Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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Marking the government’s homework: the Brexit Impact Assessment

October 18, 2019

Impact assessment – no, don’t fall asleep yet – is a boring technical discipline. I know: I used to be the impact assessment specialist for HMRC and for all Treasury tax measures. The point is to regulate how governments regulate – the IA process is actually designed to be a brake or anchor on introducing new legislation. Supposedly you think through the impacts as you design the policy, so that by the time you get to the stage of introducing legislation you’ve already worked out the costs and benefits, got your stakeholders on side, and checked that you aren’t proposing anything that damages small businesses or has equality implications or offends against any other government priority. Actually in civil service terms it’s a fun job if you don’t mind a bit of unpopularity – you get to tell MUCH more senior people that they can’t ride their hobby horse till they fill in this form, and you get to play “my boss is senior to your boss” sometimes all the way up to the Minister’s private office, at which point they tell you to go away and come back when you’ve worked it all out.

So does the Brexit agreement need an impact assessment? Well, does it have an impact on businesses? Yes it does. Is that impact more than £5 million a year? The last draft showed an impact in the billions, so, yes. Can you get out of it by saying Brexit is self-evidently a good thing so a further impact assessment isn’t required? Er, no, that’s not how it works.
(Side note: just a thought, but did they actually negotiate this new agreement without knowing what the costs and benefits of each change might be?)
What can anyone do about it? Judicial review – governments have said publicly (for example this government, here in this document) that they’ll do impact assessments and under what circumstances.
…and here’s the catch. You can bring a judicial review on the grounds of “legitimate expectation” – citizens can expect governments to follow their own rules, and the courts can force them to go back and do their homework properly under those circumstances. But parliament trumps courts: if a change is legislated, you have to assume that parliament understood they hadn’t got the impact assessment they were entitled to expect but decided to do it anyway.
In other words, my reading of the situation is that if someone wanted to bring a judicial review this afternoon they might plausibly argue that parliament couldn’t reasonably vote on the Brexit deal without an updated impact assessment showing the projected costs and benefits. But when the courts close today it’s too late – if the agreement passes on Saturday, then the presumption is that the parliament that passed it knew what they were doing…
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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.”