Berwick Town Council has spent £1,511 threatening a Councillor over a facebook page exposing the alleged misuse of Council powers and funds, it is claimed.
The page focused on the perceived turmoil and confusion caused by the Councils’ decision to take over the management of Berwick’s Portas Pilot, a project focused on regenerating Berwick Town Centre with £100,000 of taxpayers’ money, as well as other uses of the Town Clerks’ delegated power to award council money to projects and subcontractors.
After raising questions around these decisions on the facebook page the whistle-blower received an email and later a letter demanding that the posts be taken down. These legal steps allegedly cost the taxpayer £1,511.
Questions have been asked over the legality of the launching of these legal proceedings as it is alleged that the decision was made outside of a properly constituted Council meeting, by four members of the Council Finance Committee, without the apparent knowledge of the Town Clerk.
Taxpayers’ could question whether raising legal actions against a member of the public attempting to scrutinise controversial uses of taxpayers money is the best way to spend scarce resources. A Council spending taxpayers’ money should not reject taxpayers’ scrutiny.
Today sees Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, sign into law new rules banning councils from forbidding citizens and journalists from reporting council proceedings in blogs and on social media.
This marks a victory in our long-running campaign to open up democracy at the local level. Andrew Allison, our former National Grassroots Co-ordinator, wrote a crucial report for the TPA in October of last year that provided the Government with enough evidence to drive through the changes.
These changes are great news for taxpayers, as democracy should never live behind closed doors. The Government is to be congratulated for making local government a more transparent, open place.
Yesterday marked a busy day on the War on Waste Roadshow, stopping off to spread the word four times as we made our way north to Newcastle.
A quick drive up the A19 from our hotel in Scunthorpe saw us arrive in Hull just in time for Andy Silvester, our Campaign Manager, to do a live interview for BBC Radio Humberside before the rest of the team were joined by Andrew Allison, the TPA’s former grassroots co-ordinator. In glorious early morning sunshine the various placards, signs and flags we’ve packed into the back of the minibus looked very good indeed.
From there it was on to York, setting up outside the famous Betty’s Tea Rooms, where we were joined by a number of activists to spread the word. Residents were less than thrilled with the revelation that new furniture at the County Council offices cost some £1.4 million.
A short drive took us to the North East and the charming market town of Yarm, where the wasteful spending of half a million pounds on “improving” the parking on the High Street did nothing to aid our pursuit of a parking space! Once finally installed, the highest number of supporters and activists so far helped us hand out leaflets and raise awareness of issues in Yarm and across the North East. Despite the increasing drizzle, we soldiered on to Newcastle with a brief leafleting stop at the foot of Grey’s Monument.
Fingers crossed for another successful day – we head off for Carlisle in ten minutes!
This Wednesday, Queen Elizabeth II will take to the throne in the House of Lords and deliver the last Queen’s Speech of this functioning, if occasionally fractious, Parliament. In it, the Coalition will set out the legislative programme for its last year of power before next year’s uncertain election. They have a chance to deliver a lasting legacy for taxpayers – but will they?
We particularly hope to see the Coalition deliver on one of their first promises – to enshrine a “right of recall” in law. Currently, voters have little recourse when they feel an MP has let them down other than to circle the date of the General Election in their calendar. Giving the public the right to petition for a ballot when they’re aggrieved by their MP’s behaviour would be a fantastic way to increase the accountability of our elected representatives. Voters across the world, who have been given the right of recall, have acted sensibly and appropriately, only using it on rare occasions. There is no reason to fear British voters having the same power. Concerns that it would create “kangaroo courts” – most notably expressed by our Deputy Prime Minister – only reflect how far the gap has grown between the political elite and the people they represent.
On a similar note of accountability and transparency, if Britain is to reduce a £1.3 trillion debt burden, it will have to wage war on waste across local and national government. The Coalition’s insistence that government at all levels publishes spending details online has meant that waste is more obvious and easier to identify, and that transparency is vital if we are to hold politicians to account for how they spend our money. However, the Coalition won’t be in power forever, and a future administration may not share its commendable commitment. A short bill, to enshrine in law that all departments, quangos and local authorities have to continue publishing how they spend our money, would guarantee that transparency in the long term. Similarly, there has been unwelcome speculation that the Coalition might weaken the Freedom of Information Act; this should be avoided.
Whilst these measures would encourage transparency in how our representatives spend and act, the Coalition should also do more to introduce transparency into the tax system. A merger of National insurance and Income Tax wouldn’t cost the Treasury anything, but it would allow hard-working Brits to see quite how much of their money is being taken by the taxman.
The Coalition has a last chance to set out a radical vision for a more accountable political class and a more honest tax system. Let’s hope they take it.
You can read a fuller list of the TPA’s proposals for tomorrow’s Queen’s Speech here.
It’s not merely the huge scale of the national debt that is a cause for concern, but also the rate at which it is increasing. The national debt will rise by £137 billion this year alone, and by 2016-17 it will hit a total of £1.5 trillion.
