Archive for March 2012

Patsy Pasty

Of all the tax changes in the budget which the politicians, press and public could have got themselves worked up about – cutting the top rate, freezing grannies allowance, the ongoing process of pulling people into high rates, the marginal rates levied on those earning between £50k and £60k with children, the ever increasing duties on petrol, alcohol and tobacco – it is changing of what is charged VAT with respect of hot, take-away food which seems to causing the government the most trouble.

The ludricous lengths that that our elected wastals and the copy-and-paste artists in the MSM have gone to over the whole matter is laughable in the extreme. Thanks to them we have had to put up with, amongst other things, iDave and various cabinet ministers attemting to remember if, where and when they last ate a pasty (and the MSN chasing these recollections up); Millipede Jr (with his likely Brutus in tow) going to Greggs for lunch as part of a staged photoshoot; and supposed ‘quality’ newspaper The Telegraph resorting to live blogging the entire fiasco.

Fankly, if the whole business means anything, it is as

  1. yet another reminder how pathetically out of touch the inhabitants of the Westminster village really are,
  2. showing how woefully ignorant and stupid the so-called reporters who are paid to fill up the output of the media really, and
  3. a demonstration of how utterly stupid VAT is.

As I’m certain my readers are aware, VAT is an EU tax and thus subject to the whims of Brussels and the rent-seekers to be found in that city. It is therefore no surprise to learn that the reason for impsition of the ‘pasty tax’ is somewhat more than the bland statement Osborne made to parliament during his speech:

We will also address some of the loopholes and anomalies in our VAT system.

[…]

Hot takeaway food on high streets has been charged VAT for more than twenty years; but some new hot takeaway products in supermarkets are not.

A fuller account of the reasons why the children supposedly running the country are in the mess that they are in comes from Richard North of EU Referendum:

Enter Manfred Bog who, back in 1994 was running three mobile snack bars. After a series of disputes with the German tax authorities, Bog in 2006 fixed upon one particular issue, that 70 percent of his sales were being assessed for standard rate of VAT, while the remainder only attracted the lower rate of five percent.

The German authorities here were arguing that the larger proportion of the food sold was consumed “on the premises” (i.e., under a shelter provided by Bog) and, therefore, the trade was a “service” rather than the supply of goods – thus attracting the higher rate of VAT.

We should not detain ourselves with the finding of the German financial court, the Bundesfinanzhof. Down that path lies madness. Suffice to say that the case was joined by others, including a firm called CinemaxX, arguing the toss about popcorn sales. Again, the service/supply of goods argument was in the cooking pot. And then there was Mr Lohmeyer, with his snack stalls and a swinging grill, plus – of course – Fleischerei Nier. Don’t even go there.

Cutting to the chase on this bundle of cases, the judgement on 10 March last year ruled that the supply of food or meals freshly prepared for immediate consumption from snack stalls or mobile snack bars or in cinema foyers is a supply of goods rather than service – as long as the supply of services preceding and accompanying the supply of the food were not predominant.

Ostensibly, this did not apply to the UK – or so HMRC said at the time. Yet the Fish Fryers Federation and others disagreed, because the essence of the ECJ judgement was that they were supplying goods (as in foodstuffs), not services. And as the UK zero rates food, they were thus salivating at the prospect of a mega-refund.

“Ahah!”, said HMRC batting away such insolence. The fish fryers are caught either way. Their tax category – devised uniquely by the UK – includes “hot take-away food” and well as catering services. It matters not whether it is food or service, VAT still applies, regardless of Bog.

And there gripped the cold, mindless jaws of the VAT Sixth Directive, of which the ECJ had so cruelly reminded us. To their horror, HMRC have confronted their worst nightmare. If the fish fryers are selling hot food rather than services, and have to charge VAT on it, so does everybody else who sells hot food.

That’s right, Osborne had no choice in the matter.

Can we leave yet?

That budget then

So, George Osborne has delivered this year’s budget – or, more accurately, confirmed the press leaks of the last few days. Quite frankly one wonders why he bothered standing up.

I think it is safe to skip rapidly over the growth forecasts provided by the OBR as the record of their gypsy fortune-tellers predictions is poor to say the least.

Equally, the less said about his wish for a balanced economy the better. Wishing for it is fine but I’d be happy if the government kept its paws out of the matter* as much as possible and left it up to the free market to sort out.

