Nov 2007 14

A recent National Audit Office report into sustainable employment reveals the inadequacy of the government’s efforts to keep people off welfare. A key finding is that the the proportion of people moving repeatedly between work and the dole queue has barely changed since the early 1980’s.

More than a quarter of the people who leave benefits and enter work return to Job Seekers Allowance within thirteen weeks. Almost half are back on benefits within six months. The NAO estimates that taxpayers could save £520million a year if the time repeat claimants spent on benefit was halved.

The NAO report clearly shows the failure of the Government’s efforts to improve job retention, particularly among those in low paid jobs. Despite the complex myriad of agencies and policies (such as tax credits and the minimum wage) created to increase the incentives to stay in work, the numbers returning to benefit are a damning indictment on government strategy. Not to mention an expensive one.

Nov 2007 14

The Conservative government in Canada has just delivered a budget which cuts both personal and business taxes. Key changes include:

  • The federal corporation tax will fall from 22.1 per cent to 15 per cent by 2012.
  • The small business corporation tax will fall to 11 per cent from January 2008, rather than from 2009 as previously planned.
  • The GST will fall from 6 per cent to 5 per cent.
  • The lowest personal income tax rate will fall from 15.5 per cent to 15 per cent and the tax free personal allowance will rise slightly.


Click here for analysis of the Budget from the non-partisan Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

Britain is being left behind by yet another country. Families and businesses in the UK desperatedly need a cut in the overall burden of tax. No more shuffling of the deck chairs. It’s time to follow Canada’s lead and bring that overall burden down.

Nov 2007 14

SmallbluebinIt’s not a good week for NHS Trusts.  Yesterday the 5 Boroughs Partnership NHS Trust disclosed they spent £6,000 of taxpayers’ money on 1500 annual reports of which only 40 were distributed to residents in the North West.  Today the East London NHS Foundation Trust is in our sights because it advertises for the non-job of the week.

The East London NHS Foundation Trust is advertising for three posts, not for someone medically qualified to perform an essential public service, but for three ‘Equality and Diversity Co-ordinators’.  You may be wondering what an NHS Trust is doing hiring three equality and diversity co-ordinators, so have a read of the job description and judge for yourself whether these non-jobs are necessary:

Equality and Diversity Co-ordinator (x3)

The Trust provides a comprehensive mental health service to a diverse range of cultures and ethnic groups covering the City of London, Hackney, Newham and Tower Hamlets. Our aim is to provide the very highest standards of care based on strong to partnerships with Social Services and Primary Care Trusts.

Salary Breakdown is as follows:

Basic Salary – £27,622 – £36,416 per annum pro rota plus 20% of basic salary, subject to a minimum payment of £3,383 and a maximum payment of £5,638 per annum pro rota.

Inclusive – £33,146 – £42,054

These 3 posts in total are based across Newham, Tower Hamlets and Hackney provide an exciting opportunity to further develop equalities, diversity and human rights work across mental health services.

As equality and diversity coordinators you will provide clear direction and guidance to others, have responsibility for leading practical project work and managing a variety of work streams that underpin the diversity agenda.

You will help to ensure that local policies and services are Impact Assessed, that equality based training is provided for staff and that you will have a key role in delivering locally, the Department of Health’s Delivering Race Equality in Mental Health programme. You will also oversee the implementation of the Trust’s Equality Schemes and Action plans and support a culture that is socially inclusive and values diversity.

You will be educated to a degree or equivalent level and have at least 3 years experience working on Equalities and Diversity related issues. You will need to have experience of Equality schemes, knowledge of impact assessments and possess a good working knowledge of current equalities and diversity related legislation.

NHS experience is desirable but not essential for this role.”

That’s £100,000 plus for these jobs in salaries alone.  Add in running costs, pensions and other expenses and you could easily get a budget into a quarter of a million.  Feel free to send them a freedom of information request for a more detailed breakdown of the expenses within the Equality and Diversity department and remember every penny spent there could be spent treating ill taxpayers.  You can use the Trust’s online form, or you can write to and contact:

Freedom of Information Act Co-ordinator
Trust HQ, EastONE
22 Commercial Street
London, E1 6LP

Tel: 020 7655 4119
Fax: 020 7655 4118
Email: [email protected]

Also if you’re not satisfied that the NHS is spending your money on bureaucrats and not doctors, feel free to complain to the Trust:

Jane Quinn
Consumer Relations and Legal Affairs Manager
Trust Headquarters
22 Commercial Street
London E1 6LP
0800 085 8354 (you can call free of charge)

The more we hold these public services to account the more they will think twice before wasting taxpayers’ money.  If you get any responses, then please email them to me so we can publicise them on the website.

Nov 2007 13

The Conservatives have today laid out their new plans for giving people direct democratic control of Council Tax rises. The proposal is that any Council wishing to raise Council Tax by more than a nationally determined threshold would have to hold a referendum to get the electorate’s permission to do so. A system like this would be a great step in the right direction – localising tax control, increasing democratic accountability and bringing a number of other benefits.

Local taxpayers have suffered astronomical rises in Council Tax in recent years, rightly making it one of the most objected-to taxes in the country. The sums involved and the speed of the inflation have made life extremely difficult for many households, and that is reflected in Council Tax’s unpopularity. The thing that makes the recent trend seem especially unjust is that this is not one minority of taxpayers – smokers, motorists, drinkers, airline passengers – objecting that the majority is picking on them, it is a clear majority opinion that the tax is rising too fast and is already too high. Arms-length representative democracy has in this instance failed to respond to the electorate’s concerns.

