Friday, 28 May 2010

Introducing Direct Democracy – better government for Hull & the East Riding

In 2008, I heard Douglas Carswell speak about ‘The Plan’, a book he co-authored with Daniel Hannan. I immediately bought a copy and after reading it thought this would never become government policy. It didn’t make any difference which party was in power (I didn’t think at the time we would have a coalition at the next election), self interest would always override the idealism leaders have in opposition. Giving away the power you now hold – and have been waiting years to hold – generally never happens.

The new government has made a good start, although I am disappointed I will not be asked in a referendum if I want an elected mayor for Hull. I do. I also think people in the East Riding should have the chance to decide if they want an elected mayor too. I would campaign with vigour for a yes vote in a referendum, but the whole point of direct democracy is letting people decide how they want to be governed. If they want an elected Mayor; let them have one. If they do not; then they won’t.

The plans set out on the Direct Democracy website would make a huge difference to a city like Hull, and would engage more residents in the political process. In local elections, only around a third of registered voters bother to visit the polling stations. Apathy in the political process in rife. So many think if they vote nothing will change, and who can blame them? The top-heavy, one-size-fits-all system of government we have in this country is largely responsible for this apathy.

Take a look at the website and read how these plans will positively affect you and the communities in which you live; and sign-up for the newsletter too. This is the best way we can join together and campaign for better government.

How long do you work for the tax man?

Thursday, 20 May 2010

All for one and one for all

This is from Big Brother Watch. Spend a minute or so to find out how the Ghanaian government is promoting ID cards. I haven’t laughed as much in a long time.


Costs rise for new Police Divisional HQ in Hull

Earlier this week I reported how Humberside Police were going to spend £25,000 on artwork outside their new – yet to be built – divisional headquarters in Hull. The good news today is the authority has backed down. Unfortunately, along with the good news there is some bad news. 

It has also been announced the cost of building this new police station has risen from £26 million to £33 million. I thought the first figure was excessive, but a £7 million hike really is unacceptable. The question on everyone’s lips is: how are they planning to spend this money? The answer is: we don’t know. Humberside Police are very tight lipped on this subject, but hopefully we will be better informed next week, however, looking at the plans it appears the new police station will have beautiful landscaped gardens. It wouldn’t surprise me if a fountain isn’t built to make us feel good when we go in to report a crime.

What really disappoints me is at a time when police resources are stretched, and nationally there are more civilians working for police authorities than warranted officers, the Humberside Police Authority feels it is appropriate to allow costs to rise on capital projects. One wonders when some public bodies will get it. We are trying to reduce costs and bring down the huge government debt that will soon pass the £800 billion mark.

As I said earlier, I should have more information on the breakdown of costs for the new HQ next week. I will report back when I have the figures to hand. 

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Humberside Police to spend £25K on artwork

Humberside Police are planning to build a new divisional headquarters in Hull, at an estimated cost of £26 million. The existing HQ in Queens Gardens is apparently no longer fit for service. The Taxpayers’ Alliance will be keeping on a close eye on the plans for the new HQ, for we all know major building projects involving public money  are regularly completed over-budget, with our money wasted in a variety of ways.

The Hull Daily Mail reports today that the police authority intends to set aside £25,000 to commission a piece of public art to stand in the plaza leading up to the main entrance. I am not an aficionado of modern sculpture, so I don’t know what £25K buys you these days, however, I do know placing a sculpture outside the main entrance to a police station is not necessary expenditure. I was talking to two police officers last year and they told me how stretched they were on manpower, so instead of wasting money, why doesn’t Humberside Police use it to recruit an additional police officer? Instead of spending £26 million on a state-of-the-art HQ, why doesn’t it scale back its plans and use the money saved to assist in fighting crime?  Perhaps I’m old fashioned, but isn’t fighting crime the main reason we have a police force?

Friday, 14 May 2010

East Riding Council to freeze council tax in 2011/12

In February, the East Riding of Yorkshire Council announced a 1.5% increase in council tax for 2010/11, saying it couldn’t find anymore efficiency savings and that it was dipping into reserve funds to limit the rise. Today it is reported the council leader, Stephen Parnaby, has announced a freeze in council tax for 2011/12. He said freezing the amount people pay would be achieved through savings being made across the authority, including £10 million over the last financial year.

The last financial year was 2009/10, the year in which he said he couldn’t make anymore savings. My response is to ask if it this easy to save money, why isn’t there going to be a reduction in council tax? I have previously stated that the council is overstaffed with managers, and the scope for efficiency savings, year on year, is great. If the council didn’t waste public money by making discretionary payments to senior officers’ pension funds, then there would be more scope to reduce council tax.

I was trying to work out why these savings were not passed in the current financial year, then I realised in May 2011 the full council is up for re-election. I’m not saying this is the reason, but it doesn’t do the Tory cause any harm going into local elections on the back of a council tax freeze – or possible reduction. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

A message from Matthew Elliott, Chief Executive of the Taxpayers’ Alliance

Tax policy under the coalition

Britain has a new Government - and the first true coalition Government in over half a century. Whilst the ink is barely dry on the deal, and the full Cabinet and policy platform is yet to be announced, the first bits of information are surfacing about the tax policies they are likely to pursue.

