Wednesday, 31 December 2014

One in the i for teachers!

Whilst it`s good to see a major newspaper`s editorial admitting that the country has recently witnessed the "largest improvement in standards in schools for decades", it was disappointing to read that the government`s Teach First programme was apportioned some of the responsibility for this. (Letter from the Education editor,29/12/14) Whilst not denying that many excellent young teachers have been recruited under this system, it still makes more sense for graduates to receive the proper training on the PGCE university courses. They still get plenty of time in the classroom to practise their techniques, but they also get opportunities to learn from experts, discuss with fellow students, and reflect on the many ways children learn. They are then much less likely to find the stress and workload too demanding, and more likely to stay in the profession long-term.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

How patronising can this government get?

Few will fail to remember the advertisement the Tories put out after the March budget earlier this year, about how cutting the Bingo tax and taking a penny off the price of a pint of beer would "help hardworking people do more of the things they enjoy". The condescending attitude of the coalition has continued unabated, and now we read how "smug ministers" are telling the people on whom they have inflicted austerity and imposed poverty, that they should "celebrate" because "dodgy government statistics" suggest inflation is so low, down to 1.0% from 1.2% last month, it is below average wage increases. According to closet Tory, Danny Alexander, an "early Christmas present" for us plebs! How stupid does he, and his patronising pals, think we are?
 Firstly, the 1% figure is based on the consumer price index (CPI), which is obviously lower that the more accurate retail price index (RPI), at 2%, which includes housing costs. Rising rents or mortgage costs are not included in the CPI!
  Secondly, the figures used by this government for wages take into account the huge increases in pay received by those at the top of the pay scales, and we all know how their pay has risen exponentially under this government. With the majority of the country`s workers having their pay frozen, and millions on the paltry minimum wage or less, to hear government ministers taking credit for the success of their "long term economic plan" is simply sickening!

 With Tories` condescension closely allied to their duplicity, it comes as no surprise to read of Tory MP Nadine Dorries voting with the government, despite her publicly siding with the Fire Brigades Union for a photo-shoot. Labour`s policies may be too moderate for most of us, but at least voting for them will see the end of this odious, diabolical government.

Tax avoidance: a reason to stay in the EU

Labour`s vague promises on closing a few tax "loopholes" and collecting an extra few hundred million, have not proved themselves vote-winners, but all is not necessarily lost; there is still time for policies to be improved.
       Does anyone really believe this Tory-led government really wants to get rid of the scourge of tax avoidance, which Margaret Hodge has described as now being an "industry" in this country. A recent poll surprised us, not with its findings that only one in five of the electorate believes political parties have done enough to ensure companies and rich individuals  pay their fair share, but that 20% of voters actually think sufficient is being done! It`s difficult to see where there is any evidence to suggest the government is serious in its intent, despite the rhetoric about avoidance being "morally repugnant", and that all tax avoiding companies like Amazon and Starbucks would soon be "smelling the coffee".
        In fact, there is plenty of evidence supporting the opposite thesis, that this government has never taken the subject seriously, despite Osborne`s announcement about a so-called "Google tax", which is designed to be benefitting the Treasury by only £355m a year by 2019, barely denting the current "tax gap" of at least £35bn. The most obvious evidence is the fact that thousands of jobs have been cut, with more to come should disaster befall us and the Tories form a government next May, at HMRC. How can it possibly make sense to reduce the number of tax inspectors when supposedly trying to collect more tax?  No logic either in allowing the government`s tax agency to make "sweetheart deals" with companies like Vodaphone and Starbucks, excusing them from billions owed in tax bills. Similarly, Cameron and Osborne can hardly complain about the creation of "aggressive tax structures"  as have recently been uncovered in Luxembourg, by the "big four" group of accounting firms when their government uses advice from those same firms for tax policy. Such advice led to the adoption of the "patent box" device to encourage firms to invest in Britain, as opposed to other EU countries, because this particular scam could see firms paying as little as 5% in corporation tax on their vast profits. Interestingly, Osborne has been forced to amend this recently because of German opposition. Quite clearly, countries in the EU are getting fed up with what John Cridland, the director-general of Britain`s business organisation the CBI, called Britain "going it alone", at a time when the finance ministers of Germany, France and Italy are stressing that the "lack of tax harmonisation is one of the main causes allowing aggressive tax planning". In other words, until all countries in the EU work together, their Treasuries will continue to be deprived of billions.
     This need for co-operation did not deter the coalition government from relaxing the so-called "controlled foreign companies" laws, another scam for the world`s unprincipled companies to exploit, or from its recent announcement in the autumn statement that Northern Ireland would be allowed to set its own level of corporation tax, presumably as low as 12.5% to match that of the Republic. After all, who cares about  "tax harmonisation" when support from Unionists might be needed in May for another Tory coalition? Even if this obviously provocative action by Osborne is not deemed illegal regional aid, as tax expert Richard Murphy believes, does the government expect other EU countries to sit back and watch quietly as businesses up sticks and move their headquarters to Belfast?  Relations with the US have hardly improved with the government`s reduction of corporation tax rates to 21%, fully 18 points lower than those in the States, leading to senators threatening legislation preventing take-overs of foreign companies for tax reasons, the so-called tax "inversion" deals.
    So what should a Labour party, with hopes of forming a government in six months time, be advocating? Supporting "tax harmonisation" might be a good start, as clearly the huge variation in Europe`s corporate tax levels invites trouble from the "big four" and their clients. Only when all EU members co-operate fully, agree tactics, and avoid "advice" from the "big four" accounting firms, will tax avoidance be reduced.Then there`s the possibility of a Business Rate Supplement, for tax avoiding companies, as well as the adoption of the Fair Tax Mark as a government award for firms actually managing to pay the correct amount, and a firm commitment that any tax avoiding individual, or boss/director/CEO/ of any tax avoiding business will return all Honours, and be in receipt of none in the future.
   By stressing such specific proposals, Labour would at least be demonstrating to the electorate not only that they are serious in their intent to reduce the "tax gap", but that they really are different from the other parties. Forcing individuals and corporations to pay up would mean policies would change, and reasons for austerity disappear, something the voters are desperate to hear.




