Emotions abounded on the allotments this morning, but unusually they were focussed on a whole range of subjects and everyone seemed to have their own agendas. The Wigan supporters were jubilant after their FA Cup triumphant tour of the town, proof positive that for many soccer fans the old cup is still more significant than Premiership performance. The Man Utd lot are in a state of mourning despite their championship success, it seems that the irrascible Fergie had become a role model for codgers determined to defy the traditional view of old age. And the cricket nuts were eulogising over the devastating form of Stuart Broad, seemingly unaware of having demanded his exclusion from the Test team.
Only Eric made any mention of politics. As a ‘swivel-eyed loon’ he is in a rebellious mood, a state of mind enhanced by the decision of our dear leader to enlist the help of the Labour Party to outvote his own ministers and MPs. And where was same-sex-marraige in the manifesto, he asked of no one in particular. No one responded, interest in the constant banging on about sexuality has reached zero on the eyebrow-raising scale.
I found myself ruminating on none of these things, some revealing statistics having caught my rheumy eyes. No one can be unaware of the unending propaganda about benefits fraud, and the inference that here lies the reason for our parlous financial state. Today we learn that it accounts for £1.2bn. Big number, and action is justified. But tax avoidance is now calculated at £25bn! No doubt then as to which should be the prime target.
But the truth is that life becomes a lot cheaper when you are rich. The average taxpayer or small business cannot afford an army of accountants to systematically exploit every loophole to divert their profits to Luxemburg or Ireland. Ah – you might say – but benefit fraud is illegal, and there is nothing law-breaking about tax avoidance. This is of course the whole point. The law is rigged in favour of the wealthy; the state is at the service of rich types who don’t fancy paying their taxes. Big accountancy firms like Deloitte get their teams seconded to the Treasury, help draw up tax laws then make fortunes out of advising multinational companies on how to get around the legislation they’ve helped to create.
This month the protest group UKUncut dragged HMRC to court over a sweetheart deal with Goldman Sachs. It was “not a glorious episode in the history of the Revenue”, the judge ruled. True, but it was a typical example of what happens when rich companies rule the roost.
It is noticeable that when confronted with tax-avoidance Google, Amazon and the rest invariably point to the employment they create and the buildings they construct. It is of course the reddest of red herrings. They do this to win business and to make handsome profits in the UK market. They prefer to think of themselves as charities, and regard paying any tax at all as an act of corporate generosity.
As economist Ha-Joon Chang has pointed out, their property rights are defended by the state, capping the downside risk for investors and stopping their ideas being ripped off . They depend on government-funded research and development. The internet itself was a public sector creation, invented at taxpayers’ expense.
The chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt, is due to meet his ministerial pals this week and says that his tax-avoiding company “aspires to do the right thing”. Perhaps we should take his aspiration at face value. But if Mr Schmidt is anything like the rest of us he might need a little push when it comes to parting with cash, however valid the bill.
How about we legislate to crack down on all forms of tax-avoidance; like passing the General Anti-Tax Avoidance Bill, drawn up by tax expert Richard Murphy and introduced by Michael Meacher MP.
Until we take the step that would transform our economy it is hard to justify the shredding of support for low-paid and disabled people. And confining our action to them will never narrow the national deficit.
It is time for our big companies to be force-fed humble pie. Put Eric Pickles in charge, he knows a thing or two about pies!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; ” Tax avoiders expect to benefit from corporate welfare and the national infrastructure but pay nothing in, yet no one calls them scroungers”. ..Owen Jones in Independent
Much concern this morning on the allotments regarding one of our members who was taken ill during the night. Fortunately our patch still has an excellent out-of-hours emergency service manned by real GPs, our GPs. There was an immediate response to the call for help and our friend was dealt with expertly by a doctor who had access to his medical history.
But our area is now the exception to the rule. Across the country privatisation is taking its toll. Today a report from the Care Quality Commission (CQC) highlights the death of a child who died after its parents were kept waiting for four hours by Harmoni, Britain’s biggest provider of out-of-hours care in the UK. The report concludes that Harmoni did not respond quickly enough to urgent calls because it did not have enough doctors.
