Nov 2007 26

Next week the EU will lay out proposals which will formalise the right of NHS users to seek safer and often superior health care abroad. Increasing numbers of UK citizens already choose to travel as far as India and Malaysia to avoid treatment in the NHS (nearly 70,000 this year alone), but these Commission proposals – if agreed upon by the European Parliament and member states – will potentially establish a genuinely open market in European health care; a market in which the weaknesses of Britain’s NHS are bound to be revealed. 

Under the Commission’s ‘2008-2013 Health Strategy’, EU citizens could choose medical care in any other member state and have the cost covered by their national health care system, providing the treatment or service is provided for free in the patient’s home state.  A series of European Court rulings over recent years has established a British citizen’s right to look elsewhere in the Union for free treatment if they are deemed to be on ‘unduly long waiting lists’, but with widespread fears over hospital acquired infections, the potential for mass ‘health tourism’ away from the UK is a serious challenge to the government’s health policy.

Health ministers have expressed concern that these EU plans would place an unworkable administrative and planning burden on the NHS, but the reality is that these proposals could potentially reveal people’s dissatisfaction with health care in this country. Hospitals in northern France already perform considerable numbers of hip and knee operations, while Spain attracts those seeking fertility treatment. Belgium offers British cardiac patients a higher chance of success and a lower rate of infection, and the Netherlands is far quicker in the provision of cancer medication. If these sensible EU plans are carried through, Calais could not only offer British citizens the chance to avoid excessive alcohol duties, it could also offer British citizens the chance to get necessary health care quicker and safer than what’s on offer back home.

Nov 2007 26

The FT reports a new CBI report endorsing new green taxes.  The reports supports a range of policies.  Strengthening emissions regulations on cars are easy for British business to endorse as our car production is now almost entirely foreign-owned.  The central recommendation, to strengthen the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme, has been characterised by economist Greg Mankiw as thinly veiled corporate subsidy:

"Cap-and-trade = Carbon tax + Corporate welfare."

Both BP and Shell made profits (PDF) from the scheme while NHS hospitals paid millions.  Both companies had members of staff contribute to this report.

More broadly, this report is an attempt to pay Danegeld to the environmental movement.  The authors hope that they can divert environmentalist fervour into corporatist policies that will either provide them with a subsidy or impose further regulation which gives a competitive advantage to big businesses competing with small firms.  The reality is that they will further strengthen unhinged, radical environmentalism and do immeasurable damage to business interests in the medium to long term.

Nov 2007 26

ClownsIs nothing in this country sacred, nothing too out of reach of the taxman?  Today in the Telegraph it appears the taxman is trying to get his beak into pigeon racing.  Yes, pigeon racing.  As pigeon racing isn’t recognised as a sport and therefore doesn’t qualify for tax relief, pigeon fanciers are subject to business rates on the shed where they store the competing birds.

We can add this to the list of reasons how the government is getting bigger and why we need to fight to get the government out of our pockets and back to doing what we want it to do, to keep us safe and let us get on with our lives. 

Usually with these blogs I encourage you to write and complain.  Not this time!  Write to the Royal Pigeon Racing Association to support them in their campaign to be registered as a sport to claim tax relief.  You can contact them by calling 01452 713529 or through their website.

Do get in touch with the RPA and stand by them in their struggle against the taxman. 

Nov 2007 25

Champagne bureaucrats
In the lavish expenses news this week:

Met chief spends £15 grand on drinkies- "Andy Hayman, the Metropolitan police anti-terrorism chief, has been questioned over thousands of pounds spent on hotel expenses and drinks for his staff. He has been asked to explain at least £15,000 expenses that included claims for “inordinate amounts” of drinking with colleagues. “Apart from the money, what happens if they are all out drinking when a bomb goes off?” said one Met official. The married father of two has been quizzed about his relationship with Sergeant Heidi Tubby, his former staff officer. Tubby is said to have accompanied him on foreign business trips at public expense." (Sunday Times 25.11.07)

£330 grand for MOD ducking stools and champagne- "DEFENCE officials entrusted with ensuring troops are properly equipped in Iraq and Afghanistan have spent £7,000 to go on a team-building event, featuring hot tubs, ducking stools and celebratory glasses of champagne… the Defence Equipment and Support division has allocated £330,000 for civil servants to go on courses." (Sunday Times 25.11.07)

