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.

Council taxpayers’ millions still stuck in Icelandic banks
Aug 2013 15

South west taxpayers are still the losers when it comes to the money their councils unwisely invested in Icelandic banks before the crash of 2008. Somerset County Council placed £12m of their taxpayers’ money with the failed banks and is still owed £8.1m. Wiltshire County Council invested £12m and is waiting for £3.6m. In a time of austerity it is an appalling waste of money and reflects badly on the councils as well as the government for not pursuing this money more vigorously.

In Gloucestershire the total investment amounted to £31m, with the County Council still owned £2.8m and Cheltenham Bough Council owed £4.1m. The Borough Council’s director of resources claims to have ‘worked worked tirelessly over a period of time to recover this money’ and said it was‘making steady progress’ to recovering the money.

‘We are in the hands of the administrators,’ he said, ‘despite it taking a little bit longer, the likelihood is that we will ultimately recover more of the money back.’ Just more, not all? It is now five years since this money went missing and that means a huge loss in interest payments and there is still no guarantee that the entirety of this money will be returned to local taxpayers.

What is particularly extraordinary is that there were warnings in the financial press about the fundamental unsteadiness and flawed business practices of Icelandic banks. So much so that I warned my cousin about the investment of his life savings in one bank and he removed it in time before the crash. If I could see it coming, how come the highly paid financial advisers of several South West councils did not? What on earth are they paid for if not to protect taxpayers ‘money? Has any one of them lost their jobs over this serious dereliction of public duty or have some of them retired on taxpayer funded pensions?

Other councils in the region still owed money include Bristol City, waiting for £3m on an investment of £8m, North Somerset £1.4m on £3m, and Stroud £600,000 on £2.5m. In total, across the country, more than 100 councils recklessly invested some £1 billion of taxpayers’ money.

Hull City Council’s brick wall of bureaucracy
Aug 2013 13

Jobs are scarce in Hull, with dozens of people chasing each vacancy. Existing businesses and entrepreneurs who want to expand their operations and provide much needed employment need to be encouraged, and the council should be doing everything it can to make it easier for them.

Richard Turner runs Milkshake Factory in the city. He has a mobile trailer from which he trades at festivals, and would like a street trading licence to rent a pitch in the city centre. Not only would this create more jobs, as Mr Turner buys ingredients for the milkshakes he sells from local suppliers, it would help other local businesses too.

Mr Turner was told that because responsibility for street trading licences are being transferred from the network management unit to the licensing department in 2014, no more applications are being considered. Richard Townend, the council’s Network Management Manager, told the Hull Daily Mail that the process to establish street trading in the city centre was too time-consuming to start before it is transferred to the licensing department in January and would not make “financial or viable sense”. He estimated the process would take nearly six months to complete because current businesses that could be affected by a new street trader would have to be consulted.

I can understand why current businesses need to be consulted, but six months? Surely it shouldn’t take more than a couple of weeks. Cllr John Fareham, leader of the Conservative Group in Hull described this as “responsibility tennis”. I know what he means. Well paid senior officers who should be doing everything they can to provide a quick turnaround, are instead deciding to do nothing and are blaming the system.

In the meantime, dozens of people are still chasing each job vacancy and enterprise is constrained.

Islington residents shocked by Stamp Duty
Aug 2013 13

Islington TPA supporters were out in force last Friday, setting up a stall on Islington Green to inform local residents about our ‘Stamp Out Stamp Duty’ campaign. Some 2,403 Islington residents have recently paid over the 3% rate when buying houses in the area, a total sum of £62,531,471 going out of their pockets into the government’s coffers—one of the highest in the country.

Unsurprisingly, our message got a very supportive reaction from local people, many of them not aware of the high level of Stamp Duty now levied on the sale of even quite modest homes. ‘Do you see the look on my face?’ said one. ‘This is a shocked face!’ Stamp Duty hits the hopes and aspirations of young, prospective first-time buyers hard. ‘This is really speaking to me right now,’ said one 20-something chatting to her parents about trying to buy a flat.

