Tag Archive | "tax revenues"

How to condition taxpayers into Billion pound mania

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How to condition taxpayers into Billion pound mania

Is it just me or are we are all becoming a little blasé about money, or to be more accurate, the number of noughts that follow the £ sign? Let me explain. Ever since Gordon Brown announced a massive £500bn plus bailout of the banking sector, commentators and politicians have been talking about £billions in the same way as they used to talk about £millions. In other words, everyone seems a little punch drunk. In the sales arena, the constant mentioning of large amounts of money was known as conditioning, if you keep talking about £65k BMW’s, then when the salesman mentions ‘just’ £15k for a new Vauxhall, it sounds like a bargain. However, in my little world, a £million is still a lot of money, especially when you consider how long it takes us to hand that amount of money to successive governments.

At a time when everyone is having to tighten their belt, this government has announced that they will increase spending from £620bn to £650bn, the conservatives tell us that they will “only” increase it by £25bn. Forgive me, but this sounds like an awful lot of money! In my personal life and indeed my business life, I have always understood and accepted that there are excesses, in other words, there have always been things that I want, rather than need. Therefore, when times are hard, I am obliged to deal with my excesses, to reduce my outgoings and I suspect, that this will be going on in the majority of homes and business up and down the land. This is a painful but necessary evil when times are hard. Not so for the government. No, instead, they tell us how they are going to spend more money, not how they are going to provide better value. The conservative are no better, because they say that they will just spend less (£5bn), but their proposals still amounts to an increase of £25bn!

By spending our money more wisely, buying what we need, rather than what we would like and curbing our wasteful habits, I suspect that most of us could, conservatively, reduce our outgoings by around 10%, possible considerably more. I didn’t say it would be easy, nor did I say all of us, so please accept that I am referring to most, not all of us. If this is a reasoned argument, why is it that the government cannot reduce their own waste, surely they are not going to argue that they are lean and mean or that all of our money is spent both wisely and without excess? Not a cat in hells chance. Surely, it would be better to reduce government waste and excess to channel the savings into more relevant or deserving causes, rather than just borrowing more money. The government is effectively condoning living on the never, never. Failing to practice what they preach. What angers me most, is that the conservative party, petrified of being accused of being the party of cuts, has failed to talk convincingly about value for money, getting the most of each taxpayer pound collected or borrowed.

With an election likely to be just around the corner, now is the time for the other parties to get tough. I am not talking about an austerity speech, nor a doom and gloom scenario, as has become the conservative party mantle. No, I am referring to a party, any party, that offers realistic hope, leadership and direction. One that refers to government money as taxpayers money, borrowings as future liabilities and above all, the use of taxpayers money in terms of value, not numbers to be bandied about. The people of this country do not need to see doom and gloom whenever they turn on the TV or read a newspaper, the majority of us know that times are tough and that they will be for the foreseeable future. What we need to witness, are politicians that appear to know what they are talking about (a very rare bread) and political parties that truly demonstrate that they know how to run a country and a good start would be how to spend taxpayers money wisely in order that we, the taxpayers, receive maximum bang for our buck.

Politicians and government must stop ‘conditioning’ the British people by constantly bombarding us with numbers most of us simply can’t envisage or picture. Instead, they must do what most normal people managing household budgets do when times get tough. Ensure that we are getting value for money. It is, after all, possible to spend more money on a holiday if someone gives up smoking, or to buy a better car if we shop at Aldi’s instead of Sainsbury’s, buy tea instead of coffee, drink tap water instead of bottled or even to survive the recession if we cut our cloth to suit our circumstances. It is a question of priorities. Government, whoever they are, have a responsibility, in fact a duty, to ensure that they spend or invest taxpayers money wisely. They must not be allowed to pour more money into a bucket which is already leaking taxpayers money.

Posted in Conservatives, General, Labour, Lib Dems | Comments (2)

Gordon Brown, tax cuts for Labour Party supporters

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Gordon Brown, tax cuts for Labour Party supporters

Gordon Brown has been thrusting himself about the world stage as he tries, unsuccessfully in my opinion, to appear like a sort of financial guru. I honestly believe that many world leaders are laughing at him behind his back. Only someone as naive and self-obsessed as Gordon could run around having virtually single-handedly destroyed the UK economy and think he is King Economy. The man is a fool, but then most objective British citizens already know that. Anyway, let me get to my point.

As we all know, the Labour government spin machine always leaks its own announcements early so that they can guage ‘public opinion’, normally expressed by what the newspapers say (rather than the public), before making any final tweaks to their policy announcements. However, if the leaks are to be believed it looks, once again, that Gordon Brown is going to continue with his social engineering project, otherwise known as Robin Hood from Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath.

It would appear that Gordon Brown does not believe that everyone is suffering as a consequence of his handling of the economy for the past 11 years and the subsequent recession. Oh, no, Gordon Brown from his taxpayer funded home in Downing Street, believes that it is only those on “low incomes” that are in need of tax breaks. What world is he living in? He has spent 11 years long years targeting so called middle income earners with his tax increases, using this section of the community to fund his extravagant, cost-loaded experiment to re-distribute wealth. Now having squeezed the middle income earners until they are bordering on relative poverty, he has now abandoned them, by saying that any tax breaks will be targeted at “low income earners”.

During New Labour’s reign, top earners have remained relatively neutral in terms of total tax take, low income earners have benefited dramatically through allowances, tax breaks and various forms of income support and middle income earners have been seriously and relentlessly shafted. Now, he has got away with it so far, because the golden goose did not really feel all the affects of his shafting, as a consequence of a booming economy and the relative wealth created by higher house prices. That of course is no longer the case. As the economy starts to contract, the golden goose is starting to feel the pinch and because they were the primary target for revenue raising, they are feeling it more than any other section of the community. In spite of this, Gordon brown in his cosseted environment, turns his back on the very people that have funded his social engineering experiements.

