Sunday, October 31

The Sunday Quote

'' Hypocrisy is the most difficult and nerve-racking vice that any man can pursue; it needs an unceasing vigilance and a rare detachment of spirit. It cannot like adultery or gluttony, be practised at spare moments; it is a whole-time job.''

Cakes and Ale (1930) William Somerset Maugham

Monday, October 25

Victory Flogging

Very British Subjects
New Monthly Competion.

Each month this blog will award a free dinner to the reader who posts the most politicaly incorrect statement from a UK newspaper. The dinner, with the editor and the most politicaly incorrect political journalist or politican of the moment.

As an example of the statard of quote we are expecting I site the wondefully politicaly incorrect comments from an assistant in the souvenier shop of HMS Victory.

'' In my view this woman from the council should be taken aboard the Victory and flogged for talking claptrap like that ''

The 'clap trap' was to issist that the aim of the celebrations in Portsmouth to mark the 200 th anniversary of Lord Nelson's triumph and heroic death at the Battle of Trafalgar was not to celebrate his Victory over the French. The woman from the Lib Dem Portsmouth Council said that the city was anxious to avoid ''rubbing French noses in defeat''

Clearly a silly comment - The French are well used to defeats they have had many generations of practice. Ed.


With thanks to Jonathan Oliver from The Mail on Sunday - 24 October 2004

Sunday, October 24

Of Mandelson, Brown and Prescott

Peter Mandelson smiled and said it was a pertinent yet politically orientated question.

Clearly it was so politically orientated that the former Hartlepool MP and newly appointed UK's Commissioner to the EU, replied but did not directly answer my question; indeed a complement. The Rt. Hon. Peter Mandelson is a shrewd political operator, an important political figure who has been appointed by the new EU President as the EUs all powerful Trade Commissioner and as such is a part of the process of government of this country.

Many feel that it is reassuring to know that the North East of England will have its adopted son in a position of influence at the 'heart of Europe' giving a boost to Chancellor Gordon Brown's message of much needed Economic regeneration for the North East. Peter Mandelson has on more than one occasion been reported as saying he will be keen to continue to support the North East.

Reassuring as Mr Mendelson's offers of ongoing help for the North East may be the truth is, as I suggested to Commissioner Mandelson, he is in fact unable to serve two masters. The oath that he will swear at the European Court of Justice on 1 November is to '' perform my duties in complete independence,in the general interest of EU Community neither to seek nor to take instructions from any Government .......'' Hence my politically orientated question as to how he could promote North East issues when he will swear an oath not to do so ?

Some fellow activists of this blog editor in the Federation of Small Businesses query whether political issues are indeed business issues. I argue that political matters effect the process of business and are thus relevant to those in businesses. Politics is about ideas, ideas are needed to develop society. A healthy economy is vital so that businesses can flourish. In order to flourish society needs to be lead, leaders need ideas. Ideas is what politics is about which unless I am missing the point, questions about ideas need to be put to the increasing number of politicos that seek the attentions of business organisations.

Mindful of this I was very keen to be being able to put a double whammy of a question to the Deputy Prime Minister and the Chancellor when they addressed a meeting of business people in Newcastle I held my hand up at the start of the question and reply session. At the end of the session my arm ached with anticipation. The meeting Chairman did not call me to pose my question. Perhaps it was feared that I would take advantage of the presence of the two senior politicians to ask another politically orientated question. Perhaps some of my colleagues sitting cheek by jowl with me that morning were relieved; after all it would never do to discuss politics would it ?

Specifically I was intending to ask Messers Brown and Prescott what is the key difference between devolution and regionalisation. The answer is important since the former is what the Scots voted for and have, also what the Southern Irish were granted after the First World War. Regionalisation in the UK was rejected by Branch Delegates at the annual Federation of Small Businesses Conference in March by over 80%. A recent survey revealed a similar percentage rejection by business in the North East.

On the 4th November if the latest MORI Poll is correct the people of the North East well reject the option of an Elected Regional Assembly by a margin of at least 7 %. That rejection will also be a rejection of the Governments regionalisation in England. Now that will be a real nightmare for the Deputy Prime Minister.

A word of caution before anyone considers a celebration or perhaps a wake, MORI Polls can be wrong. If MORI was correct in June this Blog editor would now be an MEP !

The Sunday Quote

''There are no true friends in Politics. We are all sharks circling and waiting for traces of blood to appear in the water.''

an Clarke (1928 -1999).

Out with VAT in with LST

The most common objection to the proposal to abolish VAT and introduce a Local Sales Tax ( L S T ) is that most people, quite understandably, do not trust local councils with efficiently raising, and spending a local tax.

The present situation is that local authorities throughout the UK raise about 24% of what they spend through business rates and council tax. The remaining 76 % is given to them by central government. This is currently totals £ 66 billion a year.

VAT raises about £64 billion a year.