Documents obtained by the Independent newspaper reveal that Harmoni won the contract for north London against rival bidders LCWUCC, a non-profit GP organisation, by beating it on price, despite scoring worse on quality. Harmoni talks of recruiting doctors as a “challenge”, but in January 2011 Dr Fred Kavalier resigned as clinical lead because he feared that “the service had become unsafe” due to “cost-saving cuts in clinician’s shifts”.
Private companies, whose prime aim is profit, understandably cannot contemplate having doctors sitting around in an out-of-hours emergency centre. But that is the nature of any on-call emergency role. This is not Tesco, this is a life or death service where costs cannot be the first consideration.
And ministers should stop hiding behind the system problems of the new 111 service. Like its failed predecessor, NHS Direct, it is not manned by experienced medics and, even if it were, diagnosis by telephone is highly dangerous.
Sadly people are dying as a result of yet another botched initiative by politicians, in this case those of the Blair era. Almost every week brings further examples of incompetence even if they do not all involve such an obvious risk to life an limb. All of which has made the public less than positive about national government.
Yet this morning we learn that the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) has decided that a huge increase in salaries for MPs is appropriate. According to which report you believe the amount proposed is between £10,000 and £20,000. And the Speaker is reported to have complained that Cameron, Clegg and Miliband haven’t been “terribly brave or clever” to resist pay increases since they are all “supported by private family wealth”.
He is probably right about that, but has he ever considered the principle of pay beng linked to efficiency and performance? If not he should perhaps read the full-page ads appearing today in the name of Nigel Farage and Ukip.
In his open letter Mr Farage suggest that the political class in this country is “completely out of touch with the thoughts of ordinary people”. The administration, he contends, is run by a “bunch of college kids, none of whom has ever had a proper job in their lives”.
It has the ring of truth doesn’t it?
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; ” GPs need to have a closer personal relationship with their patients. I think we need to go back to GPs having responsibility for making sure that for the people on their list there is a good out-of-hours service available”…..Jeremy Hunt, Health Secretary, on yesterday’s Andrew Marr Show
After helping with the hens I paid a visit to our local garden centre. That is something of a misnomer these days for, in common with most other ventures that started out as a plant supplier, it has developed into a flourishng business offering a wide range of products. And it houses an excellent restaurant. Having loaded our trolley she-who-must-be -obeyed and I popped in for coffee and a fresh-from-the-oven scone. Whilst we were doing our Eric Pickles impersonation I noticed that the eating-house rejoices under the name of Camerons.
Surely not! The man gets around but Lancashire is a long way from Chipping Norton, and the staff are extremely polite. It would be hard to imagine them referring to anyone as ‘Swivel-eyed loons’ and that is the latest description of Conservative Party activists to eminate from our dear leader and his Old Etonian pals. David Cameron himself used the ‘Swivel-eyed’ bit to describe those of his party who question his appraoch to Europe, and this morning’s papers publish claims that one of his ‘close friends’ has added loon to embrace those who dare to wonder why same-sex marriage has become a top priority given that it didn’t so much as feature in the manifesto.
The Daily Telegraph, hardly an enemy of the Tories, is standing by its story of an interview with “a member of Mr Cameron’s circle”, but is refusing to name names. Others have suggested that the mystery spokesman was Lord Feldman, and have published pictures of him and our dear leader together at university. The man awarded a peerage by Cameron has denied the charge.
But clearly someone said it and the effect on party activists has been electric. Last night Robert Woollard, the chairman of Conservative Grassroots, said that many of the Prime Minister’s inner circle live in a “Westminster bubble” and too often treat the party’s activists with “contempt”. Membership of the party has plunged from around one million to one hundred and it does seem to be an odd time to launch yet another attack.
The oddest thing of all is that today’s opinion polls suggest that it is the membership, rather than the Cameroons, that reflect public opinion. On Europe a clear majority wish to exit the EU and demand a referendum now. The response to same-sex marriage is broadly the same, and this week it is likely that up to 200 Conservative MPs will vote aginst the bill. It will pass, but our dear leader is relying on Labour and Lib Dem votes to achieve this.