Now I know that Gordon Brown needs to guarantee his core vote, many of whom will come from the lower earners and rightly so, because lets face it, they have been the only winners over the past 11 years. But he needs to understand that it was the votes of the middle income earners that actually brought New Labour to power and that irony cannot be lost on this section of the community. Nonetheless, it is all a bit academic, because there is no way that Labour will win the next election, even if Gordon Brown went around at Christmas and gave every Labour voter a £1000, oh sorry, that is the plan isn’t it, hope I haven’t spoiled anyone’s surprise!

Now enough of my sarcasm. Gordon Brown does need to provide a fiscal stimulus and I believe that everyone is agreed on that, even David Cameron, it won’t prevent the recession, but it may create enough of an impetus to save a few jobs and keep some businesses going if correctly targeted. However, it would appear that Gordon Brown intends to offer tax breaks in the form of increased allowances for low earners only. No widespread stimulus, just a further, last ditch attempt at social engineering, except this time, he can’t take anymore money from middle income earners, instead, he has to borrow it. Worst still, one of the reasons that Gordon Brown prefers to offer increased ‘benefits’ is he can always exaggerate the numbers, but this is not the time for one of his infamous smoke and mirror exercises. The economy will only get a boost if the money is real and tangible.

Gordon Brown has repeated many times that this is a unique set of events that requires a unique set of solutions and I couldn’t agree more. But he is just promising more of the same, take from one section of the community and pass to another, except this time, he wants to store the cost, so that middle income earners can pay it later. The man is a fanatic, he quite clearly has an ingrained almost psychopathic hatred of middle income earners.

What is needed is a simple and properly funded fiscal stimulus, which benefits everyone, not one section of the community. Everyone is suffering from the downturn in terms of the increases in fuel and utility bills, council tax, caps on wages, reduced pension benefits, insurance costs, travel, shopping bills, job losses, the list is endless. They all need to be able to see the benefit of a fiscal stimulus and the best way to do this is a reduction in the basic rate of tax. Everyone knows that Gordon Brown always exaggerates the affects of any government ‘giveaways’ whilst moving swiftly over the small print that invariably takes back any benfits, with interest, so the reality is, most people have learned not to trust a word he says. Therefore, he more than anyone, needs to ensure that any stimulus is kept simple and results in people being able to keep more of their own money. This is no time for treasury tricks.

He also need to offer targeted assistance to small business, they employ 12.5m people and many, as a consequence, will not have huge cash reserves, nor can they go to the bank or shareholders. He ignores this area of business at his peril, small and medium businesses generate nearly 50% of UK Plc’s GDP, not an area to be ignored.  David Cameron’s suggestions are weak and will offer very little assistance to small business, I have already outlined what I think needs to be done for small business in a previous post.

The bottom line is many of the problems we are facing today are because Gordon Brown allowed, (inspite of warnings about the risks), this country to continue a relentless boom on the back of easy credit and rising house prices. He could and should have done something about it, but he chose not to. Our economy was booming and the relative tax take was increasing anyway, still he opted to introduce many, many stealth taxes. Often, but not necessarily, disguised as green taxes, but invariably targeted at middle income earners. This was not enough for the man Brown, on top of all that, he increased public borrowing during this period, spending like a man possessed, not saving anything for a rainy day. He was reckless in his handling of the economy and he allowed the public to become reckless, by not introducing measures to cool,things down, because it would have been unpopular and inevitably, would have required him to reign in his social engineering project.

As a consequence of this mans actions, not only has his reckless behaviour virtually bankrupted this country, it also means that Gordon Brown owes a massive personal debt to the people of this country. He can start to pay that debt by stop trying to be clever and spinning the numbers. He can help redeem himself in part by offering an apology to the people he has shafted in is quest to be the hero of the low income earners, by introducing a universal 5% reduction in direct income tax. This must be funded through capital project cuts and a good start would be all of these unpopular information technology projects that are invariably doomed to failure, always have substantial cost overruns and in most cases are not wanted by anyone and in particular the public. He must also tighten his belt on other forms of government spending, just like everyone else has to do in difficult times. Government has become a very lucrative place to do business, because many of those charged with negotiating terms are no match for the very professional, highly paid, highly skilled sales people on the other side of the desk. This has to stop!

New Labour’s social engineering project was a failure in terms of value, although I do accept that low income earners are substantially better off than they were when New Labour came to power. However, were it not for a booming economy, it could have been safely argued that Gordon Brown actually reduced the gap between low and middle income earners so much that they the differences are no longer discernable. Because as he boosted income for low earners, he took this money of middle income earners, pushing one section up and the other down. This will become self-evident as the New Labour Boom turns to Bust. Thanks Gordon!

Posted in Conservatives, General, Labour | Comments (0)

Labour race to introduce tax cuts

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Labour race to introduce tax cuts

Well I have argued that there needs to be a combination of monetary and fiscal cuts in order that the economy can receive a well needed stimulus, although I am not naive enough to believe that it will stave off a recession. This country is already in a recession, even if the official measures used to determine a “real” recession have not yet been met, all we can do is try to lessen the impact on people, jobs and business.

Gordon Brown has indicated over the weekend that he believes fiscal policy should include tax cuts and rumours abound as to the extent of such cuts, with estimates of £480 per person through to an annual estimate of £15bn in tax cuts. Whatever the case, there are two things which I am wary of. The first, that Gordon Brown has a habit of double counting and this is no time for a sales pitch. The economy needs a real injection of cash and the people of this country need to know that they have a little more money in their pockets, no sales pitch is going to change that, so Gordon Brown, beware of New Labour spin. The second is the form that tax cuts will take.

Some “experts”  have suggested a temporary cut in VAT. What are they smoking? Lets take a look at that proposal shall we? There is no VAT on food, council rates, children’s clothes etc., what many will call essential items. Where VAT is charged, how can we be certain that retailers, keen to impress their shareholders and hold onto their bonuses, will not take the opportunity to increase their margins? Thereby minimising the affect of any price reduction which ought to be brought about by a fall in VAT to the proposed 12.5%. Also, there is the cost to business, especially small business, they are the organisations and people that will have to deal with the major changes to their business that would be brought about as a consequence of a short-term change in VAT. Are these people really advising the government? I hope Gordon Brown is not listening, fortunately, not one of his strong points.