We visited a number of estate agents along nearby Upper Street and Essex Road and left leaflets with most of them. All of them supported our campaign. They felt that Stamp Duty was getting in the way of house sales generally and of first-time buyers in particular.

‘A tax on property purchase that goes up to 7% of the purchase price of the property clearly creates a disincentive for people to move,’ said Ian Fraser of Winkworth. ‘Although the market in London in particular is currently extremely buoyant, transaction levels are still lower than the long term average and the Stamp Duty increases in recent years have played a significant part in this.’

‘If people cannot move up the ladder,’ continued Fraser, ‘it will choke off supply at the bottom and push prices up for first time buyers who find it difficult enough to get onto the property ladder as it is. We all appreciate that the government has to raise revenues from somewhere and no one likes paying tax but it would seem that a tax on property purchase is a very retrograde step when so much of this country’s finances, on a personal, corporate and governmental level are bound up in house prices.’

‘As a sales negotiator and a first time buyer,’ said Max England of Next Move, ‘Stamp Duty only seems to make the process harder. I feel that housing prices seem to be getting higher and as a result there should be some sort of realistic negotiation in which Stamp Duty can be removed, so that people in a similar situation to myself can also jump on the property ladder. With schemes coming in to supposedly help first time buyers, surely the simple solution is to reduce the huge amount of tax from Stamp Duty?’

Thanks must go to James Warrilow, General Manager of Brown’s on Islington Green, who so generously provided us with much-appreciated free refreshments and made us feel particularly welcome.

Send a letter to your local MP calling for a reduction in Stamp Duty here

More parking charges in Nottingham thanks to the Workplace Parking Levy
Aug 2013 13

You don’t have to be a genius to work out the knock-on effects of imposing a Workplace Parking Levy (WPL). One of the reasons we campaigned against a proposed WPL in Bristol last year was that residential streets would be clogged up with more parked cars as employees stop parking in staff car parks to avoid the levy. Do councils think people like paying more in tax?

When I last wrote about Nottingham’s WPL in March, I looked back at the problems it had caused in its first year of operation. As soon as the WPL came into force, residents started complaining about parking issues – some of them asking for residents’ permit parking zones.

Nottingham City Council is not averse to picking the pockets of residents, businesses, and visitors, and is set to make more money from the mess it created. If the council gets its way, new charges will be introduced in three areas of the city, and drivers will be charged between £1.50 and £2 a day. The idea behind the pricing is that those working in nearby businesses will realise that paying this daily rate is more expensive than paying the WPL. Either way, they have to cough-up regardless.

The council is of course aware that any extra income it makes from these new charges must be spent on transport related initiatives. Here’s what it plans to do with the money:

Income, if any, resulting from the introduction of these additional tariff zones, is used in accordance with section 55 of the Road Traffic Regulations Act 1984, Section 55 (financial provisions, relating to designation orders), to fund further schemes to address parking issues within the neighbourhoods, caused by the displacement of parking and to support the administration and processes that support these schemes.

Putting that into plain English, the council will use the profits to impose charges in more areas where the WPL has caused parking chaos. More parking meters, fewer free parking areas, and more people forced to pay the levy. These charges will hit residents hard and damage businesses and retailers alike.

This decision has been called-in for scrutiny, so we await further developments, however you get the feeling that you will be able to hear  the council’s cash registers ringing  from miles away!

 

 

Aug 2013 12

We have written extensively over the years about ‘The Public’, an arts centre in West Bromwich. The omens were never good from the start. It was completed two years late  in 2008 and ran massively over-budget – costing some £72 million. Some regard the design as iconic, but as my colleague Jonathan Isaby said in an interview on BBC Midlands Today, it is an icon to bad budgeting and bad planning.

To say it has been a drain on the taxpayer is an understatement. It had to be rescued from administration by Sandwell Council, and the council created the Sandwell Arts Trust to make sure the building was finished and activities could be run there.  Currently taxpayers subsidise the facility to the tune of over £30,000 a week (£1.6 million a year), so it is hardly surprising the council has decided to pull the plug. ‘The Public’ will now close on 30 November.

