Posts tagged ‘Gordon Brown’

“A politician walks into a bar…”

At some point during of the premiership of Gordon Brown, the following joke crossed my radar once or twice. You may yourselves have seen it.

In the spirit of recycling, I present it to you again. All I’ve changed is the names.

A driver is stuck in a traffic jam on the M25. Nothing is moving.

Suddenly a man knocks on the window. The driver rolls down his window and asks, ‘What’s going on?’

‘Terrorists down the road have hijacked a coach containing the Prime Minister David Cameron and his top aides Nick Clegg, George Osborne and Theresa May. They’re asking for a £10 million ransom. Otherwise they’re going to douse them with petrol and set them on fire.. We’re going from car to car, taking up a collection.

‘The driver asks, ‘How much is everyone giving, on average?

‘Well, most people are giving about a gallon.’

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.

Bookstart

Never heard of them until today? OK, maybe you have if you have small children. But why have they suddenly made headlines? Because they have had their government funding removed and they – and their supporters including the bandwagon jumping leader of the Labour party – are complaining.

What are they all about then?

For starters they refer to themselves as a ‘national independent charity’. This could be said to be slightly disingenuous as it is the parent organisation – Booktrust – that is the registered charity (since 1963-07-01). Bookstart didn’t come about until 1992 when research commissioned by Booktrust found that children whose family had started them reading before they went to school did better. Yes, this sounds like a case of the bleeding obvious to me as well.

As obvious as it may seem, they still managed to persuade Sainsbury’s to give them money and eventually this brought them fame and fortune. Or, at least, the attentions of our unlamented former PM but Chancellor at the time Gordon Brown. In 2004 he decided to throw taxpayers money at the scheme in order to give ‘free’ books to children under the age of four. It was at this point that we can safely say that Booktrust stopped being a charity and became what is known as a fake-charity – or government quango.

Indeed their 2009 accounts show that the three programs they fund were granted almost £15 million from the taxpayer. This equates to over 95% of their income for that year. So what did we (the taxpayer) get for that money?

An awful lot of marketing material and self-promotion it seems.

  • 23,000 Best BookGuide to Picture Books were distributed in the Children’s Book Week packs to all primary schools, public libraries, school library services and teacher training institutions, plus 1,000 copies to independent bookshops;
  • 20,000 copies of the Rough Guide to Picture Books were distributed to Waterstone’s, and 70,000 copies to families with young children across the country, via Bookstart local coordinators;
  • The Big Picture Campaign was promoted at festivals including Edinburgh, Bath and Cheltenham;
  • The campaign raised the profile of illustrators, while promoting the art istic qualities and appeal of picture books to less confident parents.
  • We were pleased to receive continued DCSF funding for Everybody Writes, a partnership with the National Literacy Trust, and this year developed printed resources for primary and secondary schools with 8,000 brochures distributed. The website attracts on average 8,000 web hits per month.
  • Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen has been an excellent champion for children’s literature and the pleasures of reading. A 10th Anniversary event at the Festival Hall, attended by Michael and former laureates Quentin Blake, Michael Morpurgo, Anne Fine and Jacqueline Wilson, attracted several hundred children with their families.
  • Children’s Book Week 2008, launched by Michael Rosen and 200 children on the London Eye, followed by a writing event producing a giant poem “I spy with my little eye” was mentioned on BBC Newsround.
  • The 2008 Children’s Book Week resource pack, themed this year Rhythm and Rhyme, was sent to 23,000 primary schools, public and school libraries, and teacher training institutions.
  • The Booktrust school libraries leaflet continues to attract interest with 500 requests for extra copies.

There is something else, surely?

The Bookstart website tells us that ‘central funding from the taxpayer is only 25% of the retail cost of delivering Bookstart’ and that sponsors pick up the rest of the tab. It doesn’t, so far as I have been able to find, tell us who those sponsors are or how much they give but a crude extrapolation the 2009 accounts figure would suggest external funding to the tune of almost £45million. Not a small sum and one would hope that the ‘charity’ could – with some adjustments to its ambitions – cope on this alone. Or is it that the publishers of the books doled out via this program agreed to accept only 25% of the retail price as a gesture of goodwill? If so I’m sure the buyers at Amazon would like to hire the person who made that deal as even they haven’t managed to screw the publishers quite that much.

So what books do we get for that money? Those chosen by the ‘Bookstart book panel’ which is made up of book experts, librarians, health professionals and early years professionals. It doesn’t however name these kind professionals who I have no doubt have gone to great lengths to ensure that the nations children receive only the best.

The question though – and one I’m would guess that Michael Gove asked – is what is the point of this scheme? Those who want the best for their children taught them to read before it came along and will continue to do so after it disappears by making full use of the library service when the children were young and then buying them books or passing on items kept from their own childhoods as the get older. Those who don’t will leave it to the nursery or the school teachers who have for many years been the fall back for those parents who forgo their responsibilities.

I’m sure that it is the latter category that this scheme would have been after but if they weren’t going to teach their kids to read before hand, they certainly weren’t going to do so just because the state handed them some ‘free’ books. These are people who don’t see the point of formal education and until their minds change then this scheme, however noble in intention, is doomed to fail. Being a bookworm myself I applaud the sentiment behind it but I have no wish to see the taxpayer pick up the tab for a cause that should be funded through voluntary donations from corporations and philanthropists alone.