Borrowing

As he stated back in the Autumn, the government will continue to live beyond what it steals from the taxpayer past the end of this parliament (assuming it goes the distance). Indeed it doesn’t forecast a ‘balanced’ budget before 2017/18. In the mean time the National Debt is forecast to increase by £126bn (2012/13), £120bn, £98bn, £75bn, £52bn and £21bn (2016/17). That is a whopping £492bn – and all of which may, one day, have to be paid back.

I say one day because as we know the traditional way for government to deal with debt is to inflate it away and in 100 years time it is more than likely that that £492bn will be a lot closer to chump change than it is now. Gideon’s wheeze for delaying the inevitable for as long as possible is 100-year or perhaps even perpetual (i.e. non-repayable) gilts.**

Public Sector

Sadly there was no announcement of an immediate end of national pay bargaining. The Chancellor did though appear to thank the opposition for suggesting the end of national benefit rates – perhaps the only useful idea to emerge from Labour in a while. It would also make sense to make the NMW regionalised (assuming it is politically impossible at present to scrap it entirely).

Taxes

Let’s face it, the only thing anyone really cares about is how much the government is planning on stealing from them in direct taxation each year. The stupidity of it is how pathetically grateful we all get when we learn that it might not be as much as last year… without realising that they generally claw it back through indirect taxation instead.

The apparent good news for anyone earning less than £100k is that the government has decided it won’t start its thieving in the forthcoming tax year until you’ve earnt £8,105 – and next year is pushing that level up £9,205.

Obviously this is a good thing for anyone earning minimum wage sort of levels. Personally I think it would be better if no-one doing a 40hr week at NMW (which currently works out to £12,646.40) paid any tax but things seem to be moving in the right direction. The test will be what happens once the £10k level, as agreed at the start of the collation, is reached.

The likely option is that government of the day will starting treating it just like they do the the other tax thresholds and allow it to increase slower than wages, thus once again catching more people in the net.

What the Chancellor didn’t mention whilst he was crowing about the changes to the 0% band was that the £630 increase there is mirrored by pulling the 40% threshold down by £630, shrinking the 20% band by £1,260. This ensures that – for those under 65 – that the the 40% band still starts at anything over £42,475. This is the same tactic that the one-eyed Scottish idiot employed on a few occasions.

Together with the lack of change of the levels at which the tax free allowance is withdrawn and the highest rate of Income Tax is levied, the government is once again ensuring that, as wages rise, more people are dragged into the higher tax brackets.

Unlikely those of us who are earning to try to keep ourselves in drinking money, those who have reached pensionable age will find their 0% band frozen from 2013. If I am to guess, this is in order to equalise them with the rates for the under 65s in preparation for the merger of Income Tax and National Insurance – something which will also hit pensioners as they do not currently pay NI.

The positive sides of merging IT and NI should be
a) simplification of the tax code, and
b) give the population a better idea of what the basic rate of tax (excluding Employer’s NI) is.

With any luck, being told that the basic rate is actually over 30% (rather than the 20% they believe) may result in the sheeple demanding that it comes down…

For those on very high incomes, the semi-good news is that the highest rate of income tax is coming down. Not yet scrapped altogether (hopefully in a future budget) but being halved. Given the flagrant avoidance that took place before the 50% rate come into effect – and which will be duplicated now as people who can hold off until 2013 – this can only be a good thing. Will 45p in the pound (and the potential direction of travel) tempt those who haven’t yet upped sticks to stay though?

Excellent news for companies employees, shareholders and customers is that corporate tax is coming down even further with the aim of getting it to 22% from 2014. Not quite Ireland but better than France and Germany which may encourage those financial institutions who were thinking of leaving before a Tobin tax in introduced in those places. The increase in the bank levy may however put them off.

The so-called sin taxes generally slipped by without change to already announced increases except for the price a tobacco***. I imagine that the only people who were cheering this rise of inflation plus 5% (plus consultation on making tobacco-free cigarettes liable to excise duty) were the smugglers. As a non-smoker I would be open to the idea of bringing back duty-free smokes for people when re-entering the country…

Regulation

As trailed, Sunday trading laws are to be relaxed during the Olympics. Hopefully they will then be scrapped altogether as an anachronism.

Planning – perhaps the major reason for the cost of housing being so high – is being simplified. Supposedly the guidance is being cut to just 5% of its previous size although there is no word of whether part of this has been achieved by the use of single instead of double line spacing and a reduced font size.

We are also getting more ‘enterprise zones’. Why not just make the entire country one?

And Michael ‘Tarzan’ Heseltine is back. Has anyone checked him for knives?

Infrastructure

It would seem that the Government has finally realised that we do need more (or bigger) airports. Will Heathrow be getting that third runway after all? We might find out come the summer.