In 2010, we commented that instead of being used for arts related projects, the council was desperately trying to increase visitor numbers by hosting events like knitting circles and old time music dances. It could be described as a very expensive church hall! Even though visitor numbers have risen in the past year, the income generated from events like these would never be anywhere near the amount needed for it to break even.

Some will say the council are philistines and do not value the Arts, but this is not a matter of whether or not you are a fan of the Arts – it is about the responsible use of taxpayers’ money. There should have been a robust business plan from the start, but there wasn’t. It was a grandiose scheme that was always doomed to failure. It was never a question of if ‘The Public’ should close, it was a matter of when.

The debate now raging is what to do with the building, branded as a pink elephant, when the council assumes responsibility for it on 30 November. It is possible Sandwell College could open a sixth form there, but that is far from certain. One thing is for certain though, whilst it lies empty, it will continue to be a drain on resources and the council must do everything it can to get some of our money back.

Cardiff says Stamp Out Stamp Duty
Aug 2013 12

On Saturday I was joined by several TaxPayers’ Alliance supporters when we held the Cardiff leg of our ‘Stamp Out Stamp Duty’ campaign to inform local taxpayers how this particular tax affects them. Many people I spoke to agreed that Stamp Duty is a horrible tax and discourages individual as well as overall economic growth.

Mr Nichols from Merthyr Tydfil pointed various areas of Wales which have now lost the Disadvantaged Areas Reduction (DAR) which encouraged the purchasing of homes within economically deprived areas:

‘Young families in Merthyr who once wanted to make something of themselves and get on the housing ladder, now don’t have the chance. It’s hard enough to gather together a deposit for a house never mind the extra needed for Stamp Duty, it’s just going to lead to more young families renting’.

Gareth Alison of the property website MyHouseMove.co.uk added:

‘By supporting the ‘Stamp Out Stamp Duty’ campaign, we would very quickly see much more activity in the housing market with many more potential buyers taking their first step onto the property ladder.’

One of the most harrowing stories of the day came from Miss Davies from Cardiff, who with her partner told us:

‘Some people don’t understand Stamp Duty. We bought a house last year and simply didn’t have the extra money needed for Stamp Duty so we included the cost of it in our mortgage. Instead of paying what would have cost us just over £2,000 is going to cost a lot more as we now owe interest on even penny we’ve borrowed’

It was clear from most people spoken to that they were especially upset with this punitive tax. It was quite evident that those in the Welsh Capital would like to see a reduction if not a complete scrapping of Stamp Duty.

Go to StampOutStampDuty.org and write to your MP. It only takes 30 seconds to make a difference.

Welsh Government wants to set its own Stamp Duty rates
Aug 2013 09

Earlier this week we launched our new ‘Stamp Out Stamp Duty’ campaign. We will be holding a stall in Cardiff  tomorrow to inform local taxpayers about what this punitive tax means for young people trying to get onto the housing ladder, for growing families and for Welsh jobs. The stall will be located near Aneurin Bevan’s statue, Queen Street, and we will be there from 11.00 am. If you are in Cardiff tomorrow, please come and say hello.

There have been recent calls for Stamp Duty, like many other taxes, to be devolved to the Welsh Government. This is in large part due to the Silk Commission and local politicians from all parties wanting to be able to set local taxation rates to – in their words – help the economy.

Carwyn Jones and his team who currently lead the Welsh Government have brazenly stated that they need tax-raising powers to invest in Wales for future growth; but surely that line has been used before when for over a decade the British Government borrowed beyond its means to supposedly invest, only for the country now to have to go through a continued period of austerity. And the Welsh Liberal Democrats have already made their views clear by claiming they would increase the top rate of Stamp Duty to 15 per cent.

Increasing taxes will punish success and will drive higher earners (who typically are business owners or the highly-skilled) away from Wales. As for the Welsh Liberal Democrats, their policy on Stamp Duty will make sure no-one moves, unless they are leaving the country!

