Crickhowell’s tax plan: an example of ‘people power’ raising awareness of injustice and HMRC’s failures

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Crickhowell has an independent high street with very few of the trading names which now dominate look-alike urban and suburban commercial centres. The town made news earlier this year after offering shares to residents at £50 each to buy their Grade II listed Corn Exchange pub from Punch Taverns to avoid it being used as a convenience store by one of the large retail chains.

The FT reports that the town’s traders, including a salmon smokery, local coffee shop, book shop, optician and bakery have now submitted tax plans to HMRC, using the offshore arrangements favoured by multinationals. They hope that their ‘tax rebellion’ will spread to other towns forcing the Government to tackle how Amazon, for example, paid £11.9 million tax last year on £5.3 billion of UK sales.

The details of the scheme are not in the public domain, but townspeople say it involves shifting intangible assets to the Isle of Man and setting up a trading arm in the Netherlands.

High street coffee shop owner Steve said: ‘I have always paid every penny of tax I owe, and I don’t object to that. What I object to is paying my full tax when my big name competitors are doing the damnedest to dodge theirs.’ Starbucks, for example, has paid £8.6million in UK corporation tax since it opened its first shop in London’s Kings Road in 1998, funnelling revenues/royalties out of the UK and into the Netherlands and Switzerland where they have been offered better tax deals.

Retailers are ‘trying to create a level playing field’ by changing the law

Jo Carthew, who runs Crickhowell’s Black Mountain Smokery told the Independent: “We do want to pay our taxes because we all use local schools and hospitals but we want a change of law so everyone pays their fair share”.

Samantha Devos of Number Eighteen café cites the example of Facebook, which paid less than £5000 in corporate tax last year, according to the government’s ‘tax gap’ report, and insists that spending cuts would not be needed if big companies paid their tax.Steve Askew, the local baker, says the traders never intended to put the tax plan into practice. Their goal is to embarrass big companies and the government. “Any right-thinking person accepts we have to pay taxes. What people can’t accept is the injustice,” he added.

Despite the findings of the government’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) – massive staff redundancies and poor performance – HMRC has responded by pointing to its extra funding to crack down on multinational avoidance and this April’s introduction of the diverted profits tax, a new “Google tax” on multinationals moving profits out of the UK. It also publishes estimates of the difference between tax paid and the amount that should be paid. This attributes just £1bn of the £34bn gap to tax avoidance.

HMRC speaking with ‘forked tongue’? Is it actually in meltdown? See the Committee of Public Accounts’ report on Revenue and Customs (summary and pdf): “HMRC still failing UK taxpayers”.

Swadeshi movement, which ‘prefers the neighbourhood over the remote’, affects Indian government policy

 

swadeshi jagran manch header
New Delhi Television online reports that the Swadeshi Jagran Manch and a farmers’ organisation met India’s Environment Minister today to protest against the go-ahead given by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee on July 18 to field trials of 15 GM crops, including rice, mustard, cotton, chickpea and brinjal. The Environment Minister, in a statement issued later by the SJM said “the decision about field trials of GM crops had been put on hold.” More on this issue here.

The writer met several SJM members in India and was prompted by this report to summarise their approach.

Swadeshi believes that the unbalanced individualism of the West is destructive of community living. The individual requires the mutually complementary and interactive relationship of the community.

The market has to be an instrument and not the master of the people. The smaller the size of the market, the better. The Swadeshi approach is to limit the size of the market not to eliminate it as communism does. The Swadeshi global view is ” let a thousand markets bloom – not merge into one global market “.

Swadeshi prefers the neighbourhood over the remote and accepts only need-based transnationalism.

It prioritises the satisfaction of practical human needs – food, clothing, housing, education, healthcare, drinking water, energy and transport – values frugality, savings, thrift etc. and seeks to remove the distortion of defining economics as multiplication of wants and efforts to satisfy them, powered by greed.

Swadeshi advocates that income-inequalities remain within reasonable limits. Like the early co-operatives, it believes that the ratio of income of the top 20% and bottom 20% should not exceed 10:1.

The Swadeshi philosophy is not against creation of wealth – merely an injunction against unlimited consumption; a mandate for conservation and preservation of national assets and resources; an emphasis on personal and family savings and an injunction against wasteful and needless expenditure.

City politics: unrest should be seen as a wake-up call

John Rossant is chairman of the New Cities Foundation and President of PublicisLive, which has been producing the World Economic Forum in Davos since 1995.

john rossantTwo days after the event, failing to mention the 4000 people gathered in London for the People’s Assembly, John Rossant points to a ‘common thread’ running through the Arab uprisings and Occupy Wall Street, the street battles that have convulsed Istanbul, Ankara and Stockholm this summer, and the current unrest that is coursing through São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

Rossant believes that: “This unrest should be seen as a wake-up call to all of us: politics in this, the first truly urban century, will largely take place in cities and will largely be about them.”

He focusses on the speed of urbanisation

“More than half of the Chinese population is now urban – from barely 20% one generation ago – and scores of millions more Chinese are expected to move into cities over the next decade. India is urbanising at a similarly breathless pace. Istanbul, a city of 1m souls in 1950, today is home to 13.5m people. Perhaps more surprisingly, Latin America is now the world’s most urban region.”