        

Monday, 29 December 2014

Guardian letter on Greece and democracy

 Owen Jones`s excellent article on the political situation in Greece was, sadly, too optimistic.(Greece`s radical left could kill off austerity in the EU,22/12/14) The prospect of the first "radical left-wing government assuming power in the EU" is, I fear, only a remote possibility, not because Syriza`s policies do not attract sufficient support in Greece, but because austerity in Europe is now clearly judged to be much more important than democracy; the chances of an imminent general election taking place in Greece are remote. Only if Greek MPs fail to elect the government candidate as president will an election be called, and as the Greek prime minister equates this failure with "political turmoil", everything possible is being done to ensure the candidate becomes the new head of state.(Greek election uncertainty fuels concern over eurozone stability,18/12/14)
      Bribes of up to 2-3million euros are being offered to ensure votes are cast "correctly", seven leaders of the  neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party are being allowed to participate in the election, even though they have been imprisoned for using their fascist group "as a front to run a criminal organisation", and as Jones reported, veiled threats are being made, both to Greek politicians and people, by the president of the European commission,Jean-Claude Juncker. The fact that the likely victor of the election is a party committed to ending austerity and to ruling Greece on behalf of its people, not its banks and financial interests, explains why, in Jones`s words, "a democratic challenge to economic madness" is being "strangled to death".

   Ironic, isn`t it, that when politicians attempt to justify their needless wars, the "threat to democracy" is viewed as having paramount importance, but when democracy in Europe is threatened because it could result in a national government favouring anti-austerity policies, no mainstream politician bats an eyelid?

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Lib Dem duplicity knows no bounds!

The duplicity of the Lib Dems knows no bounds! Not only does Osborne`s "loyal ally" and right hand man Alexander suddenly realise how near is the election and turn on his boss, the party leader suggests, according to the Independent (24/12/14) their record of a "stronger economy" and "a fairer society" will prevent Labour taking his Sheffield seat next May. With the recent data from the Office for National Statistics challenging  the extent of the economic recovery, and everyone`s common sense disputing any existence of fairness in coalition policies, Clegg`s desperation is obvious. Who will forget that it was Clegg, two and a half years into his unprincipled alliance with the Tories, who said that it was time to "hardwire some fairmess" into government policies?
     He has even resorted to blaming Labour again  for the economic "mess", when only a few months ago, in efforts to display his statesmanship, he stated that it had been "greed" which "brought a banking collapse and misery and hardship"! Under his leadership, there is little chance of the party regaining the trust of young people after their notorious tripling of tuition fees, and hopefully the election will see their total collapse, necessitating a complete overhaul. 
 