What we need is a simple, clear cut, obvious reduction is direct taxation. It must be one that is both tangible and visible, no messing around withallowances, tax credits and bandings. Instead, there should be a significant reduction in direct taxation and I have suggested this should be a reduction in the bottom rate of tax from 20% to 15 %, with all other banding’s remaining static, so the full effect benefits everyone, in a way that cannot be fiddled. Fiddling, with one or 2% will make little or no difference to the man on the street. There is no point in targeting cuts to the poorest sections of the community, because,put simply, everyone is affected, especially so called “middle England”, that has funded virtually every one of New Labour’s ‘feel good’ initiatives over the past 11 years, through proportionately higher taxes.

I doubt that it will be possible to fully-fund such tax cuts, which I think, at least for the time being, should be limited for a period of 3 years, to provide the personal reassurance that most people seek in their lives. However, in these uncertain times, I go against my instincts in terms of government borrowing if required to as a result of a ‘funding gap.  I would insist, however, that some funding is gained through cuts in non-essential government and believe me there is a great deal of that. For example, the Big Brother Britain database estimated at a cost of £12bn, should be cancelled altogether, the NHS database, estimated to cost in the region of £32bn, should be shelved in the short-term and re-considered in the medium term, based on a genuine cost versus return basis. Other database systems, that this government has so badly commissioned, budgeted for and managed should also be shelved until such time as the economy recovers, this would include everything related to ID cards. The cost of being part of the European Union is rising year on year, our ministers need to ensure that the European Parliament also looks at their costs in these difficult times, so that member countries can see a reduction in their ‘dues’. A good start would be to stop the European Parliament introducing draconian, liberty busting, politically correct rules and legislation, which costs money as well as stripping everyone of their national identities.

At this difficult economic time, we must also consider revising the $5bn overseas aid budget, this amounts to 1.5% of all tax receipts and cannot, therefore be ignored. Similarly, the public sector now employs some 1 in 5 of all those employed in this country, it has bloated and is arguably out of control. Equally, the cost of public sector, final salary pension schemes is paid for out of tax revenues, not a pension fund, therefore, the costs are enormous. This needs to be curtailed, the economy cannot afford such generous pension schemes, particularly when the private sector, who were hammered 11 years ago by Gordon Brown, have ‘pensions’ on average, worth just 1/15th of the public sector schemes.

Mere mortals like me, do not get provided witha detailed set of fiancial accounts for UK Plc, therefore I am unable to go through each and every expenditure line, but one thing is certain, you can guarantee that there is waste and excess in a public sector the size of ours and it needs to be dealt with. The way any businesses would do at a time of crisis. The adult population are better positioned than the government to determine where any additional money is spent, which is why any tax cuts must be via direct taxation, not indirect taxes, lets face it, it is our money in the first place. But whatever happens, it will never cost as much as the headline figure the government use to sell the cuts. Because, if people buy, companies prosper, business tax revenues are preserved or rise, VAT is paid, more people are employed, therefore less benefits are paid out, even if people save, many of them will be taxed on the interest. The government never loses.

For the record, I do not believe that bringing forward public sector infrastructure projects is the right way to go. The impact would be very limited, and the benefits disproportionate to the costs. Most of these projects would be PFI initiatives and, mark my word, history will look back at these PFI contracts and wonder why it was, that a government was awash with tax receipts, would enter into contracts which are akin to a consumer buying their houses at credit card rates, rather than on a traditional mortgage.

David “the cupboard is bare” Cameron, with his austerity speech, which I am sure he thought would make him look clever and responsible is in a tight corner. Traditionally the Conservative party has been the party of tax cuts and enterprise, he has fallen into a trap and it was one of his own making. David Cameron thought we needed to be told how bad things were, we didn’t, because we can feel it! A good leader must never, never back himself into a corner, now he must either eat a bit of humble pie, or, more likely for a British politician, he will come out with a fudge. Either way, he made a mistake and he will pay dearly for it. He will not be forgiven for allowing Gordon Brown, one of the most despised men in this country, get away with using former tory policies, at a time when people want them most.

Let me provide David Cameron with one piece of advice, something that he will not appreciate from his privileged upbringing. There is no point in having a balanced budget if you die of starvation in the process. Government takes our money at will, then they spend it on their favourite pet project or group, without consultation, in the process, they keep as much as 35% of our money on ‘administration costs’. If government were an investment fund, it would need a bailout every year, in fact that is what they get, it is just government take our money when they get a bit short, forever dipping into our pockets when we are not looking, a kind of distraction theft. I have always voted conservative in the past, but this lightweight, ill-considered leadership provided by David Cameron frustrates the hell out of me, he just doesn’t seem to have a clue.

Now come on guys, whatever your party colours, pull your finger out. Do what is necessary to help the people of this country, interest rate cuts were the first part, the second is a reduction in direct taxation and the third to reduce wasteful public expenditure. To have a short term impact, the second was contingent of the first, but the second should not be contingent on the third, because the third must always be part of responsible government. Stop whining about losing your seats or creaming yourselves over the thought of winning the next election by default, not one of you has earned your pay yet, so you are all, still very much on trial. If you don’t grow up, we could see quite a few members of the Monster Raging Loony Party, as people register their protest. Still, from what I can see from the current crop of MP’s, it couldn’t be much worse.

Rant over, but have left in typo’s, poor grammar and other errors so you can see just how much I have smashed into this keyboard, off to PC World now to see if they have any cheap keyboards.

Posted in Conservatives, General, Labour, Lib Dems | Comments (0)

Big Brother Database or Tax Cuts?

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Big Brother Database or Tax Cuts?

Yesterday, I wrote an article suggesting how this government could reduce taxes to help stimulate growth in the economy. This was partly a Keynesian approach, given I argued that it was possible that these tax cuts could be self-funding, if my proposals worked. The reason for this was, if we do nothing, there is likely to be a significant surge of people claiming benefits, rather than generating income for government coffers. My proposal was, if the government was going to borrow to invest, they would be better off doing so, with a natural stimulus, rather than bringing forward capital building projects which would only benefit a small section of the economy.