Annoyingly (but not surprisingly) the Government will continue to waste money on ‘green’ energy but in better news looks to be reversing the hit it gave the North Sea oil and gas industry last year.

Conclusion

One thing that this is not is a Libertarian budget. Government spending is still going up and Peter, let alone Paul, is being robbed to pay Peter.

To the laywoman (i.e. me) it appears to be yet another budget that just tinkers with things whilst fleecing the public for more money – a speciality which Gordon Brown perfected. There is however some future potential in it if some things (the IT and NI merger, national pay bargaining) do happen. To mis-quote that school report line no-one ever wanted to see: “could do a damn sight better”.

* Yeah, I know. Government leaving alone is wishful thinking, huh? Let’s just be thankful he isn’t attempting to plan the economy.

** It is ideas like this which make me glad that I’m never going to have children.

*** Ok, gambling as well as tax will be imposed at point of consumption in an effort to stop online gambling moving offshore.

Free the Pontypridd One

According to news reports, a 21 year old man from Pontypridd is being held at Swansea police station following offensive remarks made on Twitter after Fabrice Muamba collapsed on the pitch yesterday afternoon.

Whilst I in no way condone what the young man said, I find it despicable that he has been arrested for it.

To quote Voltaire Evelyn Beatrice Hall*:

I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.

R.I.P. Free Speech

Update: Quote attribution changed. Thank you to @WelshToy for point this out.

* It appears I may have been wrong all these years. According to Wikipedia:

In Evelyn Beatrice Hall’s biography of Voltaire, she coined the following phrase to illustrate Voltaire’s beliefs: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Alcohol gimmickry

According to a report on the BBC yesterday, the government is planning to implement so-called ‘Sobriety Orders':

Offenders who commit alcohol-fuelled crimes are to be monitored with ankle tags and breath-tested to ensure they stop drinking, under government plans.

Police will have powers to impose “sobriety orders” on drinkers cautioned for minor offences, such as criminal damage or public disorder.

There will be regular breath tests, with known weekend bingers tested then, and ankle tags to monitor movements.

Sure, we can all agree that people who commit crimes, be they under the influence or not need to be punished but is breath testing potential drunks (at what cost in police time?) really a good idea?

Given what we know about how much profit government makes from alcohol I think not.

For serious and violent criminals with drink problems, ministers want to introduce new laws enabling the courts to impose sobriety orders as part of a suspended or community sentence.

If they are serious and/or violent criminals then they shouldn’t be getting suspended or community sentences in the first place – they should be sent to gaol!

Offenders would have to wear ankle tags that continuously monitored alcohol levels, for up to four months.

Erm, how does an ankle tag measure the amount of blood in one’s alcohol stream? Are those wearing one supposed to breathe on it every so often or is it going to be taking a blood sample on a regular basis?

Another type of tag, which has been tried out in England, uses a GPS system which would alert the authorities when people visited certain proscribed areas – such as pubs.

Ok, standard GPS tracking. Civilian or Military accuracy however? Don’t want to have issues with someone being in – or claiming they were in – the building next door. Also, it is possible to go to a pub and not drink.

Justice Minister Nick Herbert said: “Alcohol-fuelled violence and criminality causes mayhem in our towns and city centres.”

Mayhem? The dictionary defines mayhem as:

  1. Violent or damaging disorder; chaos.
  2. The crime of maliciously injuring or maiming someone, originally so as to render the victim defenceless.

Which is a somewhat OTT description of the civil disorder that a minority of people get up to after a few sherbets.

Indeed this idea seems so flawed that even the politicians on the opposition benches as well as the rent seekers can spot the holes:

Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan said: “Increased use of community sentences, tagging, monitoring and initiatives to support those with drug and alcohol dependencies will require more resources.

“The government need to answer important questions about how they propose to fund increased use of community sentences given the Ministry of Justice budget faces cuts of a quarter.

The Prison Reform Trust said the government seemed to be resorting to “populist gimmicks” when current policies were actually working and had public support.

If this silly idea does go ahead, how long before someone suggests that each and everyone of us who likes a drink needs to have our consumption monitored, regardless of whether or not we have done something criminal under the influence of alcohol?

On taking offence

The FA Cup quarter final match between Tottenham and Bolton on Saturday afternoon was abandoned after the Bolton player Fabrice Muamba collapsed on the pitch towards the end of the first half. He was taken to hospital and is (at the time of writing) said to be in a critically ill-condition.

This is obviously deeply upsetting for his family, friends and teammates – as well as something which no doubt shocked those present at the game and those watching it on the TV.