This morning David Burrowes, who is leading the opposition to what he sees as a redefinition of marriage, has rushed into print to rant about the “swivel-eyed loons” slur. It has served to make him and the vast majrity of Tory bankbenchers even more determined to fight a Bill which they believe is beng “hustled through with undue haste and minimum scrutiny”.
We increasingly gain the impression that our dear leader is leaping from one hole to the next in his frantic pursuit of what he believes to be vote-winning policies. The problem is that they are not – most people list the economy as their number one concern – and that most of his wheezes deeply offend loyal Conservatives.
All this is happening at a time when Labour is failing to make headway in the polls. Nigel Farage may have been bruised in Scotland but he is likely to be smiling inwardly. Already up to twenty Tory MPs are said to be in favour of Nadine Dorries’s idea of a Ukip-Tory alliance.
David Cameron would be well advised to remember the fate of other prime ministers who have tried to lead the country in defiance of their own party!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; ” It has often been suggested that Mr Cameron surrounds himself with privileged men who do not share the problems or values of the average voter. “Swivelgate” gives his critics amunition That the comments were not part of a planned speech but the product of casual conversation will encourage those critics to interpret them as the unfiltered expression of how some of No 10′s metropolitan circle really feel about their own party”…Sunday Telegraph editorial of today.
The predicted monsoons were thankfully absent when we arrived at the allotments this morning. Just as well for yesterday’s bucketload has created a sea of mud and our supply of gravel is running low. But at least our vegetable patches are showing signs of life at last. As we tend them we often wonder why it is that Monty Don always seems to be working with soil that crumbles to the touch, ours is guaranteed to send you home looking like characters in a Dicken’s film who have spent too long with the make-up artists.
But at least we are free to express our opinions, which is more than can be said of the new national hero, Nigel Farage. On a visit to Scotland he needed police protection when a mob surrounded him to scream abuse. One of those not arrested later appeared on Newsnight to claim that they were merely using their right to free speech. He seemed unable to grasp that this is supposed to work two ways.
As is so often the case it was left to Knacker’s army to restore a semblance of public order, and we codgers are the first to acknowledge that they do a difficult job. However we are becoming increasingly concerned at the growing evidence from Hillsborough, Savile, Murdoch, and a host of other cases that the forces of law and order are not as squeaky-clean as we would like to imagine. Collusion and bribery are not part of the job spec, but it is hard to avoid the conclusion that all is not Dixon of Dock Green like. And last night’s Newsnight claims by the head of the Independent Police Commission of obstruction did little to dampen our suspicions.
This morning’s news of gagging orders strikes us as the final confirmation that all is not well in regard to police behaviour. It transpires that more than 300 officers have signed gagging orders at a cost to the taxpayer of up to £250,000 each. The government has rightly banned such orders in the NHS on the grounds that they prevent whistleblowers revealing what is in the public interest, but it seems that the police are free to use similar sinister practices.
Biggest user of gagging orders is the Metropolitian Police. It has signed 230 such agreements and the force’s 2011-12 accounts reveal that the biggest payout was to Martin Tiplady, the former head of human resources, who pocketed £259,462. Sir Paul Stephenson, the former commissioner received £178,838 in addition to his £98,000 salary, and John Yates, former anti-terrorism chief, received £86,000 on top of his £120,000 salary. Both resigned amid controversy over the Met’s links to the News of the World.
Elsewhere Lancashire Constabulary has signed 34 agreements with former employees in the past year alone, while Surrey police has signed 28 over the past three years. It is highly probable that the practice is widespread but to date establishing the actual extent is difficult.
The Police Federation claims that there is a fear factor for officers who want to “speak out”. That doesn’t quite add up since presumably no one has to sign a gagging agreement or to pocket the reward for doing so. And why are such agreements necessary?
Under the normal code of conduct it is illegal for an officer to reveal confidential details of investigations. We can therefore only assume that what is being hidden here is improper and unethical practices.