My proposal, amongst other things, was that government should reduce the basic rate of personal tax by 5%. Over a period of 3 years, this would cost around £45bn, less than 10% of the cost of the banking bailout. However, by allowing us to retain more of our own money, we could decide how and where we would spend the extra money we were ‘permitted’ to retain. If we were to spend it in much the same was as we did before the crash, my argument was and is, that more small and medium sized business would survive and therefore more people would remain in employment. I noted that some 13.5m people were employed by small businesses and these same companies accounted for, just shy of 50% of UK Plc’s output. However, I also noted, that the Keynesian approach was that government should adopt a balanced budget, that is to say, they should cut back government spending in certain areas, to allow them to invest in other areas. Having read my post this morning, addressing the usual, inexcusable typos, I decided that I should expand on my own theory.

For example, my pet hate is the government’s proposed Big Brother Database, which I think is a massive attack on the civil liberties of every person in this country and an unforgivable intrusion into our right to privacy. That said, this government, if it goes ahead with this initiative, is expected to spend some £12bn on this massive Big Brother Database. Now quite apart from the fact that we know this government has never yet managed to bring an IT project in on budget, the figure that needs to be allocated is huge.

Therefore, the question I wanted to ask was:
Which would you prefer a Big Brother Database that infringes our civil liberties and intrudes on our privacy at a cost of £12bn or an immediate 4% cut in the basic rate of income tax for at least 1 year? From 20% to 16%? – I know what my answer will be.

Then I went on to look at other large government capital expenditure projects, this time I focused in on the much criticised NHS Database Project. It is worth noting that the original cost was estimated to be £2.3bn, by 2006 that had rocketed to £12bn, with some independent estimates suggesting it could cost as much as £32 billion. Most medical professionals question the viability of this project, the public have barely been consulted on such a massive project and even though some £2bn has already been spent, there is little to show for it. So, lets be generous, and take a middle figure between the governments estimate of £12bn and the independent estimates of £32. This leaves us with a likely cost of £22bn.

Therefore, my question is:
Which would you prefer, to shelve or cancel the NHS Database or receive an immediate cut in the basic rate of income tax of 5% for at least 18 months? The reason I have said ‘at least’ is because if this additional money prevents people losing their jobs and claiming benefits, then it would be possible to extend the period of the tax cut, perhaps indefinitely.

So what of the ID Database Project. Yes, I know, this government is completely obsessed with databases, it is a pity, they do not also consider the massive security risks associated with having all of this information on computers. However, I digress, this particular project, is simply aimed at having all of our personal ID information in one place. The cost, an eye-watering £5.4bn.

So, once again, my question is, which would you prefer, an ID database where only the government and its agents see the benefit, or an immediate cut in the basic rate of income tax of 2%, for a least one year, from 20% to 18%?

My basic premis is that this government has an obsession for massive information technology projects, most of which have been so poorly considered, specified and planned that they are either doomed to failure or massive cost overruns. This governments track record of waste is well documented and appalling. Most of these pet projects are not wanted by the public and it has to be said, the vast majority will allow government to know everything their is to know about every single legal citizen in this country. Because this government is obsessed with using IT to spy and control its subjects. At this time, the biggest threat to our security (apart from the government itself) and our well being, is the state of our economy, not terrorism. Yet no-one from government has suggested shelving, postponing or cancelling any of these Big Brother databases. Even though, combined, these 3 projects alone, will cost a staggering £40bn. If the government were to add an extra £5bn, we could all benefit from a reduction in the basic rate of income tax of 5%. From 20% to 15%, for a period of 3 years, if we are lucky, this would be able to see us through this period of recession. In addition, as I have argued earlier, if this money is invested into the economy by us, then jobs could be saved, government would benefit from the revenues brought about by indirect taxes, business taxes and fewer unemployed claiming benefits.

So, my final question, is which would you prefer? Government to spend £40bn on 3 highly questionable information technology projects at a time of this massive economic downturn, or more money in your pocket. £40bn on IT projects, or a 5% cut in the basic rate of tax for 5 years. QED!

I have also argued strongly for a significant, simultaneous cut in the Bank of England bases rates from 4.5%, to 2%, with all taxpayer funded banks being ‘required’ to pass on this cut to their customers. This will reduce the number of repossessions and/or increase the amount of money available to us, to reinvest into the economy. I am sure there will be economists out there that can or will pick holes in my arguments, well go ahead, someone needs to come up with some ideas, because it is pretty clear to me, this government hasn’t got a clue, the Conservative Party has backed themselves into a corner with their negative, one size fits all ‘austerity’ assessment of our economic future and none of the other parties have any influence. Sad, but true!

Posted in Big Brother, Civil Liberties, Conservatives, General, Labour, Lib Dems | Comments (7)

Gordon Brown, its time to introduce tax cuts

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Gordon Brown, its time to introduce tax cuts

At prime ministers questions time, Gordon Brown, once again, decided to take all the credit for “creating 3 million new jobs” and none of the responsibility for the ‘bust’ brought about by the credit funded boom that was his creation. Instead, he avoided all of the questions he was asked and once again, came out with the same old mantra, that the problem was the fault of the Americans and the bankers. Nothing new there then.

He did imply, however, that he believed that the government should invest in times of recession, a sort of embracing of the Keynesian approach. However, John Maynard Keynes did not suggest that government should simply spend, but that there should be a balance. He also argued, that it was possible that if government used borrowed money wisely, it could be self-financing. For example, most people want to work, which means that given the opportunity, they will not be a burden on the state, but an asset. In addition, companies want to sell their goods, at a fair price, employ people, succeed and therefore, be an asset to the state.

To achieve this, people need to have money to spend, yet the state takes nearly 50% of what we all earn. That is way, way too much. A reduction in direct taxation, would be much less expensive than building new schools and hospitals earlier than was originally intended. Moreover, a construction boom will be very limited in terms of assisting the wider economy. What we need is more money in peoples pockets, which they can invest in buying goods and services offered by retailers, service providers and manufacturers. In other words, a natural stimulus, not a false one.