  

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Observer letter on co-operation with EU over tax avoidance

Will Hutton writes that "arguably the state is paying part of what should be workers wages".(Yes,we can reshape the state- if corporations pay more tax,14/12/14) There is no argument! Taxpayers are now paying an extra £900m in tax credits to ensure the  low-paid survive. How ridiculous is it that this happens so that companies can maximise their profits, pay executives huge bonuses, and collect "yet more cash for dividend distributions" to shareholder, especially when those same companies do their utmost to avoid paying their fair share of taxation. Adding to the absurdity, companies in the UK get rewarded for their greed by this government, with corporation tax being reduced  to 21%, a full eighteen points below the rate in America. 
     Hutton is optimistic about the effects of the recent "Google tax", despite it being targetted to collect only £355m a year by 2019, barely denting the current "tax gap" of at least £35bn, but he omitted to mention Osborne`s announcement regarding Northern Ireland. Despite the finance ministers of Germany, France and Italy stating that "the lack of tax harmonisation is one of the main causes allowing aggressive tax planning", yet again we see, in John Cridland`s words, another example of Britain "going it alone" by apparently allowing Northern Ireland`s corporation tax to match that of the Republic at 12.5%.
    Does not the "variety of tax regimes" in the "international system" play into the greedy hands of tax avoiding companies and their advisers in the "Big 4" accounting firms? Is it not time for action against tax avoiders to be taken in concert with our EU colleagues,rather than in opposition to them? Sensible and similar rates of corporation tax would be a start!

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Morning Star letter on London`s apartheid

The news that "low-income families are being forced out of central London" because of "soaring rents" and "benefit cuts" comes as no surprise, just as there can be no shock to discover a pledge by the duplicitous mayor Johnson, that "families would not be evicted", to be worthless. (Morning Star,15/12/14) The London Assembly Labour spokesperson was right to say that, if this continues, "central London will become the reserve of the privileged", because that, clearly, is the Tory plan. This form of economic apartheid has been evident since the departure of Livingstone who at least attempted social mix, with his "pepperpot"policy of social housing mixed in with other accommodation. Workers are obviously using public transport to reach their low-paid cleaning, maintenance, service, nursing, caring and teaching jobs, reminiscent of the black workers being "bussed in " from their shanty townships in the days of apartheid in South Africa.
    How disgraceful that such policies are evident in the 6th richest country in the world! Labour has to promise more than rent caps if such practice is to be eliminated!

 

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

How Labour can balance the books

With Ed Miliband now committing a Labour government to continue the austerity programme, albeit on a slower scale than the Tories, now is clearly the time for some proposals to be considered which make that awful prospect less harmful. By the way, a warning: Anyone who thinks that ten directors of the failing taxpayer-owned bank, RBS, should be paid £5.5m this year in allowances, or the CEO of Easyjet deserves £7m, look away now! This is about a bold Labour government transforming the way the economy is organised, not tinkering with it so that nothing actually changes fundamentally. How can it be sensible to have a situation where taxpayers subsidise the low wages paid by tax avoiding firms, thereby creating a deficit, which entails job and welfare cuts? That is simply nonsense!
   Furthermore, there is plenty of evidence suggesting the strong links between inequality and growth. In fact, the OECD has stated that inequality actually "hinders growth", and that if the gap between rich and poor had not widened since the 1980s, the UK`s economy would be more than 20% bigger now.
    It is well documented how Osborne, in his autumn statement, had to confess to the existence of much lower tax receipts; the OBR estimates that the total collected by the end of the 2014-5 financial year will be £646bn, £54bn less than Osborne predicted, and by 2017-8 receipts are still likely to be £23bn lower than previously thought. The chancellor also professed yet more determination to rid the country of what he called "morally repugnant" many years ago, tax avoidance. But like all Tory chancellors when facing the financial results of their mismanagement, Osborne chose to ignore the obvious and fair ways of solving the problem.
      The amount of income tax being collected is below the government`s expectations because so many working people are earning so little, they pay very little direct taxation, although why the chancellor and his advisers did not expect this, in view of how much is paid out in housing benefit and such like, beggars belief. Another reason is that so much tax is avoided, by rich individuals paying unscrupulous accountants to use the latest loopholes to divert their money from its rightful destination at the Treasury, and by businesses using similar methods to avoid paying their correct share of corporation tax. Without concerted action by all members of the international community, the end of such avoidance, not to mention the more obviously "illegal" tax evasion, appears unlikely in the imminent future.
 If companies simply refuse to accept their responsibilities to the countries where they do their business and make their profit, the government has to resort to more extreme measures. If businesses refuse to pay the correct amount of corporation tax out of their profits, the money has to be paid before it becomes the company`s "profit". The method is simple; raise the minimum wage to £8 an hour or more, with immediate effect, rising further if corporation tax continues to be avoided, and collect the tax as income tax from the workers. That way, much less tax is avoided, and furthermore, the workers would no longer be requiring state subsidies, so government expenditure could be reduced. What is really important, of course, that such a boost in pay would increase demand for goods and thereby stimulate the economy. Yes, demand for Bentleys might fall slightly, but the economy as a whole would benefit hugely. Companies with very small profit margins and few staff could apply for exemption, but the multinationals and such like would face massive fines if they failed to comply. The role of trade unions would be enhanced by the need to ensure the new rates were being paid to all staff.
    At the top end, the so-called "Laffer Curve" has been well and truly de-bunked by the economist Piketty, so there is no reason not to raise income tax rates for the obscenely rich to 60-70% for incomes over £200,000 per annum. A top rate of 60% existed for most of Thatcher`s time as PM!
   Profiteering private landlords would see, with wages rising, opportunities to add their vast wealth and increase rent, so that would have to be prevented; setting up an Ofsted-type government agency to inspect and grade all rented properties, so that the rent charged would have to be within set limits, would be vital if the current levels of tenant exploitation are to be decreased.
   The role of Britain in the world would need to be re-examined. Which is more important? The need for Britain to maintain, at vast expense, a huge military capacity, so that we can patrol the seas, police the middle east and interfere in other countries` business, or develop a society where all inhabitants can have equal choices and opportunities?
The mansion tax idea must not be dropped, whatever the "cash-poor" millionaires might say, and stressing how anyone connected with tax avoidance schemes in any way will never be awarded, or allowed to keep their honours by a Labour government, can only benefit the Treasury.
 At the moment Labour plans to raise the minimum wage by 2020; this is unsatisfactory both electorally and economically. Yet again bolder policies are the only answer if the electorate are to be won over; tinkering is no longer an option when the country cries out for transformation.

