Cornish pubs join VAT protest
Sep 2013 27

Cornish pubs joined in a protest across the South West by cutting the price of their food and drink by 7.5% as part of Tax Parity Day, reports The Cornishman. It’s part of a campaign to highlight the benefit of a reduction of VAT to 5% in the hospitality industry. Currently, food and drink in pubs is subject to 20% VAT, whereas supermarkets benefit from 0% VAT.

The protest follows on from French entrepreneur, Jacques Borel, who has campaigned successfully for VAT cuts in restaurants and bars across Europe, including France, Germany, Ireland and Sweden.

‘Our aim is to secure a more equal tax treatment for food sold through pubs, restaurants and food service operators compared to supermarkets,’ he says, ‘which benefit from a zero VAT rate. Our supporters are reducing their prices by 7.5% for one day, as this is the amount we believe prices would fall by if VAT were cut to 5%, as we estimate 60% of any reduction would be passed on to the customer.’

Pubs in Cornwall and Devon are calling on the government to make this reduction. St Austell Brewery reduced prices at its 25 managed pubs, and were joined by 19 of its tenanted businesses. ‘Creating a tax parity between pubs and restaurants and supermarkets will not only benefit consumers,’ says their managing director, ‘who will get lower prices, but the resulting increase in customers will mean more jobs are created in the sector. This could be up to an estimated 670,000 based on the experience of other European countries. St Austell Brewery is fully committed to supporting this campaign.’

Many JD Wetherspoons pubs in Cornwall and Devon joined in too. ‘We are keen to highlight the amount customers would save if VAT in pubs was lowered,’ said their manager in Falmouth. ‘So, for example, the total price of a meal and drinks for a customer at The Packet Station would be reduced from £10 to £9.25 on Tax Parity Day.’

‘We must be as competitive and compete on a level playing field,’ said head of tourism for VisitCornwall. ‘This initiative will clearly demonstrate what a difference it would make if taxation in the UK was at a par with many of our rivals.’

Jenny Pickles, Cornwall TaxPayers’ Alliance

Bristol support for cut to sky-high holiday tax
Sep 2013 26

South West TPA supporters gathered in Bristol Airport calling for a cut in Air Passenger Duty (APD) on Wednesday. Taxes on flights departing  from the UK are the highest in the world. Different rates apply according to the distance travelled. Britain’s exceptionally high taxes on flights in though make holidays much more expensive, as well as making it harder for Britain to compete as a destination for tourists and business investment.

Based in the main check-in area of the terminal, we handed out leaflets to arriving and departing passengers explaining the  tax. Our campaign mascot Hector the tax inspector was suitably attired in his holiday kit and attracted a lot of attention.

‘It’s ridiculous,’ said one passenger, ‘they’re screwing us every way they can.’ One young couple was flying first to Amsterdam and then onto Australia to avoid the most expensive duty. ‘That way we don’t pay the full tax,’ they said. A short standard rate flight to Amsterdam adds £26 each to their bill, but going all the way to Australia would add £188 each—making a total of almost £400! It’s not surprising they’d rather endure the inconvenience and tedium of two flights rather than one to save almost £350. But it’s not just an inconvenience though, this damages businesses and tourism in the UK.

When you add VAT and Insurance Premium Tax, the tax burden on going abroad and enjoying yourself is getting higher and higher. In 2012, the estimated total tax bill for holidays abroad was over £2 billion. That is £56 for each of the holidays abroad taken. A family of six travelling to Spain will have faced an average tax bill of £187 on their flights and holiday purchases in the UK. A family of four travelling to Florida will have faced an average tax bill of £350 on their flights and holiday purchases in the UK, an increase of £150 since 2008.

You can read more about the cost of holiday taxes here.

 

Are UNISON still in charge in Hull?
Sep 2013 25

It was revealed yesterday that the unions have emphatically rejected changes to their terms and conditions at Hull City Council. This has been a long running saga and something I have written about on many occasions. When Labour took control of the Guildhall in May 2011 from the Liberal Democrats, they said they would look at overtime rates and mileage allowances.

I can’t say I am surprised that proposals to change staff terms and conditions have been rejected. Negotiations (or the threat of them) have been going on for more than two years. Paying the HMRC recommended mileage rate of 45p per mile instead of the 65p  rate the council currently pay is fair, but the rhetoric coming from union leaders has more than implied they are up for a fight. Andrew Reed, vice-president of the Hull Trades Union Council, had this to say:

We fully support the staff at the council who are fighting against these cuts to their terms and conditions. It’s a disgrace that Labour councillors who are former union officials are even thinking of attacking their own workers like this.

With that level of realism about the financial crisis we find ourselves in, you can’t help but have some sympathy for the council leader, Steve Brady. I would have more sympathy for him though if he had not forced out a chief executive, without giving a valid reason, which cost taxpayers almost a quarter of million pounds in the process.