To put this frightening borrowing into context, the rate of increase in the national debt would have::
“The deficit may be coming down but we shouldn’t let that distract us from the rapidly increasing national debt. Somebody has to pay these bills, and that means this terrifying debt burden will fall on the shoulders of future generations of taxpayers. Politicians must get serious and wage a war on waste, instead of borrowing from our children and grandchildren to pay for things we can’t afford today.”
TaxPayers’ Alliance activists came out in full force and battled the winds last Saturday (19 April) to campaign for Council Tax cuts in Lewisham. Out on the streets of Lee, armed with hundreds of leaflets and a strong team of dedicated activists, our petition received lots of attention with signatories from all over the borough.
Many felt that despite Council Tax hikes over the last decade, they had not seen an increase in the quality of their local services, and could not see where their taxes were being spent.
It is also in great contrast with councils in Hammersmith and Fulham and Wandsworth, both working to cut Council Tax. Many people in Lewisham were astounded that the average Band D household in their borough pays £1, 359 a year, whilst Wandsworth residents pay nearly half this amount. Council Tax has been reduced by 20 per cent over the last eight years by Hammersmith and Fulham Council, whereas Wandsworth Council has frozen council tax for the fifth time in six years, with a band D property owner now paying just £682 a year.
One of our activists also found that:
Some residents who had recently moved from Wandsworth were furious that they pay so much more in Council Tax for services that are worse.
The news of the campaign in Lee spread as far as the East Midlands, with Nottingham based blogger Elliot Johnson covering the local event by the news of ‘wasteful councils’.
The War on Waste continues to attract widespread attention. Taxpayers deserve to know exactly how their money is spent. We’re not stopping at Lewisham though; our campaign will continue to fight for a better deal for taxpayers all over the country.
We can today reveal that the NHS wasted over £46 million last year on 1,129 unnecessary jobs in areas such as public relations, the EU and “green” staff. The money spent on these positions could have paid for 1,662 full time nurses.
The startling new figures have been exposed by Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to every NHS organisation in the UK. The total cost of NHS non-jobs is likely to be an underestimate given that some trusts failed or were unable to respond.
Roles identified in this research include:
Jonathan Isaby, Chief Executive of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said:
“Taxpayers expect the health budget to be spent on real doctors, not spin doctors. The NHS employs far too many people in jobs that do nothing to deliver frontline patient care. It’s time for health chiefs to launch a war on waste and ensure the NHS budget is spent on on patients rather than squandered on bureaucrats.”
Reacting to the Budget, Jonathan Isaby, Chief Executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance,said:
“The Chancellor has announced some welcome relief for taxpayers struggling with stretched budgets. Measures such as the higher personal allowance, the freeze in fuel duty, and abolition of the alcohol duty escalator will all ease the burden on hard-pressed families. It’s also good to see savers finally being rewarded after being overlooked for too long by successive governments.
“However, George Osborne has no room for complacency. His failure to reform Stamp Duty is a missed opportunity and it is deeply regrettable that yet more taxpayers are likely to be dragged into the 40p Income Tax band.”
Commenting on key areas mentioned in the Budget, he added:
Failure to ease the burden imposed by Stamp Duty
“It’s extremely disappointing that the Chancellor failed to address the increasingly punitive burden which Stamp Duty is imposing on home-buyers. More and more people are being hit by higher rates, with the ludicrous slab-rate structure seriously skewing the property market.”
Abolition of the Alcohol Duty Escalator
“This is a good day for ordinary drinkers across the country. It is also a good day for the many small businesses that they support. The Call Time on Duty Campaign has consistently argued that the Alcohol Duty Escalator was bad for consumers, for business and for the economy. We applaud the Chancellor for taking the decision to get rid of it. Cheers!”
“Doubling the investment allowance to £500,000 a year is a significant and worthwhile move to encourage investment but it only strengthens the case for more fundamental reform of corporate taxes.”
Income Tax Personal Allowance / Thresholds
“Raising the Personal Allowance again next year will lift more taxpayers out of tax and cut the bill for everyone paying the basic rate. While higher rate taxpayers up to £100,000 will not be hit again, the 40p threshold remains much lower than it where it would have been if it had increased over time with earnings. The 45p rate should also have been abolished.”
Air Passenger Duty
“It’s fantastic news that the Chancellor has scrapped the higher rates of APD, meaning an end to the most extortionate levies for holidaymakers, families visiting relatives overseas and those flying abroad on business.”
Closing the Deficit
“The national debt is still increasing at an alarming rate and an entire generation is being saddled with crippling debt interest payments. The quickest way to bring down the deficit would be to wage a war on waste in the public sector so that public spending is brought back under control once again.”
“British savers will be relieved that not only has the tax-free ISA allowance increased, the system has been drastically simplified too.”
The TaxPayers’ Alliance has co-signed the following letter which has been published in today’s Times:
Sir, There are few more iconic images of the recent storms and the flooding which devastated so many thousands of lives than the Great Western Line at Dawlish collapsing into the sea, cutting off the main rail route to the South West of England.
This underlines the stark choice in determining priorities for investment in Britain’s transport network — between investment in increasing resilience, developing regional transport connections and relieving the plight of the thousands forced to stand on trains each day, or ploughing ahead with a London-centric high-speed line with a dreadful business case which connects just four cities.