Culture-change needed at Ofsted too!

Whilst the Guardian editorial rightly says it is not part of the "Ofsted culture" to acknowledge the ways schools are getting better, and "thank everyone involved for their efforts", perhaps it is time for a culture-change?(Academy or community school , structures don't matter but support for good leadership does,11/12/14) Constant criticism of teachers and teaching, which has been the norm ever since the first Ofsted reports were published in 1992, does nothing to rejuvenate already overworked staff, or to encourage new entrants into the profession, at a time when "recruitment is becoming a serious challenge". Is it surprising that so many qualified teachers leave before completing five years in the classroom?

          Wilshaw acknowledges that "academy autonomy" can lead to dangerous isolation, but then names and shames local education authorities with too many under-performing schools, when many of the problematic schools are academies or free schools. It seems he takes every opportunity to criticise when a more sensible route of praise and advice is ignored. Teachers would appreciate much more some guidelines on marking expectations and progress monitoring; parents need to be informed by Ofsted that it is not essential for every piece of work to be corrected, and given five line comments on how improvement can be attained; sixty hour weeks for teachers are simply counter-productive!
      After an "unsatisfactory" verdict of a school by Ofsted, a Training day for the staff, with the same inspection team giving advice on how lessons could be improved, must be a way forward. If standards have indeed, "stalled" in secondary schools, Ofsted should surely be calling for smaller class sizes, more classroom assistants, more units for the badly behaved and more hi-tech facilities? Not every school can simply appoint a new "superhead" to come in and immediately expel sixty or so pupils as a method of improvement; some may see such action as strong leadership but others might simply regard it as "passing the buck".

Sunday, 14 December 2014

"Big" government is essential


With the recent American election results showing Republican gains, television screens were briefly dominated by the sight of preening politicians predicting the imminent return of "small" government. On similar lines, in this country, we remember the recent pledges of Cameron and Osborne to shrink the state back to levels last seen in the 1940s. Even worse is the revelation that, following Osborne`s autumn statement this month, government spending will be akin to that of the 1930s. This, of course, means the rich associates of the Tories end up paying low income tax, and very little inheritance tax, whilst low corporation tax enables profit-making companies to enrich further their CEOs and shareholders. 

     With little government interference in the lives of people, and in the practices of businesses, the return of the 19th century idea of laissez-faire is made possible. Students of history will need no reminding that, in practical terms, it meant not only the rich getting richer whilst the poor`s suffering increases, but the virtual abrogation of responsibility by the state for hunger and deprivation; the workhouse was the result!  When Gladstone practised the doctrine in his 1868-74 administration, it ended disastrously, with its replacement, Disraeli`s government, having to invent the "One Nation" idea, and to pass reforms to improve housing and food standards, and even increase trade union rights. How "shrinking the state" can end up any different, widening the wealth gap, and increasing the problems for the less well-off, defies logic, and Labour should be shouting about the dangers from the rooftops!

