Jun 2008 12

Now the precedent has been set, how much more will it cost taxpayers to maintain the Government’s majority? There are a lot of votes coming up and a lot of unpopular and controversial measures to be discussed. If there are rebels too principled to be bought, as there clearly were in the Labour party last night, then MPs who would otherwise be automatically loyal will undoubtedly realise their support is now worth withholding until they get a good offer. Imagine if John Major’s Government, bedevilled by rebellions and a wobbly majority, had taken this route, simply buying itself the legislation it wanted. The Government might have got through more of its desired legislation, but taxpayers would have been bankrupted within a year or two. At this rate, we still might.

The application of pressure and the negotiation of concessions is a valuable and indeed crucial part of the Parliamentary process, but those concessions won in return for votes are meant to be improvements in the Bill being debated. By all means discuss more safeguards, re-wording or sunset clauses, but simply selling or buying votes in return for taxpayers’ money being poured into one constituency or another demeans the process and does nothing to improve the legislation.

This seems to have been pork barrel politics of the worst kind – a Prime Minister buying the survival of his Government by splashing cash on particular parts of the country in return for the local MP’s support. The sum suggested by the Conservatives is anywhere up to £1.2 billion, which equals almost £50 for every household in the land. I don’t suppose the price matters so much if you can force taxpayers to foot the bill for you.

If the allegations are true that Gordon Brown effectively used to taxpayers’ money to buy the votes of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) on 42 days internment without charge yesterday, it is a national disgrace that bodes extremely ill for taxpayers.

Jun 2008 12

An interesting piece in the FT today reports that a House of Lords report has concluded that the Government’s non-dom tax plans are "essentially unworkable", and will damage Britain’s competitiveness.

No great surprise there, but the Lords report also criticised the unfinished nature of much of the non-dom legislation when it came into force in April, another confirmation of the Government’s slide into chaos and incompetence.

The Lords report also called for two changes to the legislation, which highlight how the new non-dom regime will not just hit the rich:

1. Non-doms stand to lose their personal allowances if they have more than £2,000 of foreign income, a figure which the Lords report recommended be raised to £6,000.

2. The report called for special treatment for overseas students in the UK for full-time education.

Now I don’t think being a full-time student or having £2,000 in foreign earnings classifies you as being well-off!

What a shame, then, that the debate over non-doms was so one-sided, missing as it did the fact that not all non-doms are rich, and that if Britain’s tax regime is potentially uncompetitive for foreign workers, it is also uncompetitive for the increasing number of skilled and internationally mobile British workers who can (and are) up sticks and leave. Far better to reduce taxes on British workers than increase them on foreigners. 

It may be true that the Conservative plans to increase tax on non-doms were more practical than the Government’s, but we must not forget who started the debate. Is the Shadow Chancellor a true friend of wealth-creators? We will have to wait and see. 

Jun 2008 12

SmallbluebinThis week’s non-job from South Gloucestershire Council:

Community Engagement Manager
£43,596 – £47,918

Under the direction of the Head of Safer and Stronger Communities:-

  • To lead on the development, monitoring and implementation of policies, strategies and action to engage and strengthen the diverse communities in South Gloucestershire.
  • To provide effective management of a range of corporate functions which support the Community Strategy, the Local Area Agreement and the Council Plan.
  • To develop effective partnerships with statutory, third sector and voluntary organisations, including Town and Parish Councils.

As you would expect from a high performing Council, we offer excellent benefits including:

  • Final salary pension scheme
  • Generous holiday entitlement
  • Childcare vouchers
  • Family friendly policies
  • Concessionary fitness club membership
  • Car sharing scheme
  • Relocation package

Anything else the council wants to offer as way of benefits?  In tough economic times, councils shouldn’t be recruiting at the rate they are, stuffing Town Halls full of non-jobbers while the taxpayer has to foot the bill as well as struggling with the soaring costs of food, utilities and fuel. 

We’ve all had to put up with Councils scaling back bin collections and bringing in new charges for services we all expect our Council Tax to pay for.  As the front line crumbles, the fat cats sit bloated in the Town Hall counting their up their money.  Will this ‘community engagement manager’ make a blind bit of difference to taxpayers in South Gloucestershire?  I doubt it.  If they were being paid to empty your bin, deliver meals on wheels or tend the public parks, then it’s a service people consume and reasonably it requires payment through tax to complete the exchange.  If government got back to basics and provided services people expect, rather than filling its payroll with an enormous bureaucracy, they’d be able to lower taxes and provide services people want.

Jun 2008 12

An interesting observation made in today’s FT: opponents of the Lisbon Treaty (sorry, EU Constitution), both on the Left and on the Right, are arguing that it will threaten Ireland’s 12.5 per cent corporation tax regime.