Replacing VAT with a Local Sales Tax would amount to a dramatic true devolution of power and accountability to local councils and /or Elected Regional Assemblies.

Central Government would no longer have to raise the £ 64 billion of VAT revenue and then allocate the £ 66 billion in central subsidy to local or regional governments.

One of the most complicated, bureaucratic and burdensome of taxes -VAT - can be abolished and replaced with a simpler Local Sales Tax. The £64,000,000,000 that is collected and then redistributed to local authorities to spend would stop.

Under the proposed new system the local authority's money would be collected locally, by local officials answerable to local councillors who would be responsible to their voters. Much more transparent. So if and when they make a mess of managing it they can be held to accountable by the voters.

Making local government 100 % self-financing would ensure greater local accountability.

Under this change business rates would be scrapped, a clear advantage for small businesses.

Local Authorities would not have freedom to spend as they wanted to since statutory obligations and constrains would, as now, be imposed.

A local sales tax would be too costly and complex to collect ?

No ! A local sales Tax would actually be a lot simpler than the present VAT system.

Whilst VAT is added on (and reclaimed) at each stage of the supply chain a Local Sales Tax would be payable only at the final retail point. There would be none of the complex calculation of VAT liabilities and the form filling needed to reclaim VAT from the government.

A criticism of a local sales tax is that it could be unfair and inflexible. A change in the Local Tax rate say in County Durham of 1 % could make a large difference to peoples shopping bills compared to people say in Northumberland or Tees Valley ( wherever that is). That criticism is fair comment, but has advantages. In the United States, changes of just a fraction of a percent on local tax rates often lead to very heated debate. This of course makes people aware of how a local authority is spending local tax payers money.

So out would go the complex VAT system, as would business rates. Government would no longer have to transfer billions of pounds around the country. If (or perhaps when) local authorities 'balls up' they can pay the price of failure at the ballot box. Better I argue than the present system of VAT.

OK What about the EU ?

As every one knows, or ought to know, VAT replaced the existing UK Purchase Tax regime in 1973, when the UK joined the European Union (then the European Economic Community). The UK's VAT regime is governed by the EU's 6th EC Directive. VAT is important to the EU since 40% of the EU's 'resource funding' is derived from VAT -type taxes within the EU.

Thus to abolish VAT and introduce LPT will require substantial revisions to both the 6th Directive as well as changes to the current EU funding arrangements. Since the Directive is currently subject to review and has been for over 10 years that is not really an option.There must be a better way.

Perhaps that better way is the amicable divorce from the EU I have referred to before. At the same time we can repatriate the UK fishing and agricultural industries.

Better start planning now !

Sunday, October 10

A case for Jim Hacker

New legislation could lead to the destruction of government records - the opposite of what is intended, presumably.

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) which comes into force on 1 January 2005 will make it an offence to destroy records once a formal request has been made to see them. However there is nothing to stop officials from destroying records being destroyed prior to a request being made.

The FIOA allows the public to request information from more than 100,000 public authorities, subject to exemptions such as national security. The law will be retrospective, so unless an exemption applies, the current 30-year rule lapses and researchers will be able to ask for documents on events from any time up to the present day. This will in practice mean that civil and public servants will be encouraged to destroy 'unwanted' records. This has been confirmed by a comment from a Mr.Richard Smith the FOIA Compliance Officer at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister who commented ''Initiatives are coming down to us to whittle away our records, throw away anything not being used and to properly file those records decide not to keep.''

The Campaign for the Freedom of Information is concerned that information could be destroyed in anticipation of the Act coming into force.

Howard Davis from the National Archives said in an article in the BBC History Magazine (October edition) '' there has been a noticeable increase in the use of disposable schedules ''.

Public authorities apparently have ''folder controllers'' who weed out records before passing them on to a departmental records manager, though this process is generally informal so there is no auditable record of distraction.

All of this is clearly a case for the Department of Administrative Affairs !

Comments welcome.

The Sunday Quote

'' The Labour Party is going around stirring up apathy ''

The late Lord (William) Whitelaw, commenting in The Observer 1 May 1983.

The comment could well apply to 'Labour North' who are currently making desperate attempts (and desperate mistakes) to interest North East voters in the referendum on the Elected Regional Assembly.

When Chris Williamson, former agent in the Euro Elections, received a telephone call from Labours North East call centre a few days ago the canvasser asked whether she would be voting for the 'Yes' campaign. When told that in the event of a 'No' vote that the current unelected assembly would carry on acting as a democracy by-pass to Brussels, the caller was apparently flummoxed. Clearly Mrs Williamson's knowledgeable response was not anticipated and thus not built into the 'response script'.

Perhaps Gordon Brown will be better prepared to field questions from the NE business community following his presentation to delegates at the Labour Party organised and funded event on Tuesday morning ! I will let you all know. Perhaps unlike his former colleague and adversary, Peter Mandleson, he will actually answer the carefully crafted questions that at least one representative will put to him.