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.
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.
VAT at 117 per cent! What’s going on? A local retailer and TPA supporter tells me about a strange incident at a government-sponsored business event in Bristol.
As a small businessman he attended the show, hoping to pick up some tips on how to expand his business. Among the schemes being promoted was ‘Growth Accelerator’, a partnership between private sector business growth experts and the government. It offers specialist advice from ‘growth coaches’ and promises new routes to investment, new connections, and exciting new strategies. Who could resist it?
Over 6000 businesses have, apparently, joined the programme since it was launched in May 2012. Vince Cable, Business Secretary, is a fan of it and it is a conduit for the billions of taxpayers’ money being lent through the Funding for Lending Scheme. If you are keen to take advantage of the scheme, it advises that a growth coach be assigned to your business for three to nine months as well as you attending master-classes and workshops. The cost of most of this is met by the government (paid for by taxpayers).
There is, however, a cost to the client and that depends on the size of your business. If you have 1-4 employees it’s £600, 5-29 employees £1500 and 50-249 employees £3000. VAT is due on this fee and this is where it gets strange.
‘VAT is based on 20 per cent of the nominal value of the service, at £3,500,’ says its website, ‘so all businesses pay the same amount of VAT.’ What?
‘The weird thing is that no matter which level you are on,’ says our local businessman, ‘you pay VAT on the full nominal amount of £3500, so every business pays £700 in VAT. For us, as a small business of 1-4 employees, this would mean we would pay £700 VAT on a fee of £600—more than the fee itself—so a VAT rate of 117 per cent!’
‘How do they figure that one?’ Maybe it’s a tax growth accelerator they’re talking about!
A National Folk Music Centre in Gwynedd, North Wales is at the centre of attention after a BBC report exposed that the Welsh Government, with the help of European funding, has spent £1.2m of taxpayers’ money funding a project in a comparatively small town in rural North Wales.
The project ‘Ty Siamas’ which intended to sustain 19 local jobs, now only employs two part-time members of staff. The interactive folk music exhibition has closed down due to a lack of public interest, and as well as this, an onsite shop has been leased to a crafts company, and the online shop which sold folk music goods is now dormant.
Darren Millar, Chair of the Welsh Assembly’s Public Accountants Committee questioned the rationale behind the original project,
You’ve got to ask the question how realistic was the proposal – how realistic was it that you’re going to have an arts centre in what is a reasonably sized town in north Wales, but small by the standards of the country as a whole, and I think it’s really important that these business proposals – whenever anybody brings them forward – are properly tested in the future, and this is a case in poor testing.
The building which houses the project ‘Neuadd Idris Hall’, which is owned by Gwynedd Council, has been leased for a £1 peppercorn rent to Siamas Cyf for a period of 100 years.
Gwynedd Council told BBC Wales that it was a matter of disappointment the company had not fully achieved what had been proposed in the original funding application. However the Welsh Government preposterously claims that the initial targets of the overall project have been met as the building (situated in the centre of Dolgellau) is no longer redundant.
This is just another example of a short-sighted approach to governance and a blatant disregard for value for taxpayers’ money by the welsh authorities. To argue that the point of the project was to ensure a vacant building was in use, opposed to actually contributing anything to the local economy, is ludicrous. It is about time the Welsh Government took a responsible approach to the public finances, rather than throwing our money around like confetti.
On a rather blustery day in Darlington, TPA supporters gathered to hand leaflets to local people publicising our new ‘Stop the Energy Swindle’ campaign. We met some people who had already written to their MP using energyswindle.org and one supporter showed us the letter they received.
Many thanks goes to Karl Bone, Tony Flinn, and Patrick Quigley for helping to organise the event. Patrick also visited local independent shopkeepers asking them to support our campaign as they are badly affected by high energy prices as they try to make a living in these challenging economic times. One local shopkeeper said he would go on to his computer straight away!
We plan more events as we launch a new branch of the TPA in the Darlington area. If you are interested in helping, please let me know. Karl, Tony, and Patrick have some great ideas and would really value your help and assistance.
If you haven’t written to your MP yet, go to energyswindle.org. All you need to do is enter your postcode and a letter will appear automatically addressed to your MP. Just add your name, address, and e-mail address, and click send. It’s that easy and can be done in a minute.
Plans to install parking meters outside shops on a busy shopping street in Colchester were dealt a major blow last week—thanks to a local TaxPayers’ Alliance campaign.
The North Essex Parking Partnership (NEPP) had planned to install pay and display parking meters along North Station Road in central Colchester. Currently, the first 30 minutes parking are free, but under the new plans, drivers would have had to pay 10p for 15 minutes, 20p for 30 minutes, and 50p for the hour. Small businesses in Essex are already facing ever-escalating costs and these parking charges could have been the last straw. One shopkeeper told me that a number of his customers had said they would not come back if meters were introduced. The view from the NEPP was simply that ‘these locations could generate an income stream for the NEPP’ and the councils that run it.
However, the message heard from local retailers was that they wanted more free parking, not less. Shopkeepers on North Station Road opposed this proposal by signing and collecting signatures for my TPA petition. In total, we gathered 102 signatures, including most of the owners of the small businesses that would be affected by the charges.
