and you end up with a total of £9.7 billion – which equates to 0.64 per cent of national income.

And the Spectator rightly explained the danger of the Government hiking DfID spending yet further:

As taxes rise to fund DfID’s expansion, private donations may well fall. BY spending in defiance of public opinion, Cameron risks giving aid a bad name and inhibiting donations to British charities which have been doing extraordinary work for decades.

MPs are debating the price of fuel today, tell them to at least freeze fuel tax
Sep 2012 13

This afternoon MPs will debate the price of petrol and diesel in Parliament. If you haven’t already, now is a great time to write to your MP and tell them that Fuel Duty should at least be frozen. It doesn’t take long and it can make a real difference. Motorists are massively overtaxed, tax makes up a staggering sixty per cent of the price at the pump, but further big increases are planned for early next year which we need to stop.

Click here to visit FreezeFuelTax.Com and write to your MP

A large part of the debate will be about competition in the sector, and whether there are any problems in the market contributing to high prices. The Office for Fair Trading  are looking into the issue and politicians are right to look to ensure consumers aren’t being ripped off. But with sixty percent of the price having nothing to do with the cost of the fuel itself, but just tax, it is something of a sideshow. As I argued in City AM recently: “If motorists want lower fuel prices, there is only one serious game in town: lower tax.”

We need a proper recall system, not a Westminster stitch-up
Sep 2012 13

Imagine that tomorrow I was elected as MP for Mid Mid-West St. Appleby-on-the-Hill. Now let’s imagine that, after being sworn in, I decide that this politician lark and the commute to and from the Home Counties each week isn’t really for me so I decide to jet off to Cuba to spend the next five years on the beach. What are my constituents going to do about it? Fire me? Stop me from claiming my generous salary and expenses? Have me booted out of the party?

The truth is they would be helpless to do anything. The residents of the leafy metropolis I was elected to serve are instead going to have to wait five years to get a new Member of Parliament while I enjoy the mojitos at their expense. There is no process to remove a sitting MP who is clearly failing their electorate unless either they go bankrupt, they are imprisoned for more than a year or they are sectioned for more than six months (and there are moves to axe this rule).

This may sound extreme but it highlights an important point: voters cannot do anything about their MP in-between General Elections, no matter how they behave. There have been some extreme examples of MPs deserting their posts. And what if I just stopped holding local surgeries, got some poor staffer to do all my work, was caught taking advantage of my expenses or even got into a brawl and got myself a police record?

None of these actions would allow the voters of Mid Mid-West St. Appleby-on-the-Hill to kick me to the curb until the next General Election. While most MPs are hard-working souls looking out for the interests of their constituents, we need a mechanism to recall those who let them down. They shouldn’t have to wait without proper representation for years.

Before the last election all three major parties recognised that the public wanted recall and pledged to introduce it in their 2010 Manifestos. Yet now that the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have taken over the reins of power they are back-tracking.

The Coalition has put forward recall proposals but they are a Westminster stitch-up that hands power to a parliamentary committee, not the electorate, meaning that the Government’s proposals are actually worse than no recall at all.

They would require 10 per cent of voters to sign a petition but only after the Standards and Privileges committee has found an MP guilty of serious wrongdoing. Not only would this undermine the democratic principle of recall by taking power away from voters, it would simply hand more power to the Government whips who would be able threaten rebellious MPs with a trip to the committee and the distinct possibility of an immediate by-election. Our political system is already far too heavily dominated by “loyalty to the party”.

Luckily there are some backbench MPs who are campaigning for proper recall and not this fudge.

Zac Goldsmith MP makes an impassioned and powerful case for a proper recall mechanism. He has tabled a bill that would make good on our leaders’ earlier rhetoric and deliver a proper recall referendum should 20 per cent of voters in a constituency sign a petition calling for one. The 20 per cent figure seems about right. It allows voters the chance to boot out an MP while providing a high enough threshold to prevent an easy vote motivated by simple party politics.

One often overlooked benefit of the recall system is that it would also mean an end to the notion of a safe seat for life. A successful recall ballot would allow residents to dump an MP without a change in the party political control of a seat. This, combined with open primaries, would make our representatives more responsive to public, even in constituencies where majorities are weighed, not counted. Primaries for sitting MPs would complete the job.

The cynics among you might think turkeys don’t vote for Christmas but, if politicians want to show they have moved on from the behaviour which led to scandals in the last Parliament, they must vote for a proper recall system and not the lousy stitch-up that the Government is proposing.

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