Inevitably however there have been some jokes and comments about this and, thanks to the speed of communications these days, many people have now heard or read a variety of them.

Black humour and distasteful jokes about distressing, upsetting and tragic events are nothing new. I heard a whole bunch of ones after the Hillsborough disaster – of which I remember one or two – and equally my parents can probably recall some about the Aberfan disaster. No doubt there were some about the September 11th attacks as well as plenty of other events where calamity has struck.

Indeed, some of the worst purveyors of black humour are those who deal with death far more often than the rest of us, e.g. police, medical staff and funeral directors. It is, in many cases, a defence mechanism – a way of coping with the situation.

That didn’t however stop the Twitter rent-a-mob entering high gear in pursuit of those who had the temerity to crack or share the jokes in question. In one or two cases the irony of this was palpable as they had, only a few days ago, been complaining about the gaoling of the blogger Olly Crowell who will next month (assuming it doesn’t get postponed once again) be facing trial under the Malicious Communications Act for his use of foul language in respect of a number of Bexley councillors.

Whilst the jokes about Muamba where undoubtably distasteful, people seem to have forgotten that there is no law which says you cannot be offended. If you don’t like something then change the channel, turn twitter off until the storm has passed (they usually only last a few hours) and go and do something else.

Don’t though throw your toys out of the pram and start hounding users simply because they have written something which you dislike. There are plenty of profession offence seekers out there without scores of amateurs needing to join in.

Brown stuff on the doorstep

I’m sure that by now we have all read Greg Smith’s resignation letter.

Being neither an employee nor a customer of Goldman Sachs I won’t comment on the veracity of the claims within the missive but many of those who have commented about it on the sites of our so-called quality newspapers have not been as restrained.

How much we can read into the parting shots of someone who, despite being of ‘executive director’ (a somewhat debased job description these days), had, if Peston has his figures correct,

…more than 2000 managing directors and partners above him in the pecking order…

though is debatable. But, as Timmy points out, if they are true this is likely to be a self-correcting problem as clients take their money elsewhere.

No, in the long run I hope for his sake that Greg Smith made his pile before he cut and ran as this little stunt, however cathartic it may have been, will likely render him utterly unemployable in the financial sector – and probably many others as well.

Clinging to the Wreckage

Eric Joyce, former Army Major, thug and the most expensive MP in the country – by allowances – has resigned from the Labour Party following his assault conviction saying:

“…the standard of my conduct fell egregiously below what is required by a member of this House, or indeed anyone, anywhere”.

Which is all well and good as far as it went but sadly he somehow forgot to say that he was taking up the Stewardship of the Manor of Northstead.

This ‘egregious’ oversight means that we are apparently stuck with him and his expense account until the 2015 General Election (assuming this Parliamentary term goes the distance) at which he has said he will not stand.

Whatever happened, I wonder, to that promised ‘right of recall’..?

Those French Elections

I haven’t, I confess, been taking much interest in the reshuffling of the presidential deck chair that is the forthcoming French General Election but it seems as if Sarkozy is currently expected to finish no higher than the first loser’s spot.

And it looks like Sarkozy is worried as well, if his threat to quit politics if he loses is to be taken with anything more than a pinch of salt.

After his election rally on Sunday however when he lurched sharply towards a position of anti-immigration and economic protectionism I think I can put a handle on his election campaign:

  1. Avoid doing a Lionel Jospin in the first round.
  2. Court those who are likely to vote for the French National candidate, Marine Le Pen in the first round in the hope they will win him the second round.

How depressingly negative.

MG in the wild

On Tuesday I’ll be here:

Free Spirits with James Delingpole

In conjunction with Biteback Publishing, [the TFA] are pleased to welcome James to speak about his recent book ‘Watermelons: The Green Movement’s True Colours.’

Date: 13th March
Time: 1900 – 2200
Location: The Barley Mow, 104 Horseferry Road, SW1P 2EE

Further details

And on Thursday I might be here:

Rally for Libel Reform

Speakers:

  • Lord McNally
  • Sir Stephen Sedley
  • Simon Singh (science author)
  • Nick Cohen (Observer)
  • David Allen Green (New Statesman)
  • Charmian Gooch (Global Witness)
  • Tracey Brown (Sense About Science)
  • Jonathan Heawood (English PEN)
  • Jo Glanville (Index on Censorship)

Date: 15th March
Time: 1830 – 2030
Location: Great Hall, Inner Temple, London EC4Y 7HL

Further details

The three types of robbers

Found via twitter and presented without comment.

The three types of robbers