Last Wednesday, I picked up the petition from the shopkeepers and presented it to the council’s parking officer at their office complex. As the TPA’s Essex coordinator, I spoke to the council that evening during their ‘Have Your Say’ segment of the meeting. I kept it brief, introducing myself and discussing the issue of the proposed parking meters, pointing out the effect this could have on the local shops and their customers. I asked Martin Hunt, Deputy Leader of Colchester Borough Council, whether, in these times of economic uncertainty and rising costs, imposing these meters on small businesses in Colchester was wise?
He made it clear that he and the other Colchester representatives did not support the proposals. ‘It wasn’t for NEPP to tell us we ought to have meters,’ he said, ‘but for us to request them if we wanted them.’ The introduction of meters would have to be put to the cabinet, the councillors, then enter a period of consultation with local businesses and residents. ‘It won’t be happening on my watch,’ he later told the Colchester Daily Gazette.
Imposing further costs on small retailers in tough economic times is absolutely unacceptable. ‘I don’t think people who make these sort of decisions realise anything that could stop someone using a small business could kill it,’ said a local retailer. ‘I’m glad they’ve put paid to it.’ The shooting down of these plans is therefore a real victory for people power and the TPA, and a triumph of common sense.
This victory has also encouraged councillors and residents to fight other parking meter proposals elsewhere in Essex.
We had three more great events in the past week at Warrington, Islington, and Salisbury. Many thanks go to David Hartley for helping to organise the Warrington stall; Henry Zarb, for organising the Islington stall; and to Tim Newark and Paul Cunningham for organising the stall in Salisbury.
We are holding two more stalls in the coming week. On Saturday 20 July were are in Darlington. Supporters will meet on High Row, near Binns Department Store, at 11.00 am.
Next Wednesday, 24 July, we are in Birmingham. We are meeting on New Street, near BHS, at 12.00 noon.
If you are in Darlington or Birmingham on those dates, please come along and say hello. If you have an hour to spare to help us run one of the stalls, please let me know.
The South West Taxpayers’ Alliance launched their ‘Cut Cider Tax’ campaign at the Love Food Festival at historic Dyrham Park in South Gloucestershire. Bath TPA supporters set up their stall alongside local food producers and award-winning cider makers, urging local foodies and cider lovers to sign their petition.
“Almost a quarter of the price you pay for a pint of cider goes to the taxman,” says South West Grassroots Coordinator Tim Newark. “It’s too much in these tough times and it has negative impact on the thousands of people employed in the South West in cider production. We had a great success with our campaign for lower beer tax earlier this year and we feel it’s only fair to help cider drinkers and makers too!”
The TaxPayers’ Alliance will next be attending the 11th Bristol Cider Festival on Friday August 2nd and Saturday August 3rd. Come and see us at our stall. Or please sign our online petition below calling on the Chancellor to scrap the Cider Duty Escalator.
If you’d like petition sheets to pass on to friends and colleagues, you can download them here, or contact our South West Grassroots Coordinator Tim Newark at [email protected] or phone us at 0845 330 9554.
TPA supporters rallied outside Salisbury’s Georgian Guildhall to launch our ‘Stop the Energy Swindle’ campaign in Wiltshire’s beautiful cathedral city. Overlooking the historic Market Square, it proved a good place to chat to shoppers and market traders on a busy market day.
‘High energy bills hit independent traders very much,’ says South West grassroots coordinator Tim Newark, ‘ adding yet another layer of cost alongside their business rates and rent. It’s a cost they then have to pass on to the consumer, so we all lose. Just so the government can subsidise ridiculously expensive alternative energy sources.’
‘Ordinary people still trust government to do what is right,’ says Salisbury TPA supporter Paul Cunningham, ‘but the truth about the astonishingly blinkered and inefficient energy policies that the government is pursuing will truly shock many.’
‘The aim of this action day in Salisbury,’ continues Paul, ‘is to explain to the people that matter, the voters, how hard pressed householders are being made to pay an ever steeper price for energy taxes that encourage inefficiency and enrich landowners and investors in expensive and ineffective “renewable” energy schemes. Current energy policy is driven by flawed thinking and is costing the UK jobs by the thousand: and all of it paid for by the every single one of us every time we pay our power bills.’
As our TPA team enjoyed a well-earned drink in the Red Lion hotel, one sharp-eyed supporter noted that the local council had booked three rooms in the hotel for a council meeting at a rough cost of £750 of taxpayers’ money—why don’t they just use their council offices a few streets away?
If you too are fed-up with sky-high energy bills, click on www.energyswindle.org and a letter will automatically be sent to your local MP.
Town and parish councils invariably slip under the radar when it comes to scrutiny. Their budgets tend to be small and although in percentage terms some of the precept increases are large, in monetary terms they are rather small. Dover Town Council is a prime example of this.
This year the council increased its Council Tax precept by 34 per cent – then said that it was really only 3 per cent because that is what the combined county/district/parish etc. rise came to. What is interesting though is the council’s priorities. What is it spending local taxpayers’ money on?
