Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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The Palace of Westminster

May 8, 2019

The government has published a “Government response to the report of the Joint Committee on the Draft Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill

What’s this about? Well, essentially the Palace of Westminster – the building that houses the House of Lords, the House of Commons and various offices, chapels and halls – is falling down. It’s a fire risk, bits of it keep falling off and narrowly missing people, and it’s a warren of unsuitable spaces with rubbish access and facilities.

It’s also, apparently, a World Heritage Site (which seems bizarre to me as it was only built in the nineteenth century albeit on top of some medieval buildings and incorporating some remnants) but which means it can’t just be left to rot.

Have we really got between £3-6 BILLION to spend on a building, though, however historic?

Usually the government’s answer to anything expensive is to offload it. Why aren’t we preserving the building by flogging it off to someone else, in the way that the County Hall buildings opposite were preserved? Give it to a hotel group for a peppercorn and let them spend the money?

If you look at more modern parliament buildings like the Scottish Parliament or the EU Parliament they are arranged differently, usually in a semi circle to facilitate civilised discussion rather than the yah-boo-suckery of the two-sides-two-swords-lengths-apart Commons. They have microphones that work and electronic voting systems that don’t rely on parliamentarians being wheeled through the lobbies “sick bucket on lap and high on morphine

So here’s a thought. There’s a perfectly adequate set of offices and chambers across the square, at the 100 Parliament Street building that houses the Treasury and other assorted Departments.

Move Parliamentarians into that.

There’s also a tragically underused circular car park at the heart of the building. Use that to build a twenty-first century debating chamber. Don’t faff about commissioning a new design. There’s an 800 seat theatre in the round sitting in the middle of the Royal Exchange building in Manchester, built in 1976 for a million quid. It’s a proven design using proven technology. A million quid in 1976 is about, what, seven hundred million now. Appoint an architect to oversee the project and give them a fixed seven hundred million budget and a firm closing date, and let them get on with it.

The Treasury? Move it into the Foreign Office building next door. Move the Foreign Office into the next building down Whitehall and so on, till the unlucky (lucky?) losers get to move into the Lord Moon of the Mall pub at the end of the road.

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Till we have faces

March 13, 2019

Brexit has sucked the life out of the last  three years of government and here we are, nothing done, no energy for doing.

Here’s a thought. If a jury can’t reach a conclusion there’s no dishonour in a re-trial. This Parliament will never agree on the May deal, a no deal, a people’s vote or any other possible outcome.

So let’s stop. Don’t ask the EU for a postponement, which would need the unanimous agreement of the other EU members and which they have already said would come with conditions. No: let’s withdraw Article 50 and then do it right.

Set up a Royal Commission to look at what Brexit means: we want from it, how we will act during any transition period and after, the risks and rewards. What May should have done after the election, essentially, so there’s cross party agreement. The Royal Commission should also take advice from a Citizens’ Jury, as was done in Ireland on the abortion debate, an issue at least as toxic as Brexit.

The police investigation into any wrongdoings during the referendum should continue alongside the Commission and any prosecutions should go ahead independent of the Commission’s deliberations.

There would be another election in the usual course of events but campaigning would be on the issues – tax, spending, welfare, education, NHS, defence… and not on the slow grind of Brexit.

A new Parliament would look at the Royal Commission’s plan of action and then vote on whether to trigger Article 50 again, this time with a clear road map of agreed actions, or whether the new proposals should be put back to a new referendum.

One tiny snag, as I’m sure you have noticed… in order to withdraw Article 50, Parliament – this Parliament – would have to vote to do so…

 

 

 

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Interlude

December 4, 2017

Let’s take a break from the Budget TIINs for a moment and look at the open consultations here.

There are fourteen open consultations, most of them from last week.

How, exactly, does anyone envisage this is going to work, please? Are representative bodies really going to be able to consult with their members before Christmas? Or in January (tax return season, remember?)

Question for the group: is the quality of HMRC legislation improving, or deteriorating, do we think? And does adequate consultation tend to make the resulting legislation better, or worse?

Just a thought

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Legislative v administrative

June 12, 2017

There’s a hung parliament.  Things are moving quickly: in my head, I imagine someone taking on a new job, running “legislative affairs” like Josh Lyman  in the West Wing.  Someone whose job it is to ring round the new MPs to see if they will stand for this policy or that, as each new idea for the Queen’s Speech has to be fought through separately.

Leaving aside my fantasies about there being someone competent and grown up behind the scenes, let’s look for a moment at what a hung parliament means for taxes?

Three things.  First of all, there’s unlikely to be any huge legislative change.  It’s entirely possible that the proposals to make it compulsory for businesses to keep their records on an app or computer programme and update HMRC four (five?) times a year, MTD (“Making Tax Digital”) for short, will fall.  Why would anyone back MTD when it is going to be as popular as a cup of cold sick with small businesses once they learn how it will affect them?  Kick it down the road and make it Someone Else’s Problem, would be my instinct.

Second, the difficulty in making legislative change is unlikely to apply to actual tax rates: there are different rules.  But then why would a “continuity” government want to change the rates they themselves introduced five minutes ago?  They may have to give sweeties to their supporters (abolition of APD for Northern Ireland, would be my best guess from the weekend press).

But the third thing is that administratively, things will carry on much as before.  The rule for the Civil Service is to carry on doing your job until someone tells you differently.  So the idiotic decision to carry on with the “building our futures” plan and move HMRC into big lumps instead of a distributed network of local offices will probably carry on.  There will be a new Minister, after all.  (Jane Ellison lost her seat so there will be a new Financial Secretary to the Treasury but at the time of writing I can’t see an announcement of who replaces her) so there is no-one with a vested interest in saying “no” and the inertia of “keep calm and carry on” may let this go through.