   To reduce the role of the state further in the 21st century would lead to increased inequality and suffering, decreased regulation and more privatisation. Only those few who stand to benefit from the privatisation of the NHS are in favour of it, the rest of us want it firmly in state hands, and the same now applies to energy companies and railways, which since going into private hands, have continued to raise prices and exploit customers, despite their huge government handouts. At least when nationalised, such companies paid their proper share of corporation tax!
       The rich don`t welcome the concept of "big" government because it means increased rules and regulations, and fines imposed when they are broken.Of course, we have them now, but how many people believe the recent "record" fines imposed on the banks for manipulating the foreign exchange market will lead to improved behaviour in the banking sector? The fines, anyway, only amounted to a few days` profit for the banks involved. More regulation is needed if the various "cultures", like those in the banking and tax avoidance industries, and amongst profiteering private landlords, are to be forced to change. Without it, as history shows us, slums flourish and exploitation is rife.  "Big" government also means more tax inspectors employed to ensure as much tax is collected by the Treasury as possible, and it means those who can afford to do so paying rather more.
     With "small" government, the reverse is true; help for the needy is reduced, the welfare state is cut, and foodbanks multiply. It also means more complaints from the rich when ambulances they need in emergencies are late because of funding issues, when the police can do little about the spate of burglaries in their area for the same reason. Strange, too, that a reduced role for government does not always lead to less; "small" government inevitably is accompanied by increased surveillance, as we know from news relating to the growing role played by GCHQ, the government`s spying department.
    The majority of the British electorate do not want the state shrunk back to these ridiculous levels; indeed, what would many think of reduced scrutiny of our borders? Fair-minded folk want more tax inspectors not less, more help for the less fortunate not less, and more government departments and agencies well staffed to ensure the return of "government for the people", not simply for the rich.
      It is Labour`s responsibility to make certain that the voters are aware of the consequences of voting Tory or Ukip, and that they do the right thing, come May,2015.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

letter to i on minimum wage

How ridiculous is it that taxpayers are having to pay "an extra £900m in tax credits" because firms are paying such low wages, especially when many of these businesses pay huge amounts to accountants so that they can avoid paying their proper share of tax.(Fall in wages means government`s tax credit bill rises by £900m,12/12/14) With the government having a much lower level of corporation tax than the rest of the EU, making co-operation to prevent tax avoidance unlikely, the obvious solution is to raise the minimum wage exponentially. Taxable profits would be much lower, but at least the tax would be paid, in the form of income tax!

Defending now too risky! Time to attack

The recent by-elections have a clear message for Labour: there have to be major changes to avoid embarrassing results next May! The time is ripe for an attack by Labour on their opponents; defending narrow leads in the opinion polls could lead to disaster.
     One of the most original analyses of the Labour conference was provided by the Observer`s Andrew Rawnsley, who compared the party`s performance with a football team, ahead 1-0 in the match, but hanging on for dear life until the final whistle, not looking like a government-in-waiting at all. Not too surprising, perhaps, in view of the fact that every proposal Labour leaders make is criticised by their opponents and press; even moderate reforms of the private rental system were viewed as similar to those of Hugo Chavez! However, Rawnsley has a point. As every fan knows, the team which defends a one goal lead too early is asking for trouble.
     After the Tory conference, and the sudden appearance of £7bn, even the not-so-astute Lib Dems pointed out that the Tories had created an "open goal". But the truth is that the Tories` downright selfishness and cruelty have provided an easy target for years.The real mystery is why Labour doesn`t shoot! With seven months still to go before the election, a Labour offensive now, even an all-out onslaught, could provide them with the mandate needed to transform our socially immobile society.
      What should be attacked? For starters, the Tories cannot be allowed to continue their nonsense about Labour being the "borrowing" party, and so getting the country into even more debt. Recent research has shown that coaliton borrowing in the last 5 years has totalled £572.5bn, compared with £442.7bn borrowed by Labour over 13 years! Remember, too, how the Tories started the 2010 administration by claiming above all else that the deficit had to be reduced, so that debt would not be a burden for the next generation? Then they, and their complicit Lib Dem cronies, tripled university fees to ensure that burden was massive for tens of thousands!
     As for their claims about their "long-term economic plan"!! Whereas the public sector net debt stood at 57% of the Gross Domestic product in May 2010, by the end of June, 2014, it was 77%, despite their brilliant plan to cut 350,000 public sector jobs, with more to come, including, unbelievably, at HMRC. We all know, too, how unemployment figures have been skewed by zero-hours contracts, increases in the number of self-employed and by those disqualified from gaining JSA. But where are Labour`s protests about how the public is being tricked by these Tory con-men? 
     Attacking the coalition`s record on welfare should be a no-brainer for Labour, but despite Andy Burnham`s efforts, and notwithstanding the media`s failure to investigate the sale of much of the NHS, do the majority of voters believe that the privatisation of the health service has begun? So-called "benefit scroungers" have been castigated by this government since day one, but no-one mentions the £85bn given to the corporate sector every year? The working poor are increasingly reliant on taxpayers` subsidies, so why aren`t firms forced to pay substantially more? How about the Tories` broken promises? Don`t the Labour policy-makers remember promises like "no frontline cuts","no rise in VAT" and "no top-down reorganisation of the NHS"? Did the Tories tell the electorate that state schools would be put under huge pressure to academise, or that free schools would eat into the education budget at alarming rates? We were told how tax avoidance was "morally repugnant" but not that thousands of tax inspectors would lose their jobs, or that well-known tax avoiding firms would continue to get government grants and contracts! Why should anyone believe a word the Tories say?
    As for the future!! Tory domestic policies like the "low tax-low wage economy", or the aim to shrink the state to levels last seen in 1948, or further tax reductions for the well-off are there to be shot at. Similarly, Ukip`s proposals for tax  need to be scrutinised and made public . Miliband`s encouraging stance against "predatory capitalism" seems to have disappeared, and the general approach now is much more conciliatory to big business at a time when a large majority are feeling the pinch because of the greed of banks, energy companies, private landlords and such like. Advice from Blairites about being tougher on immigration has to be ignored, as Labour, as Diane Abbott rightly says, can never go to the right enough to sate the demands of Ukip followers.
   Sitting back, waiting for the polls to magically improve, will not do; millions of taxpaying voters have had enough, but are being forced into political lethargy and Ukip`s welcoming arms because Labour isn`t proving to be as different as once promised. It`s still not too late.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Letter to Observer on tax receipts