Well, we know what it isn’t spending money on. Dover’s annual carnival took place on 7 July. Last year the council awarded a grant of £3,150, but this year refused to fund the carnival in any way, despite the opinion of local traders that Dover needs such events and that they bring in tourism and trade. As a result the procession that took place was smaller than it might have been and because of the uncertainty and lack of publicity, many people missed it as they didn’t know it was happening
So far this year though the council is due to spend £1,000 on gifts and presentations; £9,500 on mayor’s hospitality, mayor-making and mayoral expenses of office; £1,500 on insuring civic regalia; £500 on robes; and over £11,000 on a new civic car for the mayor. That does beg the question, why does a town the size of Dover need a civic car? Couldn’t the mayor be paid reasonable expenses for official use of their own car?
Whatever your views are about helping fund a carnival, Dover Town Council needs to consider promoting the town more, rather than itself.
It’s a funny way of saving money when you dole out just over £223,000 of taxpayers’ money in order to cut £220,000 of council expenses! But that’s just how Cheltenham Borough Council (CBC) has chosen to ease out two of their senior council officers.
Cheltenham’s executive director, director of commissioning and one admin post have split a pot of taxpayers’ money of £223,492 in order to save £220,000 by 2016. The executive director gets a redundancy package of £50,000, while the director of commissioning and the admin post are to receive a whopping £173,000 to cover redundancy and pension fund contributions. The plan is to reduce Cheltenham’s senior management team from seven to four.
‘It is not right for councillors to waste taxpayers’ money with lavish payments which cannot be properly justified,’ says a local TPA supporter, who first brought this story to our attention. ‘Over the last few years we have seen too many senior staff promoted to the top pay grades for a few years, only to then be told that they have agreed on their terms to go in order to save money. Would someone please explain why, with all these “savings”, we continue to be short of funds?’
‘Can the leader of the council,’ continues our supporter, ‘assure us all that the severance packages being paid to senior managers are based on the same rules as those paid to junior staff? We are not “all in it together” if we have different rules for the lower paid.’
On the plus side, CBC’s cost of services has fallen from £20m to £10m as the council seeks to share its services with other authorities.
‘With significant central government cuts,’ says the council’s current chief executive, ‘it makes sense to consider our future as a much smaller organisation, managing a diverse set of relationships with partners but continuing to offer some direct delivery where necessary. A smaller-sized council means we can reduce overheads in areas such as office space, support services and senior management; it also means services delivered to council taxpayers are protected.’ But not paying out more than you are saving in public sector fat cat payments would help!
Islington TPA supporters were out on one of London’s hottest days of the year so far for a local launch of our ‘Stop the Energy Swindle’ campaign. On a busy Saturday lunchtime in Highbury Barn, the attractive shopping parade in north Islington, they handed out leaflets and chatted with shoppers and local traders, letting them know about the huge increases they can expect on future energy bills.
‘The majority of people we’ve spoken to are clearly concerned about their gas and electricity bills,’ said Henry Zarb, Islington TPA coordinator, ‘and many of them say they’ve already gone up significantly, so the prospect of even more taxes and increases in their bills is definitely not something they welcome. The fact is that the current policy on energy is completely unrealistic: massive tax-funded subsidies are going towards promoting costly and inefficient power generation methods, while the best and most obvious solutions are actively being ignored. When even the National Grid suggests that large companies could experience blackouts as early as 2015, it’s time for a radical change of direction.’
‘I’ll definitely write to my MP about this,’ said Highbury gift shop manager Katie Georgiou,’ we’re always worrying about bills, and I’ll give a leaflet to my mum.’ Our supporters also spoke to a number of other local shopkeepers, including the local butcher, fishmonger and hardware store owners, and they made it clear that they supported the campaign and that they were concerned about any increases in their energy costs.
If you want to protest to your MP about the government’s wasteful and expensive energy policies, click on www.energyswindle.org
We have had a fantastic start to our ‘Stop the Energy Swindle’ campaign, and have held hugely successful street stalls in Bath, Canterbury, Cardiff, and Colchester. Thanks go to Tim Newark, South West Coordinator; Lee Canning, Wales Coordinator; Ian Taylor, our new East Kent Coordinator; and Chris Manby, our new Colchester Coordinator for organising those events. Many thanks too to our supporters for lending a helping hand and handing out hundreds of leaflets promoting the campaign. All of the photographs we have taken at those stalls can be found at the bottom of this post.
This weekend we are holding two more street stalls in Islington and Warrington. Local supporters will be joining our Islington Coordinator, Henry Zarb, in the square next to the Highbury Barn Tavern, Highbury Park, this Saturday, 13 July, at 11.30 am. (Please note this time has changed from 12.00 noon)
I will be joining local supporters in Warrington on Saturday. We are meeting in the Old Market Place at 11.00 am.
Next Tuesday, 16 July we are in Salisbury. Supporters will be meeting at outside the front of the Guildhall (adjacent to the market) at 12.00 noon.
On Saturday 20 July we are in Darlington and Swansea, and on Wednesday 24 July we are in Birmingham.
If you are in any of those places on those dates, please come along and say hello. If you have an hour to spare to help us run the stalls, please let me know.