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.

Bath backs ‘Stamp Out Stamp Duty’
Sep 2013 02

Estate Agents in the city of Bath have backed our campaign to cut Stamp Duty.

‘Stamp Duty is a poorly-structured tax,’ says Philip Marshall, partner at Carter Jonas, in the centre of the city. ‘And a blunt instrument that acts as a deterrent to first-time buyers. It causes artificial steps in the property market, as stages up are not graduated in the same way that Income Tax is for example. The jump from 1 % at £250,000 to three per cent at £250,001 is a particular problem.’

‘There are positive signs in the property market right now and people are deterred from getting on the property ladder, and from moving because of Stamp Duty,’ continued Marshall. ‘It’s time for a rethink and we would welcome positive steps to entirely overhaul the system.’

Some 39% of transactions attract 3% stamp duty in Bath, that’s a total income of £20.4 million from homebuyers, who are already finding it a challenge to save for a deposit, let alone to pay sums in excess of £7,500.

‘I’ve always found to go from one to three per cent is an ordinarily large jump for someone to make,’ says Carey Gilliland, from Bath Estate Agent Madison Oakley. ‘It does artificially hold some houses below the £250,000 threshold. It does create a bit of a gap in the prices between £250,000 and £275,000 because people can’t afford to stump up the extra deposit.’

‘You pay Stamp Duty on completion,’ argues Gilliland. ‘You can’t add it to the mortgage so it comes from people’s deposit but mortgage companies are demanding bigger deposits – something’s got to give.’

Send a message to your local MP that enough is enough by clicking on this link to our campaign website.

Chelmsford supports ‘Stamp out Stamp Duty’
Aug 2013 28

TPA supporters turned out on a stormy day in the heart of Essex in the county town of Chelmsford to tell the local residents about our ‘Stamp out Stamp duty’ campaign. Setting our stall beneath the grand statue of celebrated local lawyer, Sir Nicholas Tindal, in Tindal Square, we spoke to local people visiting nearby estate agents.

‘Buying a house is already far too costly for many hard-working people,’ says Chris Manby, Essex TPA coordinator, ‘and Stamp Duty is just another horrible sting in the tail. It makes buying a home even more expensive, and puts home ownership further out of reach for young people and families. It should be abolished.’

The sum of money you have to write a cheque for, say £7,500 on a £250,00 house, could buy a car for a family.

In Chelmsford, more than a third of people buying a flat or house, pay the 3% rate or more.

‘It’s the bank of mum and dad that tends to pay for stamp duty now for the first-time buyers,’ said Andy Wren at Location Chelmsford. ‘It’s another burden for them.’ Other estate agents agreed that the local housing market has taken off again but that means more and more buyers fall into the 3% stamp duty bracket.

‘The government’s policies are getting people buying again,’ said Connells, ‘so they’re tending to ignore the stamp duty burden but it’s till there–still has to be paid and take takes money out of the economy for other things associated with house buying.’ ‘It’s dead money,’ said another estate agent. ‘It’s hard enough to save up money for a deposit, let alone pay stamp duty.’

Islington Council makes expensive mess of dog poop squad
Aug 2013 22

Islington Council has certainly made a financial mess of its efforts to tackle dog fouling. It has disbanded its controversial ‘dog squad’ – the biggest in the country, it seems – after having spent some £240,000 in a three month period from May of last year. It had deployed 22 officers to patrol the borough night and day and issue fines to people caught letting their dogs foul the pavements.

The figure is eye-watering enough on its own, especially when you consider that it was spent in such a short period, but begins to look positively scandalous when it becomes clear, as has been reported, that the number of fines issued in 2012/13, when the dog squad was operational, is actually lower than the number issued the previous year. The actual number of fines issued by the Council for dog fouling by the ‘dog squad’ in 2102/13 was 36—ten fewer than in 2011/12!

Islington Council had announced this ‘dog squad’ initiative with much fanfare in March 2012, claiming that it would recoup most of its cost from fixed penalty notices. However, doubts were expressed right from the start concerning costs and especially the likelihood of fines recovering any significant sum. In fact, with fines of £80 reducible to £50 for prompt payment, the Council would have had to issue at least 1,000 fines a month to recover its costs, a huge target which brings the actual result—a paltry 36 fines—into its true perspective.

Amazingly, the Council still claims that the scheme has been ‘money well spent’ and ‘an enormous success in changing people’s behaviour’. One is bound to ask what evidence they can supply to justify these claims.

Did they quantify the amount of dog mess in the Borough before and after the exercise (surely the only proper evidence that anyone took any notice of the dog squad) or did they engage with dog owners to gauge the effect of their scheme on their attitudes and claimed behaviour? I would be surprised if they did either, but if they did, many local taxpayers would be interested to hear their results. I can’t say I’ve noticed any improvement myself…

Had anyone involved bothered to think before spending all that taxpayers’ money, they would have seen quite quickly that it was unlikely to recover more than a small part of its costs, and that £240,000 was a ludicrous sum to lavish on a project whose results probably could never be measured, at a time when councils everywhere are supposed to be trying to save taxpayers’ money.