If people feel poorer, then they will push their employers to pay them more, this adds a further burden to struggling businesses and places inflationary pressures on the wider economy. In addition, public sector workers, who account for some 20% of all employees in the UK are starting to get increasingly vocal about higher wage increases and they are backing this up with threats of industrial action. This is no good to anyone. Furthermore, if they succeed in getting higher wages, this will be a cost borne directly by the taxpayer and will inevitably result in a cut in services as the public sector attempts to balance the books.

We know that a boom based on easy credit is not the answer, nor does the equity in a property really amount to tangible wealth. The Keynesian approach advocated, amongst other things that borrowing to provide tax cuts can provide an aggregate increase in demand and, that properly targeted, it could be self-financing, because demand will create or save jobs and people that are employed, are not a burden on the state. In addition, companies that are selling goods, will be pay tax and sell goods that, for the most part, attract VAT.

A cut in direct taxation would have an immediate and tangible affect on the publics ability (not necessarily willingness) to spend. If this would was coupled with a substantial, perhaps 2 or 2.5% cut in bank base rates, then the benefits would multiply as would the potential speed of recovery. The government has indicated that they want to spend £12bn to create a database to spy on the public, apart from the fact that this is both unnecessary and a massive attack on our civil liberties, it is also something that is a nice to have, rather than a need to have. That notwithstanding, even if they proceeded with this database, the chances are, the contract would be awarded to an American company! Yet this £12bn, could ‘fund’ a 5% cut is direct taxation for nearly 3 years, if you were to ask the public what they would sooner have, there are no prizes for guessing their likely preference.

In addition, the government is intending to proceed with the £13bn NHS computer system. There is no proof that the system will work, nor has their been a sensible cost/benefit analysis. This project should be shelved and the money used to invest into small and medium sized businesses. I wrote an article yesterday, outlining some of my own ideas to assist small businesses. These companies employ 50% of our workers, some 13.5m people and provide nearly half of our output. An investment in this area, could secure jobs, companies and tax revenues.

It is true, governments cannot prevent a recession, but they can, through careful management of their (our) finances, targeted initiatives and the shelving of non-essential investment programmes, reduce the length and severity. Had the conservative party not nailed their colours to the mast, with an austerity assessment of the UK economy, claiming that “the cupboard was bare”, then they could have proposed this type of solution. Instead, they must either say that they got it wrong, or the Labour government, if they are bright enough to steal the initiative, will be able to come out of this smelling of roses.

For what it is worth, I am not convinced that this government, or the other political parties will want to endorse my suggestions, because they seem more interested in telling us what won’t work, rather than what might. It is this dithering and indecision that will damage this economy. Whatever action is taken it needs to be bold, decisive and meaningful. Therefore, in summary, my suggestions are as follows:

  1. Shelve the £13bn investment in the NHS computer system
  2. Cancel the proposed £12bn Big Brother Britain database
  3. Reduce direct taxation by 5% for a minimum period of 3 years
  4. Implement a package of incentives and tax reductions for small business
  5. Instruct the independent Bank of England to slash rates from 4.5% to 2%
  6. Ensure that all taxpayer funded banks pass on the full cut immediately, which should encourage the others to follow or lose

My suggestion will cost a tiny fraction of what the government has already invested into the banking system and provide a tangible stimulus to the economic activity of this country. Above all, it may just ensure that we can watch the news and receive some good news. If the government introduced, or the other parties proposed such an initiative, I do not believe anyone, other than a few discredited bankers and economists (who already got it wrong), would criticise the move. The bottom line is it is our money and we should be allowed to keep more of it and decide where we will invest it.

Posted in Conservatives, General, Labour, Lib Dems | Comments (3)

Don’t let small businesses become a political football

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Don’t let small businesses become a political football

There is a real risk that the plight of small business, the so called SME (small and medium enterprises) are becoming a political football as each party attempts to outdo the other. Labour are saying they will “do whatever is necessary“, where have we heard that before? Then they put up a pittance to address the issue, to put this in perspective, the amount proposed is probably much less than they paid the consultants for advice on the banking bailout. I am not advocating state aid as such, but less government interference and an understanding of what makes small business tick.

David Cameron suggests that a 1% cut in national insurance contributions for companies employing less than 4 people. This he claims will save these businesses up to £600 per year! What? Is he serious, this would barely cover an organisations business rates for one month. He then suggests that small businesses should be allowed to defer VAT payment and PAYE etc., for up to 6 months. Yes, I agree, this will aid cashflow, but the reality is, for many who need to take advantage of this option, it will only delay the inevitable, leaving a large hole in the HMRC balance sheet.

What is clear, is that none of these ministers really have a clue how small businesses operate, what is important, or what policies will make a real difference. They seem to believe that a little tinkering here and there will make it look like they are doing something positive. Wrong, wrong, wrong! Our MP’s visit one or two businesses, ask a few questions and then try and portray themselves as in touch, or knowledgeable on the subject. Instead, they have had, at best, a very limited overview of a couple of businesses. There are 13.5m small and medium sized businesses, yet they talk to a handful, what is the point?

What is clear is that there are many ways in which government can aid small business, some initiatives will cost money, most will not. Some options will work for some businesses and others may only receive a small benefit, but it is something. That said, there has to be a starting point, and I would like to include my two penneth. Firstly we need to look at some hard facts, so that government, ministers and members of parliament can truly understand the risks of doing nothing or just tinkering with the issues. This subject is so important, that it needs to be addressed in the same way as the banking bailout, I am not talking about numbers, but effort and thought.

The UK’s 4.4m small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) are the engine room of our economy, accounting for 47% UK employment (13.5m), 99.7 per cent of all enterprises and 48.7% of UK Plc turnover. Within the SME sector, some 4.2m actually employ less than 10 employees and a further 167,000 less than 50. In fact, SME’s actually employ 60% of the ‘private sector’ workforce. It is, therefore, self-evident that small business is the primary vehicle for innovation which leads to new jobs, new industries and new wealth for this country and its people. Tangible and effective moves on issues such as tax, regulation, education and infrastructure are areas which are most likely to have a positive impact on small businesses. Only government can do this, because in most cases, they caused to problem in the first place.