And the glaring disparities in income and opportunity

“Meanwhile, the triumph (sic) of market economics around the world has created impressive wealth and brand-new middle classes in China, India, Brazil and elsewhere. But it has also brought vast disparities in income and opportunity. Skyscrapers for the super-rich loom less than two miles from Cairo’s Tahrir Square. And just two miles in the other direction are slums without running water or other basic services. It is a similar picture in São Paulo or Rio, where teeming favelas abut gated communities. In New York City, inequality has never been so glaring as today. One stop on the subway can sweep you from one neighbourhood to another where median incomes are three times higher.”

He sees other reasons for the ‘drama playing out in global cities’: “Urban citizens want to be listened to, want their city to work better, and want dignity.”

After brief reflections on Istanbul, Cairo and New York, he turns to activism in São Paulo, initially sparked by a 20% rise in bus ticket prices, and points out the “increased sense by some that the city, Latin America’s largest business hub, is becoming a citadel for the global elite as Brazil prepares to host the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games in 2016 . . . their protest is not vandalism but anxiety and anger that the wealth they can see is still light years out of their reach”.

His conclusion: “This is the most important issue of this century and we should be prepared for vast new urban upheavals. In China, I believe, it is only a question of time before the weight and demands of the new city population will transform the political life of the People’s Republic. Today’s urban spring is only the beginning”.

 

Read the article here: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/ee818994-dcb5-11e2-b52b-00144feab7de.html#ixzz2XDoTNfNj – you will not need to subscribe – register & read free of charge.

 

Environmental, economic, social and ethical reasons for a different approach to waste disposal

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In this country and abroad Veolia’s services are being dispensed with for environmental, economic, social and ethical reasons.

The City Council is considering what to do when its 25 year contract with waste giant Veolia expires in 2018.

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John Newson (BFOE) writes:

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tyseley waste“The Council will become in 2018 the owner of the largest emitter in Birmingham of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide: People in East Birmingham have a shorter life expectancy by some years than other parts of the city and although this cannot be definitely linked to the incinerator, much evidence of the health effects of incineration have come to light, since it was built.

“We are calling upon Birmingham City Council to develop a new approach as “Birmingham Waste Savers”. The collection system creates the waste stream; it should be designed backwards to produce outputs that have value. The coming change from bags to bins gives a great opportunity to design for less rubbish and to collect wastes you actually want . . . (leaving)  clean materials that can be reused or recycled.

“The city’s 60% recycling target can be just a beginning, since there are authorities in Britain past 70% and aiming for 80%. A lot of second hand goods can be recovered by local projects and sold to low income families instead of being burned”.

A better use for the site is sketched in the article and might well include reuse shops seen in other parts of the region.

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Combining localisation, recycling and social enterprise, Localise West Midlands has worked on business plans for Birmingham ‘tip shops’.

 tip shop shakespeare hospice

These have already been developed at Warwick, run by Age Concern, Leamington, Sue Ryder, and Stratford, the Shakespeare Hospice  (above) – sited at municipal tips diverting decent goods for re-sale that would otherwise be landfilled. In so doing so, they save the local authority money and generate an income for the social enterprise that run them.

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Worldwide protests against Veolia are voiced locally by the West Midlands Palestine Solidarity Campaign

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This French multinational’s activities include:

  • helping to build and operate a tramway linking illegal settlements in East Jerusalem with Israel
  • operates bus services for Israeli settlers, running them between the illegal settlements and Israel on ‘apartheid’ roads, which Palestinians are forbidden to use.
  • its subsidiary, TMM, Veolia also collects refuse from illegal settlements at the Tovlan landfill site in the occupied Jordan Valley.
Tramway under construction in 2006
Tramway under construction in 2006

 

 

 

 

 

Poverty: “a matter for shame and alarm about the failure of our economic system”

 

Challenging words from Tony Stoller allege that, at the end of 2012, we now have a completely new paradigm for public policy-making, “dominated and managed by what we can call the ‘new elite’ “.

As chair of trustees for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation he lists this elite as “a cohort of politicians, policy wonks, commentators, journalists and media owners, who both shape and comment on policy. They are the masters now, and they jointly take part in a symbiotic dance, which the public is encouraged to believe they are part of, but from which they are, in reality, consciously excluded”.

He completes the list by adding “revolving doors – between posts in government, think tanks, special advisers, media and regulation”.

The example of policy development failure given by Stoller is relevant to LWM’s research project, Mainstreaming community economic development for inclusion, diversity and equality.

He believes that the conduct of the debate about the nature of poverty in the UK is often invalidated by the language of ‘benefits’ and the ‘welfare state’ which have become ‘dog-whistle’ words of implicit abuse.

Though some politicians assert that housing benefit is designed for ‘those who lie in bed with the curtains drawn’, he points out that the data shows that 61% of children in poverty actually have working parents and that there are ‘only’ 30,000 families with two generations out of work across the whole country.

Quite rightly he describes this state of affairs as being “a matter for shame and alarm about the failure of our economic system, rather than an indictment of those who suffer its consequences”.