I have referred to the elections in May 2011 when Labour took control of Hull City Council. Just after that election, I was sent the picture below.

UNISON-300x225

Is it hardly surprising the council seems incapable of changing staff terms and conditions and getting the unions to agree to a fair mileage rate? If Cllr Brady had stood up to the unions for the start and made it clear these reforms were essential, he may not have found himself in this position. He has not been strong, despite his tub-thumping rhetoric, and this has come back to haunt him.

Former Hull Council Chief Executive gets a quarter of a million pounds pay-off
Sep 2013 24

Nicola Yates abruptly left her post as Chief Executive of Hull City Council fourteen months ago. The speed of her departure was breathtaking, and for a council that likes to think it is open and transparent, we still don’t know the reason why she was shown the door. There were rumours that the relationship between her and council leader, Steve Brady, had broken down so much that they were not returning each other’s calls and e-mails; but that’s all they were – rumours. At the time the council also refused to reveal how much she received as compensation for loss of office, even though ultimately it would have to be revealed in the 2012-13 accounts. Yesterday, we found out.

Ms Yates was paid £160,000 a year, and received a pay-off of £242,677 - the equivalent of more than eighteen months salary. It is hardly surprising the council were so secretive at the time. Not that this is an excuse. Council taxpayers in Hull have a right to know how their money is spent. Just because revealing the size of a pay-off may be politically embarrassing doesn’t mean they shouldn’t find out immediately rather than fourteen months down the line.

We have written before about the ‘public sector merry-go-round’. When Katherine Kerswell left her job as Managing Director of Kent County Council, the council was equally secretive about the amount she received to walk out of the door. It was later revealed that she was paid £420,000. Not that Ms Kerswell  found herself out of work for long. She quickly secured a job in the Cabinet Office, ironically in charge of Civil Service reform.

It’s the same story with Nicola Yates. Despite accepting an eye-watering amount of taxpayers’ money to leave Hull, she managed to secure the job of Bristol Council’s City Director. This is all part of a broken culture that accepts secrecy as the norm, and that accepts large pay-offs to go elsewhere as a price worth paying.

Try telling that to campaigners in Hull who are trying to stop the closure of the city’s only competition-sized swimming pool at Ennerdale Leisure Centre. In a very heated and nasty debate last week, councillors traded insults with each other and tried to settle old scores, but the news that Ms Yates received a pay-off of almost a quarter of a million pounds only adds insult to injury for them.

Is Ceredigion Council helping to create a property bubble?
Sep 2013 23

Houses prices in Ceredigion have seen huge monthly increases, in  fact the area was ranked in the top ten for August’s increases nationally. Potential buyers in Ceredigion faced a rise only 0.2% smaller than those in London for the same period.  Ceredigion Council hasn’t missed out on an opportunity though to bolster its bureaucratic army, and has appointed Sian Davies to the new post of Rural Housing Enabler.

This is what she had to say in a council press release:

My focus is on searching for development opportunities or empty properties to bring back into use so that we can boost the supply of affordable housing. I’m supported by the Welsh Government, Ceredigion County Council, Tai Ceredigion and Tai Cantref who are all committed to ensuring that people have access to affordable housing within their local community.

On the surface, moves to support the development of new housing may seem like a positive move and welcomed by those finding themselves priced out of the market. But what if the problem is not that councils aren’t doing enough to alleviate the shortage of homes, what if, in fact, their actions are contributing to the problem. Miss Davies’ appointment also raises questions over the actions of Ceredigion Council since the introduction of the Unitary Development Plan back in 2001 and more recently the Local Development Plan.

The main driver behind the increase in house prices is the lack of homes being built. Councils didn’t plan ahead and anticipate the amount of new homes that would be required. Many would argue this shouldn’t be their responsibility in the first place. But house building has certainly being restricted by a lack of willingness to approve planning applications, as in this example where the building of new homes was refused because the application was contrary to polices designed to protect the countryside.

Either way, when the council launched its loan guarantee scheme last year in conjunction with Lloyds TSB, those applying for the scheme can only purchase properties that already exist, and this in turn discourages the development of new build properties. This loan guarantee scheme could also help fuel a local housing bubble and get local residents into unaffordable debt.

Perhaps if the council would stand out of the way and let the market recover by itself, it wouldn’t need to create a new post?

Democracy in Hull suffers another blow
Sep 2013 19

Almost two years ago, I presented a petition at a full council meeting in Hull. I was given the opportunity to speak for five minutes and then councillors had the opportunity to question me. Instead of questioning me on my petition asking for free on-street parking on Sundays in the city centre, I was greeted by a barrage of abuse by some councillors trying to score political points. It was a shameful display and one councillor was forced to apologise in writing after I lodged a complaint.