The fact, reported by Andrew Rawnsley, that the decrease in "the cash flow into the government`s coffers", despite the existence of the "fastest growing economy in the developed world", is confounding Treasury officials, begs many questions about their competence.(George Osborne only has some very scrawny rabbits in his hat,30/11/14) It`s hardly rocket science! When a government simultaneously raises the tax threshold for the low-paid, refuses to increase the minimum wage by any meaningful amount, drives the workforce into zero-hour contracts, part-time work, or emergency self-employment, and reduces the income tax rate for the richest, is it that difficult to analyse the reason for low tax receipts?
      When millions of workers are not being paid the living wage, having to rely on benefits to survive, whilst bosses squirrel  away their obscene bonuses and salaries in tax havens, and the government describes tax avoidance as "morally repugnant" but reduces HMRC`s workforce by thousands, further clues should not be needed.
With the officials "perplexed" and their boss unsure of what eight times seven is, it`s not really surprising the government is so "far adrift from its original target to clear the deficit"!

Winning the teachers` vote


With Tristram Hunt`s feeble attempt to attack the privileges enjoyed by the private education sector, presumably trying unsuccessfully to develop policies showing respect for ordinary people, Labour clearly is in need of rejuvenation, even radicalisation, in the area of education. His bungled effort ended up insulting all involved in state education, with the implication that teaching in private schools is so much superior!

      There is, without doubt, a desperate need to display more respect for working people, and education provides Labour with many opportunities to do just that. For starters, it has to be accepted that Gove "conned" the country; his reforms were unnecessary, examinations were not too easy, and the improving GCSE and A-level results were because of hard work by students and teachers, and improved teaching methods. Imagine how disappointed proud parents and their offspring would have been when Labour failed to challenge Gove`s ridiculous assertions. That failure merited the description,  'Disrespect'!
Schools generally were improving back in 2010, and did not need 'freedom' away from local authority interference. Gove and the Tories were worried because state sector results were beginning to match, even better, those of the private schools, which explains why they concentrated on destroying the more even "playing field", that experienced and expert educationalists had developed over many years.That`s why Labour should propose the repeal of all of Gove`s assessment reforms; coursework, modules, and resits should all be returned at once.
On the subject of private education, the exemption of school fees from VAT is an obvious target, if the suspicion that the Labour party favours the well-off more than the ordinary people is to be challenged. The bias universities show to applicants from private schools must be on Labour`s agenda too. With only 7%  being educated at private schools, the fact that some of the so-called 'top' universities have up to 50/60 of their undergraduates from the private sector is disgraceful, and will only change with bold legislation.How about a simple 7% cap for all universities on privately educated undergraduates?
Perhaps even more obvious is that the teaching profession is not in need of the patronising "TLC" approach of the new Education secretary, but, along with much needed  praise. Labour should be offering pay increases, and sensible pension provision. Working to the age of 68 is obviously wrong, as is the current 60 hour working week; parents and heads need to be told that teachers simply cannot be expected to mark every single piece of work the pupils do, or write innumerable lesson plans as well as termly reviews etc. Hunt`s teachers may have managed it, but class sizes and students` abilities and attitudes are somewhat different in the real world! Ofsted and Labour should be stressing how at least 90% of our state school teachers would have no trouble whatsoever teaching in a private school, instead of the obvious implications being made of the shadow secretary`s outbursts.It`s time to see whether his license should be renewed!