It is all very mysterious and potentially sinister. Just what is it that many of our police forces are desperately anxious to conceal?
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; ” Your motto is ‘Don’t be evil’ but I think you do do evil in that you use smoke and mirrors to avoid paying tax”….Commons Public Accounts chairman Margaret Hodges to Matt Brittin of Google.
“Now Brittin’s boss Eric Schmidt will meet David Cameron. But there have been 23 meetings over the past two years and Rachel Whetstone, Google’s communicaton bigwig, is ” an old friend of Mr Cameron.”…..Liam O’Brien
The sun is back with us this morning. If only it understood the extent of our love it would surely grace us with its presence more often. The allotment paths are lined with tubs and this morning the begonias and petunias were transformed from black and white to glorious technicolour. One cannot claim that we codgers were similarly transformed, but our moods certainly were. If the great weather controller in the sky reads this blog the message is simple – more of the same please, boss!
But two of our number find it hard to be bright even on mornings such as this. Both devote a great deal of their retirement to caring for relatives. No one begrudges such a role, that is what families are all about. But the drastic cuts in support are turning what was a labour of love into a living nightmare and there is growing evidence that carers are now having to devote so much time to their missions of mercy that they are jeopardising their own health.
A new analysis of the 2011 census from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows a link between juggling with other demands on their time while caring for relations is damaging the health of millions of carers. The ONS says that there is a “uniform pattern of deteriorating health” the more unpaid care poeple work.
The ONS also reveals that almost 10,000 children aged five to seven in England and Wales provide care for their family members or guardians, almost double the figure in the 2001 census. At the same time the number of elderly people devoting their retirement to ill partners or their own ageing parents has surged by 35 % in a decade. Overall 5.8 million people – 10 per cent of the population of England and Wales – are providing unpaid care to sick, disabled or elderly loved ones.
Helena Herklots, chief executive of the charity Carers UK, said yesterday; “Our ageing population has created a new generation of older people who are devoting their retirement to caring for their parents, relatives and partners – a challenge previous generations have not faced on this scale. Our care services are now struggling to provide support and the government must act, not just to preserve the dignity and independence of older peple who need support, but also to prevent their partners and children from being pushed to breaking point caring for them”.
Of the children now drawn into the role of carers Matthew Reed, of the Children’s Society, said that the recorded number of children providing care was likely to be the “tip of the iceberg”. He added that caring can cost children dearly; “They are missing out on their childhoods and school, gaining fewer qualifications and job opportunities and therefore are less likely to earn a decent living in the future”.
Without doubt the reduction of support provided to carers is becoming a national disgrace. Of course families have a responsibility here, but without the provision of support they are being overwhelmed. And as each new medical breakthrough occurs the volume of people living to the age of dependency increases.
Is there an answer to this mounting crisis? It can only be a recognition by government that a support network is not a luxury, it is an essential. That brings us immediately to the question of funding, which in turn takes us back once again to tax avoidance. Yesterday Margaret Hodge and her parliamentary committee were back on the attack in regard to Google and Amazon. Those two companies alone avoid paying tax by an amount big enough to fund a zillion carers.
And they are far from alone. We codgers are mystified by the case of Goldman Sachs who were let off a £20m tax bill to “avoid embarrassment to the chancellor”. That was the term used by Tax Revenue boss Dave Harnett in an email warning colleagues against pressurising the bank for fear it withdrew its support for banking reform!
And the chancellor isn’t Goldman’s only friend in Downing Street. The bank’s London boss, Michael Sherwood, has become great pals with Samantha Cameron since taking a stake in her swish stationery firm, Smythson.
Oh what a tangled web they weave. Meantime millions of carers are the sacrificial lambs.
THOUGHT FOR TODAY ” The long-term reduction of Christianity, particularly among young people, is now unstoppable. In another 20 years there are going to be more active Muslims than there are churchgoers and the time has come that institutional Christianity is no longer justified”….Keith Porteous Wood, National Secular Society