Successive justifications for HS2 have failed to convince, so its supporters are asserting that the West Coast Mainline is full to capacity and HS2 is needed to relieve it. Yet Network Rail’s latest figures show that intercity trains are running at just 52 per cent full into Euston station at peak times, and that Euston is one of London’s least busy termini.
With the Treasury predicting that HS2 will cost £73 billion — £1,500 for each adult in Britain — as well as causing huge environmental damage, it is clear that the time has come for a comprehensive review of the UK’s transport priorities, and where, if at all, HS2 fits with this.
Hilary Wharf, HS2 Action Alliance;
Natalie Bennett, Green Party;
Sir Keith Bright, ex London Regional Transport;
Dr Eamonn Butler, Adam Smith Institute;
Nigel Farage, UKIP;
Sir Christopher Foster, Network Rail;
Jonathan Isaby, TaxPayers’ Alliance;
Denise Jeffery, Wakefield Council;
Ruth Lea, Arbuthnot Banking Group;
Dr Madsen Pirie, Adam Smith Institute;
John Prideaux, Intercity and British Rail;
Roger Salmon, ex Rail Franchising;
Chris Stokes; ex Strategic Rail Authority;
Martin Tett, Bucks County Council;
Sir Andrew Watson, CPRE Warks;
Sir Barney White-Spunner, Countryside Alliance;
Paul Wilkinson, The Wildlife Trust
The 2014 Budget provides the last meaningful opportunity for the Chancellor to help hard-pressed taxpayers before the General Election.
In next week’s Budget, the Chancellor should:
These three areas are covered in the TaxPayers’ Alliance submission to HM Treasury in advance of the Budget. You can read our full submission here.
Key recommendations include:
Speaking in Advance of the Budget, Jonathan Isaby, Chief Executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance said:
“The Chancellor is in the last chance saloon when it comes to helping taxpayers before the next election. If he wants to ease the burden on family finances and secure economic growth then he has to cut waste and cut taxes in this Budget. Promises of help after 2015 will not be enough – he must take this opportunity now to deliver a Budget for taxpayers.”
The morning after the Budget, the TaxPayers’ Alliance and the Institute of Economic Affairs will bring together a cross-party panel of experts to assess its political and economic implications. Click here for more details
Responding the news that councillors are to be removed from the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) , Jonathan Isaby, Chief Executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance said:
It is wrong that councillors were ever able to sign up to the pension scheme for local authority employees. They receive an allowance to represent their community, not a pay packet, and treating them as council staff will only have served to skew their priorities and their place in the system of democratic accountability. Ending councillors’ entitlement to a local government pension will not only save taxpayers’ money, but also remind them that they are there to represent the views of their residents to the council, not the other way round.
Our research has shown i n 2010-11 4,548 councillors were enrolled on the LGPS – a number that has grown significantly in the last couple of years.
We’ve unveiled the latest phase of our campaign to bring about an end to further automatic tax hikes on wine and spirits. New polling reveals that half of all Brits believe taxes on wine and spirits are too high and 80% do not believe there should be further tax increases on wine and spirits. The average household will pay nearly £300 just in duties on wine and spirits in 2013-14 and that this will increase by nearly a third in the next five years, according to analysis of Treasury projections.
In a concerted effort to force the Chancellor to scrap further planned tax hikes, the TPA – along with our partners the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) and the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) - will distribute 300,000 drinks coasters to pubs and bars across the UK as part of the Call Time on Duty campaign.
The coasters reveal how much consumers are paying in tax on their drinks - 79% of an average bottle of spirits and 57% of an average bottle of wine – and urges drinkers to lobby the Chancellor to scrap the hated Alcohol Duty Escalator (ADE) in the forthcoming Budget.
Results of ComRes polling:
Jonathan Isaby, Chief Executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said:
“Taxpayers are handing over a fortune to the taxman when they buy a drink and they deserve to know just how much of what they pay goes to the Exchequer. George Osborne has a chance to scrap planned tax hikes at next month’s budget. He did beer drinkers a favour last year so it’s only fair that this time he scrap the escalator and bring some cheer to those who enjoy a glass of wine or spirits.”
Miles Beale, Chief Executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, said:
“We have always said that a further tax hike would be deeply unfair. The Chancellor’s alcohol super tax is bad for the economy, bad for business and bad for consumers. Scrapping it one year early would allow the Chancellor to drive down the deficit, support our pubs and restaurants, and help this great British industry to create more jobs and increase exports.”
David Frost, Scotch Whisky Association Chief Executive, said:
“It is time for the Chancellor to show his support for the Scotch Whisky industry which employs thousands of people and earns £135 a second for the balance of trade. It is unfair on the industry, which is vital to the Scottish and British economies, and consumers that, in the UK, 79% of a bottle of Scotch is made up of excise duty and vat. The domestic market for Scotch Whisky has declined 12% in volume since the alcohol duty escalator was introduced. George Osborne should boost the UK’s public finances, the industry and consumer confidence by scrapping the escalator this year and freezing duty.”