Fast forward to this morning, two petitions were received to save a swimming pool at Ennerdale Leisure Centre in the city. One lady who presented a petition and spoke in favour of it mentioned that she was being supported by the opposition Liberal Democrats. For those councillors who are unable to differentiate between a member of the public and a colleague, it was open season. An ordinary member of the public concerned that her local swimming pool is about to be closed was jeered and then questioned on the tax and spending policies of the coalition government.

After the questioning was complete, the meeting then descended into political mud-slinging with those in the public gallery angry that councillors, instead of debating the issue, felt political points scoring was more important. The public frustration spilled over with people shouting out from the gallery and the Lord Mayor threatening to remove them.

Whatever the rights and wrongs are of closing the swimming pool, members of the public should be treated with courtesy and they also expect councillors to work for the best interests of residents, rather than settling old scores. Not all councillors engaged in this disgraceful behaviour, but as one councillor told me privately, “It was not our chamber’s shining hour.”

It is hardly surprising so many of the electorate don’t bother to vote or engage in the political process in Hull. At the most recent elections in 2012, the turnout in the Newington Ward was 17.76 per cent, and in the Orchard Park and Greenwood Ward it was 17.83 per cent. The turnout in other wards was poor too. The highest turnout in all the wards in the city was in the Beverley Ward and that was only 37.22 per cent.

If councillors in Hull are serious about more public engagement, they have to look at their own behaviour. The events of this morning will be reported in the local media and will further bolster the view that councillors are more interested in themselves than serving those who elect them.

Leigh-on-Sea backs ‘Stamp Out Stamp Duty’
Sep 2013 18

TaxPayers’ Alliance supporters took to the streets of Leigh-on-Sea yesterday as part of our ‘Stamp Out Stamp Duty’ campaign. Our arrival had been telegraphed in advance by a radio broadcast on Heart Radio earlier that morning, so many of the people we spoke to knew we would be there.

The reception was fantastic, with many local residents expressing their disgust for a tax that makes the process of buying a home even more expensive. Local estate agents and businesses were also incredibly supportive.

“My son cannot afford a house of his own”, one concerned mother told me. “He works hard, and he’s left home, but all he can afford is a rental. I feel like he’s being punished for doing all the right things”.

Nearly half of all properties in the South East fall into the dreaded 3 per cent category or higher. A house hunter looking for a modest property costing £250,001 pays £7500 in stamp duty, but if they’d paid £1 less, they would save £5000. This is just one of the injustices of this pernicious tax.

If you haven’t done so already, please go to StampOutStampDuty.Org and write to your MP. It only takes a minute, and makes a real difference.

 

Plans scrapped for “Iconic Bridge”
Sep 2013 17

Last year we wrote about plans in Sunderland to build a so-called iconic bridge over the River Wear. Over the summer the dream finally came to an end. I say a dream, but many would say it was a pipe-dream and a nightmare, rolled into one.

If it had been built, it would have been England’s tallest bridge, standing at 187 metres, however the scheme was beset by problems from the start. Neither Northern Ireland-based contractor Graham or Vinci of France were able to submit a tender within the £118 million budget. Taxpayers, however, are still out of pocket to the tune of £11.1 million. Here is a breakdown of the costs:

· Design, including Utilities, Highways and Bridge  -£6.3 million

· Planning, Consents and Scheme Orders –  £1 million

· Business Case – £1 million

· Project Management & Staffing costs – £2.8 million

The council has promised these costs will be transferred when a new design is brought forward, but if past experience is anything to go by, no-one is holding their breath.

Cllr Colin Wakefield, an independent councillor in the city, had this to say:

The bridge design was unbuildable. Bridge experts warned of the likely failure of the project and two of the four potential contractors walked away from the project. Sunderland City Council arrogantly pursued their dream, whilst taxpayers continued to face a funding nightmare.

An elegant bridge costing half or less could have been in place now, however the council is still looking to procure an unnecessary and still very expensive cable stay bridge. Great to be bold when its someone else’s money!

So despite many warnings from experts, councillors and council officers ploughed on regardless, thinking they knew better. Waste like this should never happen, but at a time when the council is having to reduce expenditure, it does make you wonder how much more money Sunderland City Council is going to throw at this project.

Frome favours Cider Tax Cut!
Sep 2013 16

Somerset TPA supporters gathered on a chilly, windy morning at the Frome Agricultural & Cheese Show. Between dogs herding geese and parading livestock, we gathered 130 signatures from visitors to the show and farming trade stands urging the Chancellor to cut the Cider Duty Escalator that puts the price of cider up every year.