Tony Stoller concludes this summary in The Friend today:

“In this way, public discourse is manipulated so that policy measures that penalise rather than help those in poverty are seen to be going with the grain of that public opinion. Can we turn this around? It is far from easy. But we simply must. How do we achieve that? Using data is a good start”.

Recommended reading: the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s annual Monitoring of Poverty and Social Exclusion, a state of the nation report into poverty.

To read the full speech, first given at Gresham College earlier this month, please visit: http://www.jrf.org.uk/sites/files/jrf/tony-stoller-gresham.pdf

 

Active local residents protect the High Street & NHS services

Following a vigorous campaign by locals and a High Court challenge by Stroud resident Michael Lloyd, the  board of NHS Gloucestershire voted to continue to run community health services, including eight community hospitals, nine health clinics, served by 3,000 staff. They rejected the alternative option of a tender process, which would have opened the door for private firms to bid to takeover services.

On Thursday, many newspapers reported another successful campaign. Costa Coffee had been granted planning approval to build one of their shops on Fore Street in Totnes, a town which values its independent retailers and has one of the lowest percentages of branded stores of any town of its size in the UK, very few empty shop fronts, and 41 independent coffee outlets.

Storm of protest: Costa Coffee was forced to pull out of Totnes, pictured, after residents in the town fought to preserve its independence

Say No To Costa spent three months petitioning against the planned coffee shop, approved by South Hams District Council, which was due to take one of the larger retail spaces in the town.

However, after the petition opposing the move attracted more than 5,000 signatures, Costa Coffee decided to pull out.

The success of these campaigners should hearten others seeking better decision-making in their area.

 

 

 

Occupy London specifies breaches of the social contract and the remedial action needed

Richard Murphy (Tax Justice Network), Gordon Kerr (Cobden Partners) & Robin Smith (Systemic Fiscal Reform) discuss monetary systems and tax with members from the Occupy London working economics group  

 David Dewhurst, Peter Dombi and Naomi Colvin, members of the economics working group at Occupy London write in the Financial Times:  

The world faces an economic crisis and problems in our political system have prevented it from being tackled in ways that protect the interests of the majority of its population. 

Across the developed world, higher levels of inequality are associated with social ills such as crime and mental illness. Ultimately, we believe that all of us fare better when wealth and income are more equal. 

We reject austerity as a route to economic recovery and call for genuinely transparent and effective regulation of the banking system so that its structural problems can be tackled once and for all. 

Specific breaches of the social contract 

This month we’ve had figures from across the political spectrum attest to the positive contribution Occupy London is making to the national discussion. Yet still we are accused of lacking substance. In fact, we can point to specific breaches of the social contract and how to fix them. Here are three examples: 

First, tax avoidance is endemic in the UK. Companies use complicated structures to hide their earnings from HM Revenue & Customs. Individuals stash money abroad while enjoying all the benefits of living in this country . . .

How to fix it: (C)reate a tax base for UK companies aligned with a level of activity that actually occurs in this country rather than relative tax advantages . . .

Second, housing is increasingly unaffordable and the social costs of homelessness are enormous . . .  

How to fix it: The Bank of England should use quantitative easing, not to buy gilts in the forlorn hope it will stimulate the economy but to fund housebuilding . . .

Third, income inequality in the UK is growing faster than in any other rich country, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development . . . 

How to fix it: The metrics by which bonuses are calculated must be changed, not just in banking but across the corporate sector . . . 

As Andrew Haldane of the Bank of England has pointed out, if bankers’ pay were linked to return on assets it would be much closer to median household incomes than if based on return on equity.  We are also looking at the feasibility of directly linking executive pay with average or minimum wages in the company, or even in the country as a whole.

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A substantial critique of government policy will become an ever more important task for Occupy London as the political debate moves in our direction. Our movement started in a group of tents in St Paul’s churchyard, but it will not end there – the issues that brought us together are still far from resolved. This year we will show that we cannot only pose questions but also have them answered.

“Creating a new narrative”: a West Midlands voice at Tent City University

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News of a presentation tomorrow by Dr Chris Williams.

Chris is based at the Centre for International Education and Research, Birmingham University.

Scroll down: http://tentcityuniversity.occupylsx.org/?page_id=69 

Theme: 

“Never before have so few, by their actions and inactions, had the power of life and death over so many of the species…Study the culture of power rather than the culture of the powerless, the culture of affluence rather than the culture of poverty.” (Laura Nader, 1972) 

Are other voices from Birmingham and other areas of the West Midlands being heard?

Food sovereignty meeting 15th Nov, B’ham council house

Just wanted to alert people to what looks to be a very interesting meeting tomorrow evening at the Council House:

The meeting is entitled “Feed the world without destroying the planet!” with Maria Neri from Mindanao in the Phillippines as the main speaker. She is a longstanding activist and ecosocialist who will share her powerful experiences in the struggle for land reform and ecologically sustainable food production.

The meeting is jointly sponsored by Socialist Resistance and the Green Left; a very difficult-to-copy flier is uploaded here: food sovereignty event flyer.

Karen