Leave aside for the moment the extremely important argument about whether the EU Constitution or the proposed Common Corporate Tax Base will lead to harmonisation of corporate tax rates in Europe. The interesting point here is that the Left in Ireland are defending low taxes on business. Now why would they do that?

The fact is that the benefits of low business taxes for Ireland’s economy and hence for ordinary people in Ireland are clear, even to the Left. If only politicians could be that clear in Britain, then companies would not be leaving because of our increasingly uncompetitive business tax regime.

Jun 2008 12

In yesterday’s Birmingham Post Terry Grimley wrote under the headline ‘Manchester’s public transport billions are death for Brum’, and attempts to persuade us that the northern city will win out for their additional £3billion transport funding – their present for agreeing to impose this further tax on ordinary people who are already straining under the weight of various other financial obligations.

Congestioncharging2 The trouble is that Terry is so utterly and completely dazzled by this hefty amount, as well as preoccupied with trying to give the impression of a balanced argument (the occasional nod to the fact that some of us might oppose these measures), that he doesn’t actually bother to consider any potentially negative effects of this charge, not even as a formality.

He enthusiastically defends the charge saying that it will “only penalise traffic going with the flow into and out of central areas in the morning and evening rush hours”. But hang on, who is that will be driving these said cars entering and leaving the city centre at these said times? That’s right, ordinary people going to and leaving work. The same people who are already paying through the nose, squeezed by the government from every possible angle for the money they bother to go out and earn. That’s who this charge is targeting.

Next Terry hits us with some stats, namely the old chestnut about the threat congestion poses to “30,000 jobs”. But over what time period? Well that just depends where you go, answers range from “the next few years” to “the next decade” and the most frequently quoted “15 years”.

And how do we know that these aren’t just completely arbitrary figures that appeared to Sir Richard Leese, the deputy chairman of the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities and the most frequent purveyor of such numbers, in a dream (or nightmare)? The answer is, we don’t. And the next logical question is to ask what we do know? Well this article published on Tuesday tells us that congestion in 11 of the 14 centres of Greater Manchester has actually fallen by 2001 according to the urban traffic control unit.

So congestion is falling and scaremongering about job losses is on the up.

But Terry cannot concentrate on things like that (i.e. facts), he’s hypnotised by the £3billion and the “22 new miles of Metrolink” he sees rolling out before him. But he forgets that £1.8billion of this money is a loan, and that means the people of Manchester will have to give it back through paying the congestion charge (although a decent amount of the money they pay will go to the private company running the scheme). Over 30 years it is supposed that enough profit will be made from poor old commuters and people trying to run businesses for this loan to be paid back, but as stated in the article mentioned above, London’s charge doesn’t make as much as they’re expecting the Manchester charge to make, so the likelihood of them hitting that deadline (at least without hiking the charge considerably) isn’t looking good.

And the Metrolink might be great for the likes of Terry, but what about businesses and traders who rely on the roads for deliveries and the likes? Well they will just have to pay the charge, and pass it straight on to – guess who?

According to Terry we here in the West Midlands will be the poor relations, “trying to squeeze our cars onto the same amount of road space”. Yet perhaps if the councils hadn’t spent so much time littering our roads with bottlenecks, unnecessary roundabouts and acres of cycle and bus lanes the roads in and around this region might be a little easier to negotiate, and certainly less congested.

The Quick Wins strategy suggests some easily implementable changes to the local infrastructure that look likely to free up traffic flow hugely. And then of course there are those who would ask what was wrong with building a few more roads…Cars

The writer then shows his colours when he reveals his thoughts on what he calls the ‘motoring “community”’, saying it is:

“…invariably excused from taking a wider view, to factor in such trivial issues as saving the planet, in pursuing its inalienable right to cheap fuel and the freedom to drive where it likes”.

So Terry’s out to save the planet and thinks we should drive where we’re told to. Then he clearly doesn’t suspect that people who would normally go through the city centre might now circumvent it, thus kicking out more fumes into the atmosphere? And what about all these extra buses bought with the billions of pounds he’s been dreaming about? Are they electric?

One of his parting blows is to hit out at the Tory-Lib Dem ‘progressive partnership’ at Birmingham City Council, referring to them as the “hilariously mis-named” and accusing them of turning a blind-eye to transport for not plugging thousands of pounds into research on how to fund extensions of the West Midlands’ pitiable Metro network. It seems that local authorities who are cautious of pumping taxpayers’ cash into a black-hole of never-ending ‘research’ and who take on board the opinions of the electorate when making decisions about road pricing don’t deserve the title ‘progressive’. Well not in Terry’s eyes anyway.
The proposed Manchester congestion charge – however it’s packaged – is a very real threat to local businesses, a strain on working people (pushing only those who can’t afford it off the roads), the promise of a large debt, entirely unneeded in view of falling traffic figures and, most importantly, unwanted by the local people who’ve been well and truly bullied into it.

Should we, like Terry, want this for Birmingham? Let’s hope not. 

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