It is worth noting that the government currently has in excess of 3000 ‘business support schemes’, yet the Federation of Small Business claims that just 4.4% of their respondents confirmed that they had used any of these schemes. This cannot, by any stretch of the imagination be called a success, but that is hardly surprising, with this number of schemes. Where is a small business to start? Okay, so the government has indicated that they want to rationalise this to around 100 schemes, but given few of these schemes have any tangible method to measure success, it is difficult to see how this government will determine which schemes to scrap.

Business Link is probably one of the best known and supported schemed, but even this ‘local’ initiative has many detractors, who complain that emails are not answered, those charged with supporting small business have little understanding of their needs and that there is very little depth within the organisation. This would imply that whilst the initiative has merit, it needs a vast overhaul.

So what would I do? Well I am going to put forward some of my ideas, some relatively simple, others rather more controversial and perhaps complex. Nonetheless, if we are to avoid a genuine catastrophe within the SME sector, it will require bold, new initiatives and the introduction of some former programmes that have been withdrawn by this government.

I believe Business Link is a good programme, but it truly lacks depth and promotion. There are a good number of semi-retired and retired business people and out in the market and their skills are going to waste. I believe Business Link should look to recruit these people and bring them on board on a casual or self-employed basis and utilise them as business mentors. Many will have sector experience and/or specific skill sets such as finance, sales, marketing and so on. To waste this resource is ridiculous and many, I am sure, will be grateful of the opportunity to get involved in something tangible and the additional income that could top up their pensions. Of course, the recruits don’t have to be retired, there is no reason why full-time, experienced business people should not be recruited to this programme.

In addition, I believe that Business Link should be able to provide small business with specific advice on key areas, such as sales, marketing, health & safety, legal, employment law, exports, finance and so on. I know that Business Link will claim that they already do this, but my point is that they should seek to employ the best, not the cheapest, so that the small businesses can have access to the best advice.

This government has wielded the stick over everyone ever since they came into office, particularly where it comes to HMRC and regulation. They do not appear to have understood, that most ‘normal’ people use and respond better to a combination of carrot and stick. The New Labour government has always and continues to act as a schoolyard bully, not supporters of small business. They are the first to claim to be business friendly and that may be the case where businesses can afford the services of lobbyists, but it is most certainly not the case for small business. This has go to stop. Government must act and act now to reduce the burden of red tape imposed on small business.

Here are my proposals, in no particular order.

  • Government must reduce personal tax for all by 5%. This will cost around £40bn over 5 years. However, it will reduce the pressure on businesses to increase wages, it will negate the public service sectors claims for higher wages to take account of higher inflation, so at least in this sector it will be self-financing and above all, it will (potentially) provide a natural stimulus to the economy. If people spend more, jobs can be saved and government will not have to pay out tax payer funded benefits. Instead, they will benefit from tax receipts through national insurance contributions, income tax, VAT and so on. Contrary to popular belief, this type of initiative introduced now may even be self-financing.
  •  Government must extend the ‘small business rate scheme’. Business rates are often the third largest expenditure for a small business, after wages and rent and proportionally higher for those with turnovers of less than £1m. I believe businesses with a turnover of less than £1m or employing less than 10 people should receive a 100% rebate, with a progressive programme for larger businesses. Furthermore, business should not have to apply for these rebates, they should be automatic, given many small businesses are not even aware that they have an entitlement.
  • There should be a cut in small business corporation tax (businesses with a turnover of less than £5m) from the proposed 22% (2009) to 17.5% and the introduction of a tax threshold (before tax is payable) of £50k
  • The VAT registration threshold should rise from £67k to £200k. HMRC, whilst retaining their vital role of collecting VAT revenues, should be directed to be supporters of business, in partnership, rather than assuming that every unpaid tax collector (anyone registered for VAT), is out to shaft them. They must also stop issuing threats to “wind up” companies that are a little late with their returns. A late return does not mean that the business is in danger of folding, it is more often than not, something that is considered a bind, a burden and therefore, not necessarily something at the top of the priority list. Fines for late returns from small business should be ceased immediately, except for persistent offenders, particularly in the current climate.
  • VAT rules on exports need to be simplified. Current HMRC will offer advice, but cannot be held responsible for it, unless they agree to put it in writing (a ruling). Missing Trader Fraud has now meant that HMRC assumes that everyone is trying to do something dodgy on exports. As a consequence, they make life very difficult, especially when it comes to Europe, because often HMRC will tell the trader that they must charge VAT, the European customer argues that this is wrong and the order is lost to the business and, of course, UK Plc. In addition, small business are expected to shoulder the financial burden if VAT cannot be recovered by HMRC, even if the HMRC provided the information that exempted a transaction. I know many companies that despair of HMRC when it comes to exports, so much so, that many now avoid European exports,rather than take on the VAT risk!
  • Unlike sole traders, for tax purposes, if you are a director of a limited company, you are an ’employee’ of the company. You are therefore liable to pay Class 1 NIC’s on your earnings. The limited company is also liable to pay Class 1 NIC’s as your ’employer’. This practice should cease for businesses that turnover less than £1m or employ less than 5 people.
  • Small business should be encouraged to take on the long term unemployed and those that in receipt of disability benefits (some 2.5m), but can work. Small business employers could be offered a full rebate on all employer NIC’s for employees that are classed in either of these categories. This will assist small businesses, increase the opportunities available for the long term unemployed and result in a massive reduction in the burden on the state from those who are in receipt of benefits, rather than contributing. This initiative could be self-funding or even offer a surplus.
  • Small business often have to use large commercial vehicles out of necessity, yet they are now being penalised as a consequence of the increased vehicle excise duty, under the guise of an environmental or green tax. This should be reduced to the lowest tariff for small businesses with a turnover of less than £5m
  • Government should understand that a ‘one size fits all’ approach to business is not appropriate, especially where employment laws are concerned and specifically in the case of businesses with a small workforce. For example, parental or maternity leave obligations may not adversely affect a company employing 100 or more people, but a small business employing 4 people, could lose 25% of its resources overnight. The employment laws must be relative to the size of the workforce and the regulations relaxed for all employers with a workforce of less than 50. Employees have a choice, if they want all of the benefits of parental leave, maternity leave, paid sick leave and so on, they must look to find a job with a larger employer.
  • Government bodies, local authorities, NHS trusts, agencies and so on, must be required to actively encourage trading with small, local businesses. Most small businesses are not aware of  supply opportunities with government agencies and if they are,  they find the paperwork too time consuming or complicated, especially for what may be low level or uncertain returns. Therefore, many do not pursue this opportunity. Businesses with a turnover of less that £1m should be given free access to www.supply2gov.uk, rather than charged £180. Many local authorities, for example, use the same suppliers as they have done for years, instead, they must be required to encourage new suppliers, they must assist these companies to complete the paperwork and offer constructive advice. Tenders have to remain open and unbiased, but the process of encouraging new local suppliers has to become a priority. Similarly, where possible local government bodies should be required to share their tenders amongst more companies, rather than using a single source.