Guardian letter on Parthenon marbles

The British museum`s attempts to improve the "frosty relations between Russia and the West in the wake of the invasion of eastern Ukraine" would have had more impact if the works of art loaned to the Hermitage museum actually belonged to Britain.(Part of Elgin marbles leave UK for first time,05/12/14) Lending the Parthenon marbles, instead of, for example, some Turner landscapes or samples from the royal family`s vast collection, is simply provocative, and will do nothing but cause resentment in Greece, and display our hypocrisy to the world. How quick we are to offer judgements when Jewish owned artwork is discovered in ex-Nazis` homes! (Modernist art haul,"looted by Nazis", recovered by German police,04/11/13)
Jonathan Jones has rightly argued that British museums must "face up to reality" and that "cultural imperialism" belongs in history`s dustbin, but clearly his passionate plea fell on deaf ears.(The art world`s shame: why Britain must give its colonial booty back,04/11/14) How can anyone justify, in the 21st century, the looting of Greek treasure by a greedy, profiteering British aristocrat, two hundred and ten years ago? The return of the marbles is long overdue, would provide a welcome boost to an impoverished Greek economy, and would display some British acceptance of guilt for its imperial past. Lending some of the pieces to Russia is simply shameful,and questions must be asked about the role played in this by the Secretary of State for Culture.

Any political party with a  sense of decency would include a promise to return the marbles to their rightful home in its election manifesto!

Friday, 5 December 2014

Respect shown through tax avoidance policies

Labour`s recent statements regarding the need to show respect to the working people are accompanied by its standard policies, including those on reducing tax avoidance. Trouble is vague rhetoric about closing loopholes convinces no-one; its been heard many times before, and the tax gap keeps on growing. If the practice of having representatives from the Big 4 accountancy firms,which make billions from advising on tax avoidance, on Treasury tax committees, continues loophol├Ęs will never close.Osborne`s autumn statement was similarly vague, whilst his giving Northern Ireland freedom to reduce its corporation tax will only add to the confusion.
      What better way is there for Labour to show its respect for the people by having policies to ensure every individual and every company, with no exceptions, pay the correct amount of tax? There are a number of initiatives which Labour could introduce which would not only clearly illustrate to the electorate on whose side they really are, but also have instant election-appeal to effect the opinion polls. For instance, a business rate supplement to be paid to the government, in addition to the standard  local rate levied on firms, including the likes of Amazon and Starbucks, which insist on doing their utmost to pay as little tax as possible, despite their businesses flourishing from benefits paid for by the rest of us. Many of these companies would inevitably threaten to leave the country, but is their departure likely when they make so much money here? How many voters would actually disagree with making these unscrupulous firms pay their fair share?
     Labour can show its respect for working people by ensuring that not just them but everyone, individuals and businesses alike, has a responsibilty to pay taxes, as they provide the necessary security and transport so essential in a 21st century civilised state. Rich people`s wealth has been acquired not only because their firms have made profits, nor even because of the hard work done by employees, but because taxes others paid provided for the health and education of their workforce. Notwithstanding this duty to pay, firms could also be encouraged to pay up by the award of the Fair Tax Mark, which could be the firms` notification to the public that they are acting responsibly, and aiding the economy as a whole.
  At the moment only one FTSE 100 company, SSE, has qualified for the Mark, but with additional publicity from leading Labour politicians and bigwigs in the run-up to the election, it could become the must-have company logo in the next five years. Accompanied by a Fair Pay Mark, awarded to businesses paying at least the living wage to all those directly and indirectly employed by them, and increased public awareness, leading to more selective consumerism,  Miliband could soon be proclaiming to have stemmed the tide of 'predatory capitalism'! Eighteen of the top 100 companies currently pay a living wage, but who knows which ones they are?
    Then there`s the simple matter of honours, issued by governments to people whose efforts benefit the nation as a whole. Doesn`t that rule out all bankers and tax avoiders? If their companies cannot play by the rules shouldn`t CEOs forfeit their right to both past and future honours? It should apply to so-called celebrities and sports stars too. What could be a cheaper, more beneficial policy than that? A culture change is needed with regards to tax, and the idea that we would all avoid tax if we could afford the accountants needs immediate de-bunking. There will be no change, however, as long as the country continues to "honour" those who have deliberately deprived the Treasury of millions of pounds.
     What about the professionals whose expertise is needed to collect the correct amount of tax from individuals and corporations? Coalition policy has been to reduce the number of workers at HMRC whilst trying to convince us all tax avoiders will soon 'be smelling the coffee' because of their "morally" reprehensible behaviour. A Labour commitment to reinstate tax inspectors  is hardly rocket science, when each one is responsible for the collection of taxes at least three or four times their salaries.
       Closing loopholes and using the General Anti-abuse Law may well prove difficult in reducing what is an obscenely large tax gap, but these proposals could prove electorally fruitful for Labour, in an area which epitomises the coalition`s indifference to inequality. Many critics have suggested that Labour` current election  pledges do not go far enough, needing more detail and radicalisation. The electorate have clearly heard enough meaningless rhetoric on the subject of tax avoidance; some straightforward policies would go down well! Whilst not disagreeing with German and French finance ministers who think the "lack of tax harmonisation is one of the main causes allowing aggressive tax planning", until the European countries agree policies, Labour can still use tax avoidance initiatives to their own electoral advantage.