Dog fouling is undoubtedly a nuisance in Islington, as it is elsewhere, but throwing vast sums of money at the problem in this thoughtless way is not going to solve it.

Council red tape threatens 100 jobs in Neath
Aug 2013 21

Media Wales recently highlighted the plight of 100 workers in one of Wales last major drift mines. The Unity Mine at Heol Wenallt, Cwmgwrach in Neath has in recent years been affected by the decline of the global price of coal, however any chance of salvation has been crushed by Neath Port Talbot County Council.

It has been claimed that the council has been stood idol behind red tape whilst Peter Hain, the MP for the area, has apparently been working tirelessly to save the mine. Mr Hain stated,

 “I have been told that men were being laid off because of delays from Neath Port Talbot County Council in delivering planning consents necessary to give confidence for new investment.
The jobs are paid well above the local average and are vital for local communities.”

These job losses are in addition to the 300 jobs lost at a nearby mine earlier this year, which has since re-opened with a faction of the staff.  The area also suffered a major jobs blow in 2009 when car parts plant TRW, formerly Cam Gears, announced it was closing.

Job losses in the area could have been limited with more effort from local representatives to cut the bureaucracy standing in the way of business. The Welsh Government have apparently been working to promote Welsh business and Welsh opportunity for over a decade with no benefit for the people of Neath Port Talbot. This is what happens when we put politicians in charge of picking winners and losers in business with other people’s’ money.

Rather than the local economy benefiting from resilient business and well-paid jobs we now have another 100 families worried about their future thanks to the local authority blundering.

Somerset Farm Show says ‘Cut Cider Tax!’
Aug 2013 19

Amid prize-winning bulls and horse jumping, South West TPA supporters gathered 360 signatures for our ‘Cut Cider Tax!’ petition at the Mid-Somerset Agricultural Show in Shepton Mallet. ‘They were very keen to sign our petition,’ said supporter Lucy Wildman. ‘We left the stand for a few minutes and they kept on signing even when we weren’t there!’

‘Come here me zonner,’ said one local Somerset stallholder, ‘I can’t abide tax on cider. I can remember when farmers used to give it away to workers.’

Local cider makers, Hecks Farmhouse and Wilcox Cider, were both very supportive of our campaign to cut the cider duty escalator. Hecks are a family concern that have been making cider for six generations since 1840. They ferment the cider in barrels and served it draught from the wood at the show.

‘The cost of living going up is putting pressure on our costs,’ said one of these cider makers, ‘so the last thing we need is cider duty going up every year.’  The current cider duty escalator is 2 per cent on top of the rate of inflation, which could add between 4 per cent and 5 per cent to the cost of a pint of cider annually. ‘If the chancellor can scrap this for beer, he should do the same for cider. It’s only fair!’

Sign our online petition here calling for an end to the cider duty escalator.

Aug 2013 15

When Northern Lincolnshire and Goole Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust was put into special measures,  after the review carried out by NHS medical director, Sir Bruce Keogh, there were many who thought the position of chief executive, Karen Jackson, was untenable. Today it has been revealed that her reward for a litany of failure was a huge pay rise.

According to the Yorkshire Post, her salary has increased from £140,000 a year to £170,000 – a rise of 20 per cent. The Trust is now saying this is wrong. Her salary was £145,000 a year, so this means her percentage rise was not as high as previously stated. Whether it’s a 20 per cent rise or a 15 per cent rise, it is still a massive reward for failure.

Trust chairman, James Whittingham, was unrepentant this morning. He said:

It is important that we pay salaries which are commensurate with the job to attract and retain high calibre people. Karen Jackson’s starting salary in 2010 was set below the agreed rate as it was her first chief executive post, and she declined a pay rise after her first year in the role. She is now receiving a salary that is roughly in line with the average for trusts of this size and type.

There are many, myself included, who doubt Mrs Jackson is a high calibre person. As for her receiving a salary that is roughly in line with the average for Trusts of this size and type, I have two points to make:

Firstly, the salaries for top executives in most public sector organisations are too high. Comparisons made with the private sector do not hold water. A chief executive of a private company is responsible for making sure the business turns over a profit. If they fail in this task, the business could go under. Top executives in the public sector do not have this pressure.

Secondly, why should Mrs Jackson receive a comparable salary to similar sized Trusts when she has taken her Trust  into special measures? If anything, her performance related pay award should have resulted in a reduction in salary.

Dr Whittingham also went on to say:

It would be a grave mistake and false economy to pay so far below the market rate that executives leave their posts or are impossible to recruit.

If you were the chairman of a Trust and looked at Mrs Jackson’s CV, would you employ her? Dr Whittingham inhabits a strange world if he thinks that Mrs Jackson is the best and we must handsomely reward her. What is he going to do next when the Trust comes out of special measures, give her another whopping pay rise?

It is impossible to see how local people can have any faith in not only Mrs Jackson and other senior executives, but also in Dr Whittingham and the remuneration panel he chairs. For there to be real change in this Trust, there needs to be a change at the top.

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