‘How very rude,’ said one local when we told them that the Chancellor had cut the Beer Duty Escalator, following our campaign earlier in the year, but not the Cider Duty Escalator. She then handed the petition to all her family to sign.

Earlier in the week, the TPA was invited to attend the All-Party Parliamentary Cider Group at the Houses of Parliament. Labour MP Ben Bradshaw mingled with Conservative Peer Lord King, who is also a cider maker just outside Bath, but ‘purely for family consumption!’

Ian Liddell-Grainger, MP for Bridgwater and Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Cider Group, and Paul Bartlett, Chairman of the National Association of Cider Makers, hosted the event and both endorsed our campaign to end the Cider Duty Escalator. ‘This is very important to the future of cider making,’ said Bartlett to the assembled politicians and senior cider industry executives.

‘The campaign to cut Beer Duty was a real success,’ says Cheltenham MP Martin Horwood. ‘It would be great for the West Country—including Cheltenham—if we could pull off the same trick with Cider. I’m delighted to be supporting local business, fairer taxes and responsible drinking all in one go!’

Please support our campaign by signing our petition at CutCiderTax.Org

£129,000 a year wasted on empty commercial properties in Colchester
Sep 2013 12

Colchester Borough Council has paid £600,000 in Business Rates for its empty commercial properties, with some properties vacant for more than a decade. Local man Ben Locker sent a freedom of information request to the council and was shocked at what he found out.

Three public toilet sites have been closed for more than three years, with two of them closed for more than ten years, at a cost of over £5,000 per year. They have so far wasted a combined £26,000. Four empty warehouses and a transit shed have cost the taxpayer nearly £96,000 and have all been empty for more than six years.

The cost to the taxpayer for this shameful waste of our money is £128, 760 per year in unnecessary Business Rates. Altogether, vacant commercial properties owned by Colchester Borough Council have cost us £602,800, and this figure is only expected to rise.

The council’s cabinet proposed a 1.97% council tax hike earlier this year. They have also come under heavy criticism from a diffuse coalition of elderly residents, concerned citizens, local activists and the opposition parties on the council, for their repeated attempts to close the £76,000 per year Abbots activity centre.

Prior to 2007, empty properties were exempt from Business Rates. But now all empty commercial and industrial properties are liable to pay tax. Where councils own the property, this means taxpayers can be on the hook for hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Clearly this is an outrageous state of affairs. Rather than continue to waste taxpayers money on unused commercial properties, the council should either make use of them or sell them to someone who can. And rather than taxing empty properties for engaging in their non-existent daily business, the Government ought to scrap empty property rates completely.

 

Gloucestershire tax on green bins
Sep 2013 10

South Gloucestershire taxpayers are being given mixed messages by their council—and it is set to cost them £1.2m across the district. The council wants them to recycle their garden waste but wants to charge them £56 a year for picking it up.

In a surprising move, South Gloucestershire Council (SGC) is keen to charge local residents £36 to pick up their green bins and a further £20 for a bundle of ten recycling sacks.

‘Residents feel like they are being ambushed into accepting an annual charge which could be as high as £56,’ says an opposition councillor, ‘and which will cut the district’s recycling rate after many years of sustained improvement.’

‘Some people will instead use their black bins to dispose of their garden waste or fly-tip or burn the waste in their back yards,’ he warns.

Also, the residents of South Gloucestershire have already paid for rubbish removal services through their council tax—so why are they being asked to pay for it twice?

SGC says the proposal is the only way they can make cuts in their budget. ‘If the council ultimately chose not to charge for the green bin service,’ said a council spokesman, ‘then we’d have to implement cuts that could affect valued services such as libraries.’

It is a tired old chorus from local councils putting front line services on the line—saying it’s either more charges for its fundamental services or cuts to libraries. Instead, they should be thinking about cutting the cost of local government management—including their inflated wages and pensions.

‘Stamp Out Stamp Duty’ comes to Beverley
Sep 2013 09

TPA supporters hit the streets of Beverley last Saturday to talk to local people about our ‘Stamp Out Stamp Duty‘ campaign. Many residents already knew about the campaign thanks to some great media coverage ahead of the campaign day. We were also supported by local estate agents who know first hand how damaging Stamp Duty is.

We have more street stalls planned later this month. The next one is on Wednesday in Birmingham. Supporters are meeting at 12.00 noon in New Street, near BHS.

Next week, on Tuesday 17 September, we are in Leigh-on-Sea. Supporters are meeting on Broadway, near the junction with Victoria Road at 12.00 noon.

Later this month we are also in Guildford. Local supporters are running a street stall from 12.00 noon on Saturday 28 September. The stall will be located on High Street, opposite Marks and Spencer.

If you are in Birmingham, Leigh-on-Sea, or Guildford on those dates, please come along and say hello. If you can spare an hour to help run one of the stalls, please let me know.

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