When are all politicians in Wales going to understand that devolving tax-raising powers and exploiting hard-working families is going to drive the country backwards rather than forwards?

Bath’s huge parking tax profit
Aug 2013 06

A recent report by the RAC reveals that Bath and North East Somerset (B&NES) council are raking in just over £5 million in profit from its car parks, making it the ninth most profitable parking regime in the country outside of London.

‘For many local authorities, parking charges are a nice little earner’ says RAC Foundation director Stephen Glaister. ‘The bottom line is that hundreds of millions of pounds are being contributed annually to council coffers through parking charges and the drivers who are paying them have a reasonable expectation to see the cash spent on improving the roads.’

A recent court ruling said that on-street parking charges should not be used to support other council services, but that does not apply to off-street car parks. B&NES council leader Paul Crossley is unapologetic about raising extra revenue from motorists for general spending. ‘All parking charges support the council in balancing its budget,’ he said. ‘Any decrease in parking income makes it more difficult to achieve local priorities such as protecting services for the public.’

So, parking charges are now a tax to be extracted from motorists but spent on all other services.

’I find myself not uncomfortable with these numbers,’ says B&NES councillor Ian Gilchrist. ‘I am quite pleased that we are able to use our commercial estate [off-street car parks] in this way to generate a useful income, which if we were to abandon it would add 10% to Council Tax.’

But a Bath TPA supporter is far from happy with this. ‘The Parking Taxes are aimed at raising revenue to avoid the need to raise the Council Tax,’ he argues. ‘This should, in my opinion, be made clear to the electorate and published in the local press.’ Quite right too.

 

Bristol raises glasses to ‘Cut Cider Tax’
Aug 2013 05

At the 11th Bristol Cider Festival, held in Brunel’s historic Old Station at Temple Meads, hundreds of local cider drinkers raised their glasses to our ‘Cut Cider Tax’ campaign and signed our petition calling for an end to the Cider Duty Escalator. Even the Mangled Wurzels tribute band took time out from their West Country music set to tell the crowd to sign our petition!

Earlier that day they’d heard South West TPA speaking on BBC Radio Bristol and BBC Radio Somerset. Martin Thatcher, managing director of the family-owned Thatchers cider-making company, located down the road near Weston-super-Mare, spoke out in support of the campaign.

‘We cider-makers believe it is unfair that the beer escalator has been taken off and they haven’t done the same for the cider industry,’ said Martin. ‘It’s unfair on a rural based industry and what is quintessentially a British drink. The cider industry is quite different from most other drinks industries in that we have to make very long-term commitments and particularly to growing apples. We contract with growers for the next 25-30 years to grow apples for us and therefore we need a stable regime with no spanners thrown in the works that effects everyone’s confidence.’

Chris Lilley is managing director of Lilley’s Cider Barn, the Somerset brewing company behind the Bristol Cider Festival. ‘We produce and distribute a wide range of ciders and perrys throughout Somerset,’ he said, ‘and any reduction in tax helps us invest more in producing the different varieties that our customers like.’

Among those on offer at the festival included Black Death and Badger’s Spit, but the consensus of favourites among TPA supporters were Pheasant Plucker, Lilley’s Firedancer and Bee Sting Pear Cider. The Chancellor should give them a taste…

In the meantime, another West Country MP has joined our campaign.

‘Cider is the iconic drink of the West Country with centuries of history and tradition in the region,’ says Neil Parish, MP for Tiverton and Honiton in Devon. ‘However, cider producers are suffering because of the bad weather effecting their crop and responsible drinkers are seeing a quarter of the price they pay for a pint of cider going to the taxman. The current tax on cider is bad for consumers and producers alike. All we are asking for is the same cut in duty for cider that beer has already been afforded.’

Please sign our online petition

Will moving Cardiff’s Traveller and Gypsy site cost taxpayers more?
Aug 2013 01

Cardiff Council, as part of its Local Development Plan (LDP), has been considering the future of Traveller and Gypsy sites in the city. The LDP is a plan for the future and is an attempt to ensure that the residents of the city have the facilities they need.