I think that’s a shame: you may not. But what IS a shame is that there will be no will to change the way policy is made. When the coalition government came in there was a will to do things differently and the political space to think them through . No-one had a vested interest in continuity but in Getting Things Done. So we had Making Tax Policy Better and the invention of the TIIN. Sigh. Ah well, business as usual, at least for a while.

 

 

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Your Friday moment of zen…

May 6, 2016

I’m sorry to do this to you, but I have a terrible ear worm:
Panamana (tune: “Ma na ma na”, the Muppets)
Panamana
Mossack Fonsecka
Panamana
Dave Cameron…
Panamana
And then George Osborne, the expats, the non-doms, big business and the multi nation als

Wealth doesn’t trickle down, it just gets stashed
Just gets stashed
Just gets stashed….

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Panamanorama

April 5, 2016

Day.  A plane takes off.  Our reporter looks manfully into the camera.  “Tax haven,” he says.  He walks down a sunlit beach towards a generic office building.  “Look,” he says, “why would a lawyer have an office in a tax haven?”

Night.  A plane is landing, silhouetted against a London skyline.  Our reporter is seen in profile, sitting in his car, looking manfully at a pile of documents in a folder on the seat beside him.  “Hundreds of thousands of documents,” he says.

Day.  Our reporter is walking alongside another white man, on a path through a field.  “But did you?” he says.  “Look,” the other man says, “I have already emailed you the answers to your questions and I’m not going to give an interview.  Now can you go away please?”  “Yes, but DID YOU???” asks the reporter.  “Go away,” the man says, going through a gate into a garden.  The reporter stands outside the gate and looks mournfully into the camera.  “Well, did he?” he asks.  “We may never know.”

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Spending review

November 25, 2015

It fascinates me that there are people and organisations that don’t take twitter seriously.  Although often it’s just a bit of fun (and occasionally a screaming pit of insanity), it’s also the place where you can see the first draft of politics – which is itself the first draft of history – being hashed out.

For example are you on the #spendingreview or #SR15 hashtag?  The BBC and most of the people I follow on twitter seem to be using #spendingreview which is comprehensible but longer and takes a chunk out of your 140 characters, whereas the Treasury and the George Osborne twitter feeds are using #SR15 which is short but muggle-exclusionary.  If that’s a thing.  (Well it is now).  More follows.  Probably.

(By the way I’m live blogging this, and it’s the first time I’ve done so.  If you’ve subscribed to the feed and find it’s sending you multiple emails, you might want to unsubscribe for a bit or at least ignore anything that comes to you from tiintax before the end of the spending review speech)

12.30  Here we go.

All I’m getting from the first few minutes is security, security, security – sounds a bit…. no, Godwin’s law.  And a notable lack of verbs.  I wish governments would start employing speech writers who would write actual speeches and not bullet point lists.

12.46 a giant sneer at Labour over borrowing £8bn less than forecast so “mending the roof while the sun shines”.  Where did this idiotic roof metaphor come from?  What metaphorical sun is shining on the country at present?

Next the tax credits.  I can’t pretend to understand the detail from the speech alone, but what I think I heard was, we’re not going ahead with the changes to tax credits because they’ll all be washed out by the introduction of the universal credit.

“HMRC is making efficiencies of 18% of its own budget”  Good grief, are we taking the putative savings from closing down the network offices *before* the putative improvements in digital service that will allow the savings to be made???

Fighting tax evasion… seems to mean some kind of action on disguised employment.  Which will be interesting. And there was some kind of commitment to make CGT payable within 30 days of the disposal of residential property.  The detail of that will be interesting – main residence relief means most residential property doesn’t incur CGT surely?  And if we’re talking about property development, why only residential and not offices etc?

13.00 Social care: two billion more, but it comes from Local Authorities sticking a hypothecated 2% onto council tax.  So the government won’t be unpopular about it, just the local authorities, so that’s all right, yes??

13.05ish Osborne sneers at Scotland, or more specifically at what a Scottish spending review would have looked like (given the fall in oil prices) if there had been a different result in the referendum.  Have weird deja vu, till I realise he’s saying exactly what Cameron said towards the end of PMQs.  they’re plagiarising each other’s speeches now?  Or do they learn the insults and sneers in the same bullet-pointed list they take their talking points from?

All right, why is hypothecating the tampon tax a problem?  Because tampons are not “luxury items” and the EU needs to get its act together to recategorise them into the nil rate band for VAT.  But Osborne crowing that he’s going to donate the VAT raised to women’s charities is – as I said on twitter – patronising bollocks (and, yes, I use the gendered language deliberately).  Because why do women have to pay the bill for violence against women?  Why is violence against women only a cause of concern for women?  He’s conflating different issues and trying to make himself look good.  Must check later to see if the Macho Fund (for guide dogs for servicemen and something to do with Winston Churchill?  My womb was wandering too much to take in the detail) is bigger than the Gurlydosh.

Extra stamp duty on buy to lets.  Interesting.  “We will consult on the details” is code for “we haven’t worked out how to do it yet” you understand.

Now some infantile gamesmanship on the police.  Suggest you’ll be making huge cuts to the police.  When Labour suggest cuts should be no more than 10%, recast it as “we have had representations” from the other side to cut the police by 10% – we’re cutting to zero.  Childish and insulting.  And followed by hideous baying sounds from the government benches.  Sometimes I’m ashamed we let these people represent us.

I’m going to take a walk and cool off a bit.  See you soon.