Regional quangos blow £8m on boonies- "Nine regional development agencies… free-spending habits are revealed in documents obtained under the freedom of information (FOI) act, which show that expenses claims reached £8m (read the documents: click here and here). Eight of the nine development agencies decided it was essential to send a contingent to a property trade fair in Cannes. Seeda took 13 staff to Mipim, a four-day event based in the Palais des Festivals, spending £24,000 on dinner, brunch and other events at the exhibition. Meanwhile, the LDA flew in 14 people, allowing staff to stay at four-star hotels. The South West of England Regional Development Agency spent £61,000 at Mipim and the body promoting the West Midlands held an £8,000 cocktail reception in Cannes. Claer Barrett, managing editor of Property Week magazine, said Mipim was “basically a four-day party” with “loads of lobster and champagne” on yachts. Staff at Yorkshire Forward had an even more glamorous assignment: to mix with Hollywood actors, including Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Bollywood stars such as Preity Zinta and Shilpa Shetty, at the International Indian Film Academy weekend in Dubai in 2006. It cost £20,000 to fly 15 staff, 10 of whom flew business class, to the four-day jamboree." (Sunday Times 25.11.07)

Quango chief spends £50 grand pa on taxis and limos- "THE part-time chairman of the quango that promotes the southeast of England to business spent more than £50,000 on taxis and chauffeur-driven cars last year. James Brathwaite, who chairs the South East England Development Agency (Seeda) on a three days per week contract, spent £51,489 on taxis and “executive cars". (Sunday Times 25.11.07)

Defra books into £310 hotel rooms- "GOVERNMENT officials sent to contain the avian flu outbreak have enjoyed the luxuries of some of Suffolk’s most prestigious and expensive hotels it has been revealed. Critics have rounded on the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) for spending thousands of pounds housing staff at The Ickworth, describing the move as a “grotesque extravagance”. Standard double rooms for bed, breakfast and dinner at The Ickworth, near Bury St Edmunds, cost £310." (Evening Star 23.11.07)

£1.4m Home Office art fiasco- "An annual competition would invite members of the public to describe, in 150 words, what it means to be British. The winning entries would be engraved on the pavement outside the Home Office in Westminster. Yet four years after the "artwork" was dreamed up, at a cost so far of more than £18,000… only three stones have so far been engraved, and the words are almost unreadable. No work has been done for the past 12 months…. Funding has come from a £1.4 million budget for artworks in and around the Home Office’s £311 million Marsham Street headquarters, which opened in 2005… This is the second art project to run into trouble at the building… a £125,000 deal to buy a six-storey high abstract sculpture by Eva Rothschild collapsed because it was too heavy to hang in the building’s atrium." (Sunday Telegraph 25.11.07)

Total for week- £9,795,310
Nov 2007 23

The race is on for the position of chief executive at the Regional Development quango Advantage West Midlands, and although the lucky winner will be paid with your money and have hundreds of millions of your tax pounds to spend, you will have absolutely no say on who gets the job.

Flying in the face of democracy, the decision will be made by the similarly unelected AWM board and then given the okay by Minister for the West Midlands, Liam Byrne MP. You can rest assured that your opinion will not be sought; you’re just expected to put up the readies.

According to the Birmingham Post the two front-runners are the current deputy Mick Laverty, and English Partnerships regional director for the North West and Midlands, Paul Spooner.Throne_3  

  And who can blame them for filing their applications? Not only does the chief executive preside over a £300million-per-year budget, they also get rewarded with a hefty £160,000 annual salary. Not bad, especially when you consider the 20% performance related bonus could bump the successful candidate up to a substantial £192,000 per year.

The job was advertised as ‘not for the faint hearted’, but the chief executive needn’t worry as if the pressures of the job become a little too much they have a whole seven weeks holiday leave to relax in…

Any applicant with their eye on the ball will also have spotted the potential for this salary grow even larger, with the quango taking on extra powers with the demise of the Regional Assembly over the next two years or so. Extra responsibility is likely to mean extra cash for their “troubles”.

So as another tsar prepares to take their place at the head of what has been called a ‘regional dictatorship’ all we have to look forward to is having our money spent in increasingly irrelevant and bizarre ways. Purple ornamental tree anyone?   

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