Guardian letter on autumn statement

The autumn statement will have done nothing to change public opinion regarding the government`s commitment to reducing tax avoidance. With "just one in five believing political parties" have done enough to ensure companies and rich individuals pay their fair share, Osborne`s arrogant rhetoric on the subject will have changed very few opinions. (Osborne on the offensive over tax and deficit,03/12/14) Nothing was said which contained even the simplest of deterrents, like hugely increasing business rates for tax avoiding companies, or removing all honours from their CEOs. Instead, giving more freedom for Northern Ireland to set its own level of corporation tax, presumably at 12.5% to match that of the Republic, will cause more problems, especially when the finance ministers of Germany, France and Italy are stressing that the "lack of tax harmonisation is one of the main causes allowing aggressive tax planning",(Pressure on Juncker grows despite vow to fast-track EU tax legislation,03/12/14) Tax expert, Richard Murphy, has pointed out anyway, that under EU law, this could well be deemed illegal regional aid, whilst the "Google tax",only likely to raise at most £355m a year by 2019, is another example, as John Cridland admits,of the UK "going it alone".(Political capital, little revenue,04/12/14)

        The last time Osborne tried to create tax advantages for companies investing in Britain with the "patent box" scam, Germany forced him to back down. It seems he never learns! Are other countries in the EU expected to sit back and quietly watch businesses move their HQ to Belfast, thereby depriving their Treasuries of much needed revenue? Only when all EU members co-operate fully, agree tactics, and avoid "advice" from the Big 4 accountancy firms, will tax avoidance by the multi-nationals be reduced.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

The student vote could be vital

With university occupations mushrooming across the country, as students call for a return to free education, unsurprisingly the duplicitous Tory chancellor continued on his path towards shrinking the state back to levels last seen in the 1940s.  With up to a million more jobs still to be cut in the public sector under his plans, and years of enforced austerity and poverty for most of the workforce, Osborne claimed to be encouraging students into postgraduate study. However, what he was doing actually was the opposite; allowing postgraduates yet more loans of £10,000 to study for a master`s degree would mean many students starting their careers with debts of over £50,000, and is not likely, as the UCU general secretary said, "to attract the brightest and best into further study". Let`s hope students use their votes in May, and that Labour increases its efforts to ensure all students are registered to vote; students have an important role to play in the election.
         Quite rightly, duplicitous Lib Dem MPs, including their leader, are in danger of losing their seats in next year`s election because they reneged on their promise to campaign for an end to tuition fees. Hopefully, students will not forget, either, how the Tory Education Secretary insulted them by stating that the GCSE and A-level examinations, for which they worked so hard in order to gain top grades,were, in his opinion too easy and needed more "rigour". Let`s hope they remember how Gove`s reforms meant for many of them changes in course details, assessment procedures and even in their subject teacher! Driving good teachers out of the profession has been one thing in which this government has excelled, and for which they will surely pay, come next May! Students will recall how these reforms went through parliament with the full backing of all Tory and Lib Dem MPs.
      As for Ukip, students will be aware of their preference for grammar schools, and how they simply result in 75% of all pupils getting an inferior education; they don`t even pretend that everyone should have a chance to show their true abilities. Many of today`s university students will no doubt have been late developers and would not have been able to show their true talents in secondary moderns, and gain the qualifications necessary for university entrance. Anyway, what is likely is that students will be aware of the other even more sinister Ukip policies, and reject them out of hand!

       A party wanting to win the student vote will not only be considering reducing the fees, and therefore the ridiculous amount of debt with which postgraduates are saddled, but also proposing to restore the even "playing field" to which Gove objected so much. That would require the wholesale repeal of all things Goveist. Furthermore, students are part of Generation Rent, and any party, in the run-up to the election, which ignores how people living in private rented property are being exploited by profiteering landlords, does not deserve their support. Tinkering with this problem is not an option; the formation of an Ofsted-type unit to assess the condition of all rented property before then setting an appropriate and affordable rent is, and students would show their appreciation at the ballot box!