Media Wales has recently reported that the Council (after surveying the current site which has hosted Travellers and Gypsies for 40 years) has decided it is now unsuitable as it lays on a flood plain. It has been estimated that works to protect the current site with coastal defences and upgraded facilities would cost in the region of £3.8 million.

Travellers who live on the site want to stay there, but Cardiff Council – with the aid of the Welsh Government – has now decided that rather than maintain the site, it is going to allocate five separate new sites for the Travelling and Gypsy communities.

Not only is this going to scatter the Travelling and Gypsy communities throughout Cardiff, it will also place a strain on the local service providers who over the years have tailored service provision to accommodate residents of the site and those living around it.

Some of the sites being considered are up to 6 miles away across the city and include a site close to Lisvane, where land has recently been valued at £1 million per acre, and Cardiff Bay, which also hosts the Welsh Government building (Senedd).

Even though £3.8 million is a fairly large sum of taxpayers’ money, surely it would be better invested in the current site rather than paying for the development of new sites which would put extra strain on public services and which could easily cost more?

West Country MPs support ‘Cut Cider Tax’ campaign
Jul 2013 30

Several West Country MPs are rallying to our South West TaxPayers’ Alliance ‘Cut Cider Tax’ campaign. Ahead of its formal launch at the Bristol Cider Festival on 2nd August, I met Ian Liddell-Grainger, MP for Bridgwater and Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Cider Group, at his constituency base in the Somerset town.

‘Cider is a great British institution,’ said Ian. ‘Many of our leading cider-makers are family run firms and for government to continually put up tax on cider stifles their investment in the business.’

He cited nearby Thatchers as an example of one of these family manufacturers that have been producing cider since 1904. ‘They’ve just invested £15m in their business, which is huge investment for a small firm. But it’s not only that, they also run 360 acres of orchards.’ The enormous quantity of British apples used by UK cider-makers also helps farmers and promotes bio-diversity. ‘Farmers grow beds of wildflowers around orchards to help the bee communities that pollinate apple trees.’

Ian reminded me that Tom King, his predecessor as MP for Bridgwater and one time Defence Secretary in the John Major government, is a keen cider-maker and frequently serves as a judge in local cider competitions.

‘I call on the TPA and Parliament to work together to scrap the cider duty escalator,’ says Ian.

Tim Newark, South West TPA, and Ian Liddell-Grainger MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Cider Group, pledge their support for ‘Cut Cider Tax’ in King Square in Bridgwater, Somerset.

Tim Newark, South West TPA, and Ian Liddell-Grainger MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Cider Group, pledge their support for ‘Cut Cider Tax’ in King Square in Bridgwater, Somerset.

 

After our enormously successful ‘Mash Beer Tax’ campaign earlier this year, the South West TPA wants to get the same deal for cider drinkers and manufacturers. We are calling for an end to the duty escalator that increases Cider Tax two per cent above the rate of inflation every year. Following the cross-party support enjoyed by our successful beer duty campaign, we are delighted to receive similar support from parliamentarians in the South West.

‘I was very concerned by the discriminatory approach to cider duty in the last budget,’ says Ben Bradshaw, MP for Exeter and former Labour Secretary of State for Culture, Media and sport. ‘The West Country apple growing and cider industry has been a big success in recent years. I would be very worried if that was reversed by treating ale more favourably than cider.’

‘After successfully campaigning to scrap the beer duty escalator,’ says Anne Marie Morris, MP for Newton Abbot. ‘I’m now supporting a cut in cider tax. Alcohol should always be sold at responsible prices, but when tax makes up a quarter of the price of cider it’s time to call for a change to help our nearby breweries and micro-breweries stay in business as local employers.’

Dr Liam Fox, MP for North Somerset and former Secretary of State for Defence, James Gray, MP for North Wiltshire, and Justin Tomlinson, MP for North Swindon, have all declared their support too.

 

 

Page 9 of 71« First...7891011...203040...Last »