Part of the problem has been the lack of accountability in the system. When taken to task and seeking to excuse high Council Tax, Westminster blames local councils and local councils blame Westminster. Neither, however, often propose viable solutions and neither should be allowed to escape blame.

In this case, localism has to be the answer.

Instead of the everlasting blame game, or simply allowing councils to force higher taxes on their electorates without adequate explanation or consultation, let’s do what democracy is about: ask the people.

It’s our money, and it is us who will be receiving the services it pays for – on principle, taxpayers deserve the final say on whether Council Tax should rise.

In practice, this is a good idea, too.

For a start, what better way to reinvigorate local democracy?

Few things succeed more in getting even the most apolitical people going than the money in their pocket (or being taken from their pocket). It is no wonder that local election turnout is so low when people know that their vote counts for very little when it comes to one of the taxes that effects them most. Give people a referendum on that tax and I think turnout would be very different indeed. It would be further bolstered by people voting on the basis of the spending proposals that would go with the different suggested Council Tax levels.

There would also be a renewed emphasis on medium and long-term planning in local authorities. If Councils knew their tax proposals would have to be justified and sold to the public not just in broad-brush terms at elections, lumped in with other issues, but in very specific referenda, then there would be an added impetus for clear thinking, accurate costings and good communication. Budgets year-on-year would have to link up. Regular sources of waste would not only stick out like a sore thumb, but would swiftly become deeply unpopular both with those running the councils and other departments who would not want their efficiency undermined by failing colleagues. Councils would have a good, in-your-face, practical reason to stamp out waste and failure.

Interestingly, any Council approaching a referendum would also need to prepare a Plan B, just in case they lost. Writing and costing that Plan B might well be an enlightening experience for some. I suspect there are quite a number of local authorities who genuinely believe they could not provide services more cheaply than they do, but have never actually tried – or been forced by necessity to try – doing so. It has the potential to be a refreshing experience, and one that would be pretty hard to object to. The people’s direct instruction can be quite politically difficult to dodge.

As well as being a good scheme for local democracy and local efficiency, it would be good from a taxcutter’s perspective. We know that people dislike Council Tax, and it would be rare that those who currently preach a high-tax gospel in the name of the people would find themselves backed up by those they claim to speak for.

Opponents of the plans have already started arguing against the idea. First comes the patronising and bizarre claim from the Local Government Association that:

"Local authorities should have the power to determine, without interference, the appropriate levels of council tax for their areas."

Without interference, you’ll note, means without the involvement of those inconvenient little people we know as “the voters”. You know, the ones that whom the elected Councillors who make up the Local Government Association are meant to serve, rather than view as an irritation…

The second line of attack is scaremongering that this will mean the electorate choosing to hand over as little cash as possible.

First, we have to ask the question – “so what if they do?” That is meant to be the way democracy works, by which people decide what they do want done and what they don’t, and what kind of country they live in. If the politicians or the civil servants disagree with the people’s opinion, that’s just tough.

In practice, though, the people can – possibly to the amazement of the nannying political class – make perfectly balanced decisions on their own. A good example is Milton Keynes, where they held a tax referendum a few years ago and rather than choose the rock bottom option or the high tax option they made the Goldilocks choice (neither too hot nor too cold) and picked the one in the middle.

So the plans bring with them several benefits to local democracy and the taxpayer. There is always room for improvement, of course – true localism would want to see powers returned to local or even referendum-based control, and central Government would still guarantee local authorities the right to a minimum tax rise – but it is a good start.

Nov 2007 13

Covcitycouncillogo Ken Taylor, the Conservative leader of Coventry City Council should be applauded for his comments in the Coventry Telegraph, stating that he will urge his group to reject the above-inflation pay increases recommended by an outside panel.

Many general council staff are still in dispute over single-status pay packages, and Coventry are looking at a shortfall of between £8million and £13million on next year’s budget.

With this in mind, voting to bring in rises of up to 38% for councillors’ allowances would no doubt be deemed greedy and unacceptable.

Taylor said: “I am very clear that we should not be approving new increases in councillors’ allowances and my cabinet colleagues agree with me.

We are facing difficult budget challenges over the coming year and may have to make some hard decisions about services to make sure we’re providing Coventry Residents with value for money.”

Consequently they will be taking a rise, but it will be less than 2.5% in sympathy with their colleagues.

It is a shame that it has taken the single-status pay fiasco to force this situation, but nonetheless it is highly commendable of Coventry City Council, who have a record of pretty good budgeting, coming out as the best council for mileage expenses in our recent report including all the councils in the region.

The fact does remain though, that budgeting is not something that should only be exercised once the spectre of financial disaster looms, it should be standard practice. A particularly successful and lucrative year might warrant some rewards, but in general, if a councillor is able to survive happily and do his or her job on an allowance increase inline with inflation or below, then that’s what they should do. This is not martyrdom – it’s called public service. Councillors should not stand to be elected for their own personal gain and their efforts should be driven by the desire to run a tight and efficient ship for residents. That includes providing the best possible service at the lowest possible costs.

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