Cashflow is important to small business. In fact, many small businesses fail or cannot expand, not because of a poor business model, but because of the pressures on cashflow. Invariably, this is the fault of larger companies that will not adhere to agreed payment terms, this problem now is all too common. The small business is often reluctant to chase too hard, in case the supplier refuses to place further orders. Government must legislate, to require all large companies, perhaps those with turnovers of over £5m, to pay on time and where they do not, offer a fast track legal recovery system for small businesses to recover their outstanding invoices.

Public companies should be required to sign up to an ‘ethical small business practice’, where they undertake to pay all SME’s businesses within 30 days. This objective should be audited by the firms auditors and included in the company’s year end accounts. Where public companies fail to meet these obligations, they should lose the support of investment funds and/or face fines based on turnover. Further’ all companies with a turnover of over £5m should be required to provide their ‘average payment terms’ to Companies House in the form of, for example: 1. Average payment terms 30 days., 2. Percentage paid within terms 85%. Legislation does already exist in part, but it is not enforced by Companies House.

Banks & Credit Card Processors
Two organisations that can have a significant impact on small businesses are banks and credit card processors and yet, they are very lightly regulated and, for the most part, operate a virtual monopoly in terms of financial support services to small business. Banks can change terms, conditions and rates on a whim and often do, whilst credit card processors, successfully pass of much of their financial risk in relation to fraud, directly on to the retailer, through a set of onerous terms and conditions.

Many small business operate with a bank overdraft. Banks can, in many cases, withdraw these facilities with 24 hours notice, change the risk profile requiring further security, higher charges or apply penal interest rates and/or the interest rates are variable. Government must legislate, alternatively the regulators must insist that banks offer their customers the alternative of a fixed rate of interest or variable on all bank overdrafts, reviewed annually. Banks must be required to provide small business at least 6 months notice of their intention to withdraw or reduce overdraft facilities. Banks must permit small business to convert, on request, overdrafts into short or medium term loans at rates no less favourable than the overdraft rates.

Government or the regulator must come up with a formula to ensure that interest rates are ‘reasonable’ taking account of the risk, available security and Bank of England rates. For example, many overdrafts are charged at very high rates, even though banks have personal guarantees and/or a fixed and floating charge over all business assets. Where a bank acts unreasonably, small businesses should be able to refer the matter to a fast-track arbitration service which is binding on both parties. Banks that ignore these rules should be open to litigation if a business suffers or fails.

Currently all business credit card processors have a similar set of terms and conditions. These terms, in effect, pass off the risk of fraud to the retailer. Even when the retailer has had the transaction ‘authorised’ by the card processor and followed all of the rules. The card processors have an appeals process, but this is long-winded and I am not aware of anyone that has ever ‘won’ their case.  It is estimated that credit card fraud costs small business upwards of £200m every year and the figure is rising rapidly with the advent of the Internet.

Card processors automatically charge the retailer, whenever there is a suspected fraud, it is then up to the retailer to demonstrate that they followed the rules. However, where the transaction is ‘cardholder not present’, even if the retailer has used a terminal to verify the validity of the card, the address, transaction amount and signature strip number…if it turns out to be a fraudulent transaction, the card processor re-charges the retailer. Worst still, the card processors, may take 6 weeks or more, before they re-charge the retailer, even then, the first time the retailer is aware of it is, invariably, when they receive their statement.

These terms would undoubtedly be considered unreasonable in a court of law, however, any business that needs to transact debit or credit cards, has little choice, because all of the card companies have the same onerous conditions attached. If the retailer complains, the card processor will just terminate the contract. Government must legislate, alternatively the regulator must investigate this unreasonable practice as a matter of urgency. Card processors that have approved a transaction, must be required to honour the transaction, unless they can provide incontrovertible proof that the retailer was party to the fraud.

Now, I know that I have not included everything here and I am sure that more ideas could be added. Equally, I am certain that it is possible to pick holes in some of my arguments or suggestions. Although I hope that anyone that wants to criticise will be constructive and perhaps, offer alternatives. What I am adamant about however, is that whatever steps are taken to assist small business, they must be bold, swift and meaningful. Not all of my suggestions will cost money, some just require new or tighter legislation. Some will be self-funding and other initiatives may cost money, at least in the short-term. However, to ignore the plight of this sector, is, in many ways, more risky that allowing the banks to fail. Too much of our economic well-being is reliant on the SME businesses, from GDP, to taxes and employment to enterprise. Politician’s that use this aspect of UK Plc as a football, do so at their peril!

Posted in Conservatives, General, Labour, Lib Dems | Comments (5)

Government bailout, take a breather and reflect

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Government bailout, take a breather and reflect

Now that Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling have committed some £500bn to the banks in loans, guarantees and shares, it is time to reflect, to allow the city, time to digest the level of this intervention before going any further. There is now a real risk that the government could become its own worst enemy, by saying they “will do whatever is necessary to stablise the UK economy”, they are sending the wrong message to the city. Yes, I mean the wrong message, city investors are not uninterested parties here. Whilst the taxpayer is shoring up balance sheets, buying up shares, rescuing companies and intervening in the money markets, the ‘city types’ have their own investment portfolios protected. The government is continuing to speculate at our expense, with limited or no risk to the investors.