On public spending, where many absolutely crucial decisions must be taken to battle the deficit and then reduce the national debt, we have yet to hear anything (other than an encouraging rumour about removing the Tory ringfence on NHS spending). We, of course, will be lobbying and campaigning hard to see the ideas for spending cuts contained in the TPA Manifesto and How to Cut Public Spending (and still win an election) adopted - but we won't really know more until the emergency budget in around 6 weeks.

So what do we know on the tax side so far?

There were three key tax policy issues at stake going into the coalition negotiations, one of them Lib Dem and two Conservative. They are: the £10,000 income tax threshold (Lib Dem policy); scrapping Brown's National Insurance Rise (Conservative policy); raising the inheritance tax threshold (Conservative).

Each of these has been the subject of detailed negotiations, and here is the current state of play as we understand it:

£10,000 income tax threshold

This has survived the coalition deal, and has been taken up by both parties, widely being reported as a "priority". This is excellent news - it was among the most radical tax policies put forward during the campaign, and the Conservatives really missed a trick by not making it their own in the first place. It is both simple and sizeable, allowing the existing workforce to keep more of their own money - to the tune of £700 for the average worker - and providing a meaningful incentive for people to leave benefits and move into employment.

Scrapping Brown's National Insurance Rise

This has been a big rallying call - rightly - for the Conservatives. It's a tax on jobs, which is the last thing the country needs at the moment. Sadly, this proposal has only half-survived the negotiations, with the plan now apparently being to scrap the rise in the employers' national insurance but not the employees' share. So now it's just a tax rise on working, rather than a tax rise on employing someone, which is only a little better than Brown's original decision. The new Government are apparently saying that this is "offset" by their plan to increase the income tax threshold, but that means it is blunting the impact of that threshold change.

Raising the Inheritance Tax threshold

This has been a massive issue for the TPA, for the public, for the media and, latterly, for the Conservative Party. It's never been a fringe issue, and the Conservatives seem to have forgotten very quickly that when George Osborne announced it, the overwhelming popularity of the policy produced a surge in their poll rating, and prevented Brown calling an election which he may well have otherwise won. Indeed, you could say that the Inheritance Tax pledge was crucial to the Tories reaching Downing Street this week. It is dismaying, therefore, that it has been "put on the back burner" by the coalition with apparently no intention to propose it in the next five years. The millions who oppose this Death Tax will be disappointed, and the message of cutting taxes to encourage aspiration is taking a big hit. We will continue campaigning for Inheritance Tax to be abolished outright.

What next?

It's good news that the Liberal Democrats have forced the Conservatives to take up their Income Tax policy, but a great shame that the Tories have watered down the plans on National Insurance and booted Inheritance Tax into the long grass.

Perhaps this is down to a nervousness about the state of the public finances. Undoubtedly close scrutiny over the next few days and weeks could turn up some hidden nasties. However, the run up to the emergency budget will offer plenty of opportunities to identify new, larger spending cuts. The coalition must pursue the Google Government transparency agenda, which will bring the public into the process of identifying waste. Furthermore, they must listen to and absorb the proposals coming from ourselves and others. If they do that, I believe they could deliver all three of the above tax cuts - and taxpayers would thank them for it.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Together we’re keeping the pressure on East Riding of Yorkshire Council

A big thank you to all supporters who attended the protest rally outside County Hall, Beverley, last Monday. I’m sorry I wasn’t there. As some of you will be aware, I was unexpectedly admitted to hospital for the holiday weekend, and a big thank you goes to Matthew Elliott and Sara Rainwater for coming up from London and filling my shoes. A big thank you also goes to my better half, Becky, for making the placards that looked great on the television, and I’m sure they looked as great for those of you there in person.

It is fair to say I am not the most popular person in County Hall. Many councillors regard the TPA as a nuisance, preventing them for spending our money in any way they see fit. The leadership and cabinet have also become accustomed to making decisions in secret, and they are not used to proper scrutiny. Staring at the disinfectant of light, many of them are shielding their faces, hoping the light will once again turn to darkness so they can return to business as usual.

The leader of the council, Stephen Parnaby, has promised a review into discretionary payments. This is welcome news and we in the Hull & East Riding TPA will make sure no more discretionary payments are made in the future. If any member of staff wishes to take early retirement, I wish them well, but they have to realise the taxpayer is no longer prepared to top-up their pension pots.

We will also be keeping the pressure on the council to ensure senior officers never again receive large inflation busting pay rises and we will be campaigning for a reduction in pay too. If the leadership say it can’t be done, they only need to glance in the direction of Hull. Over the last few years, Hull City Council has reduced the number of managers and senior officers, resulting in a reduction in the salary bill and this year a freeze in council tax. It can be done and decisions can and should me made in a spirit of openness and transparency.

On a final note, all East Riding Conservative councillors received an e-mail from the secretary of the Tory group, Cllr Felicity Temple. She told them if they attended the rally it would be seen as an act of disloyalty to the leader and the group. Anyone attending would also lose any additional responsibilities they currently hold, such as the chairmanship of a scrutiny committee. As a result, none of the Conservative councillors who had planned to attend the rally turned up, with the exception of Cllr Gary Shores.  Many of them were terrified they would be hauled in front of the standards board for simply voicing their opposition to the discretionary award. If you need any evidence that something needs to change in County Hall, then you have it in this e-mail from Cllr Temple.

I will be contacting supporters in Yorkshire this week and discussing with them the practical ways they can help us move forward. The East Riding of Yorkshire Council may want the TPA to go away. We are, of course, going nowhere.