September 2008 Archives
As regular readers of this blog will know, I firmly believe that our tax system is too complex and a serious disincentive to business growth in this country. I was delighted, therefore, to be invited to take part in a British Chambers of Commerce Breakfast Forum at the Conservative Conference in Birmingham. The topic of the forum was "Simpler tax for Maximum Business Growth" and it was attended by Philip Hammond MP (Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury) and John Redwood MP.
The Chambers of Commerce hit the nail directly on the head in choosing to air this topic which is vitally important to their members.
Welcome policy makers, journalists, influencers, opinion formers....in short, everyone that the City of Birmingham has always wanted to get to see our city........and love it.
Well here they are, thousands and thousands of them. The Conservative Conference is indeed causing excitement.
And I know that Birmingham will not let itself down. And here is a countdown of some of the greatest things about this city which they will love:
1. The bill will not arrive before you have finished your coffee after dinner
2. The ICC is actually a world class venue
3. Authentic Baltis
4. If you ask someone for directions, people will be happy to help
Ok over to you, what else will they love?
It has today been announced that BBC newsreader Moira Stuart will take over from BBC presenter Adam Hart-Davies as the new face of HMRC's tax advertisements.
She will follow in Adam Hart-Davies' footsteps in urging taxpayers to file their returns on time but she will also be urging them to file online.
I am all in favour of using technology to reduce work and speed things up but with recent stories about lack of computer security by HMRC ringing in their ears, some taxpayers may be sceptical about adopting online filing.
Currently taxpayers still have a choice. It is almost inevitable that eventually they will not. If so, it is vital that HMRC work on increasing customers' (their new name for taxpayers) confidence in the system.
Would you file your return online?
The other interesting point surrounding the announcement is that in a Radio Five Live interview earlier this year Adam Hart-Davies, whose slogan was, "Tax doesn't need to be taxing," stated that he believed that the system was, "too complex especially for the self-employed," and that "VAT is absurdly complicated."
Is this the reason for the change of face we might ask?
My colleague over on Lifestyle (look to the right and scroll down), Jo Ind is having a bad week understanding the financial news.
Believe me Jo, you're not the only one. I read the newspaper three times yesterday and I still don't get this 'short selling' stuff. Thank goodness for children's tv.
Events this week, and in particular comments from the Liberal Democrats at their Conference in Bournemouth, have only served to further confirm that tax is now the clear political battleground between the parties.
Cynics might say that at least this has given the NHS a period of 'respite care'. Better for the physical health of the country you may suggest; but what about its economic health?
Two suggestions so far by the Liberal Democrats have been a high speed rail link to Birmingham funded by a motorway tax and cuts in the rate of income tax funded by higher taxes for the 'better off' a clampdown on tax avoidance and 'Whitehall' cuts.
If the current credit crunch has taught ordinary householders in the UK anything, it has been that the Country cannot survive long term on ever increasing levels of debt. It has to cut its coat to the available cloth.
Politicians, however, seem to have this concept of deciding what they want to do, and then trying to find the way in which goose can be plucked to pay for those plans with the least hissing and commotion.
Would it be too outrageous to suggest that politicians should also start to think this way and move away from trying to pluck the goose by ever increasing stealth taxes? In other words, they decide on what is a reasonable and acceptable level of taxation on the population and then see how to get the very best value from that money.
Please excuse any typos in this blog posting. It may be because of margarine on my fingers or keyboard.
Collecting the 'cooking for schools' vouchers is a messy business.
I don't know whether its since my children have been of school age that I have noticed this more, or whether it has been a recent trend - but a growing number of companies seem to think the way to win our hearts and minds is to give things to local schools.
Whilst I don't have kids of my own, and so have not yet faced the dilemma, I am aware of the difficulties many parents face paying the mark up which travel firms charge during the school holidays. And whilst watching the coverage of holidaymakers stranded by the collapse of XL over the weekend, I was struck by how many of the families affected had children who would otherwise be at school.
In England, government policy is to allow up to 10 days of term time holiday per year, although individual schools' rules may vary and you need the school's permission in any event.
Opinion is divided as to whether or not it is a good idea. On the one hand, the educational purists argue that taking kids out of school is not to be condoned at any cost and that maximising a child's educational opportunities has to be the priority. The government is certainly not in favour. On the other, there is a strong argument that travel can broaden the mind and that it is better to have some experience of travel (be it within the UK or abroad) in term time rather than none at all.
It is certainly a contentious issue. Lots of parents feel that they are priced out of the holiday market at peak times; the travel industry responds by arguing that prices are simply a reflection of supply and demand - holidays will cost more during busy periods.
A key concern for me is the question of how it all affects the child in question. We are fortunate enough to live in a first-world economy which provides schooling for everyone - although I must admit to not feeling that fortunate on a number of occasions during my time at school. Education presents everyone with a fantastic opportunity - and in simple terms, the better you do, the more choices you have as to your chosen career when you are older. Maybe my views will change in time, but I would have thought that the potential benefits of making the best of your education outweigh those to be gained from two weeks in the sun.
Redundancy can be a terrible thing (we know a thing or two about it in these parts) and I wouldn't wish it on anybody but I wonder how much sympathy there will be for those now being shown the door following the collapse of Lehman Brothers.
This year City workers shared more than ÃÂ£13bn in bonuses - equating to ÃÂ£27k for every worker - and knowing what we know today, one has to ask why.
Yesterday Stephen Green from HSBC called for bankers only to be be handsomely remunerated when a deal is successful - it might surprise many to hear that this isn't already the case. Either way reform looks a certainty but will it prevent this kind of cataclysmic collapse happening again?
Debating the big issues is never easy. Perhaps that's why we elect our leaders, choosing people capable of seeing and delivering a vision (?).
I've seen important staff meetings called to give employees a voice in the future structure of an organisation dissolve into small-minded debates about the tea and coffee fund - because people can't grasp or don't want to face up to the bigger issue.
What's more important? The future shape of public transport, or the colour of the trams? The development strategy for a town centre, or the colour of the lampposts? Both these are based on a true stories.
So the Birmingham Post report of a city council debate on climate change makes very depressing reading.
The case of the Burden sisters has highlighted the problems currently being caused by the UK Inheritance Tax (IHT) regime, particularly given rising house prices, an exempt amount of only ÃÂ£312,000 for a single person and a tax rate following this of 40%!
No one can fail to feel sympathy for the octogenarian sisters facing the prospect of having to sell their long-time home in order to pay IHT when the first one of them dies. Bereavement is bad enough without having worry about the roof over your head.
The fact is, however, that their attempt to change the system and obtain the same IHT rights as married, gay and lesbian couples, was doomed to fail in the Courts. Furthermore, I see no prospect of HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) willingly granting the same relief.
Why not, you may ask?