As I have said before, I am no economist, I am no expert, but I have been blessed with some commonsense. This tells me that if you are constantly running at full pelt, you don’t have time to see what you have passed, what you have left behind and whether you are still in the race. The government must stop NOW, before they bankrupt this country. They have oiled the wheels and reduced much of the investor risk through these interventions and the substantial injections of cash underwritten by the UK taxpayer. No more open-ended promises.

Government must also look at which stocks are falling. For example, most people accept that we are about to face a world recession, therefore, you can expect organisations that are involved in commodities to see their share prices fall. And, of course, these are some of the largest companies, in terms of value, on the stock exchange. Add this to banking and financial stocks and of course we will see a massive fall in the value of the FTSE. On top of the so called banking crisis, a recession means that city experts will be looking at companies that will do well out of a downturn and those that won’t, this will then be reflected in their share price. So, given there is a recession looming, it is fair to assume that stock prices would have fallen anyway.

Virtually from day one, this government has used taxpayers money as if they had been given their very first credit card. They have gone on a spending spree, thinking they are rich and there is an endless money supply. Then, once they realised they had overspent or reached their credit limit, they simply came after the taxpayer for more money. As a consequence, this Labour government has set a poor example to everyone else, now we must all pay for our excesses…but that includes government who must haul back on their investment commitments, they must learn to live within their means, just like everyone else must do.

My concern, is that the current banking crisis has them on that road again, they think they can spend more and more of our future tax revenues in the name of saving us all from some type of doomsday scenario. Now I accept, some form of intervention was necessary, but this must have limits and I am worried that this government has exceeded those limits with an intervention that is worth at least as much as that provided by the American’s, who’s economy is 3 times the size of our own. It is also worth noting, that £500bn is more than double all tax receipts, based on the 2007 figure. Given we are likely to have much reduced tax revenues because of company losses (they can carry these forward to offset against future profits), falling employment and lower sales, this £500bn might end up being the equivalent of 3 years worth of tax receipts.

Now the government have told us there may be some upside for the taxpayer. I don’t like the word ‘may’, nor do I really trust this government to negotiate a good deal for the taxpayer. It has been suggested that this government has lost close to £110bn in poorly negotiated contracts, mistakes and failed projects. This record does not bode well for the taxpayer, when the same people are negotiating with experts. Lets hope, this time they have learned some lessons, though I will not hold my breath. But in the meantime, I would like to advice Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown to STOP, pause for thought, look at whether what you have done has had any positive affect and stop offering the city a blank cheque, no-one could blame them for taking advantage.

Posted in General | Comments (5)

Gordon Brown, there will be no return to Tory Boom and Bust

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Gordon Brown, there will be no return to Tory Boom and Bust

There is an inevitability in politics that your unguarded, or newor that matter your carefully delivered words will come back to haunt you. Here are some of Gordon Brown’s.

During his Labour Party conference speech in 2000, Gordon Brown said “We will not put hard won economic stability at risk. No return to short-termism. No return to Tory boom and bust” and he went on to say “why did the Tory party give Britain twenty years of stop-go, twenty years of boom and bust. It is Labour that is now the party for stability and growth.”

Now we know that whenever anything goes wrong, Mr Brown always blames the “Tory party” or now, he prefers to say that our problems are as a consequence of “world economic issues and the credit crunch”. Okay, for a change, there is some truth in that statement, but that is only a recent phenomena, it does not really answer the question of how we got into this position of boom and bust.

On Gordon Brown’s watch, we have seen house prices rise some 200% (23% in 2003 alone) from 1997 to 2007, we have seen a massive increase in the availability of credit and people have felt relatively wealthy as a consequence of the increase in value of their homes. Easy credit meant that many people could remortgage their homes so that they could buy a new car or go on a fancy holiday. During the same period, 1997 to 2007, average wages rose by just 52%, so it was quite obvious that consumer spending had nothing to do with increased wealth through rising wages.

People were offered interest free credit for car and electronic purchases, 125% mortgages, equity release programmes and would receive credit card offers through the post every day. Because many people considered that the increase in their property value was a one way bet, they continues to borrow, believing that they could release equity as and when they needed to. Experts were telling us time and again that the level of consumer debt was at record levels and wasn’t sustainable. Gordon Brown chose to ignore this advice, in spite of the assurance he gave in his conference speech and on numerous occasions since, that he would not allow a return to boom and bust, what he termed a Tory disease.

Gordon Brown knew that the consumer boom was financed by debt, much of which was secured against property prices, which he knew could be volatile, he know that savings were down and debt has spiralled. But he did nothing, previous governments had put in credit controls to address these issues and risks, he sat there preening his feathers and claiming credit for growth figures, yet ignoring that one day it would all come to a dramatic end. It is unlikely he understood just how dramatic that would be, but he knew it would end up is a “bust”.

Gordon Brown’s relationship with prudence was a mere dalliance, personally, I am at a complete loss as to why political commentators and the tabloid press continue to refer to him as a good chancellor, an iron chancellor or one who places prudence first. At the same time as this country was experiencing an economic boom, financed on credit, he himself was, in spite of the fact that he had increasing tax revenues, on a government spending and borrowing spree. Fancy footwork ensured that the PFI initiatives, which will cost us £170bn between now and 2032, did not end up recorded as government debt, but it is still there and it has to be paid. In the good times he should have been repaying government debt, to place us in a better position when the inevitable “bust” came, he did not, he ignored it and continued to spend.

Rising commodity prices and the credit crunch have exacerbated the problem, but ask anyone with a little understanding of basic economics and they would have told you that the crunch was going to happen anyway, debt financed growth was not sustainable even in dreamland that was New Labour. Gordon Brown inherited, whatever he says, a steady and sustainable economy, he just blew it!

It is also worth noting, that manufacturing in this country has been in decline, yes, even under this government and our economy is heavily reliant on banking and financial services. Two areas that are under significant and sustained pressure. It remains to be seen how this will affect employment, tax revenues and our balance of payment deficits. With many banks and financial institutions making substantial losses, these will transfer, not just into an immediate loss of tax revenues, but, because they can accumulate these losses, a further reduction of tax revenues in the coming years.

Gordon Brown’s economic credentials and reputation for prudence is in tatters and we shall be paying the price long after he has left office.

Posted in General, Labour | Comments (6)

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