Sunny Jim is one of the most popular members of our allotments gang. Born and bred in Barbados, Jim always sees the sunny side of life but one of the great mysteries of life is how he can bear our ghastly climate after, for so many years, coming to accept blue skies as a common occurance. This morning, cars on the nearby main road had their headlights on at 8.00am! Just the start for the latest saga of a Chancellor’s long list of platitudes and half-truths.
Interestingly one thing that none of them ever mention is the fact that 69% of the UK land is owned by 0.6% of the population. This small elite group swallows 43% of the EU common agricultural policy budget of £47 billion. Now that would clearly make a rather big impact if diverted into the national purse and it always puzzles me that both Labour and Conservative governments never consider it worthy of so much as a mention.
For most of us the common agricultural policy is yet another sign of EU madness, but we do tend to think approvingly of the amounts allocated to encourage farmers to maintain hedgerows and the like. But that is small beer and, almost unnoticed, huge amounts of taxpayer’s money are handed to a small clique of very wealthy landowners. The arrangement seems to be based on the peculiar assumption that the bigger the land mass owned by any individual the greater should be the financial no-strings-attached payout. Let me give you a few examples.
As chairman of Northern Rock, Matt Ridley oversaw the first run on a British bank since 1878, and helped precipitate the economic crisis that has impoverished so many. This champion of free market economics and his family received £205,000 from the taxpayer last year simply for owning their Blagdon Estate. But that is modest by comparison with Prince Bandar, the Saudi Arabian fixer at the heart of the Al-Yamamah scandal. He received around £1 billion from weapons manufacturer BAE and used the money to buy the Glympton estate in Oxfordshire. For this public service we now pay him £270,000 per annum.
But it is the aristocrats and utility companies that pocket the most of our largesse. The Duke of Devonshire gets £390,000, the Duke of Buccleuch £405,000, the Earl of Plymouth £560,000, the Earl of Moray £770,000, the Duke of Westminster £820,000.
The Vestey family pocket £1.2 million from their Thurlow estate. You’ll be pleased to learn that the previous owner – Edward Vestey who died in 2008 – managed his tax affairs so efficiently that in one year his businesses paid just £10. When challenged, he replied that; “We’re all tax dodgers, aren’t we?”. But it isn’t just the aristocrtas that pocket our cash. Yorkshire Water gets £290,000, Welsh Water £330,000, Severn Trent £650,00, United Utilities £1.3 million and Serco £2 million.
Funding all this costs each and every taxpayer £245 per year. And there are some juicy add-ons. Last night’s Panorama featured the scandal of Private Finance Initiatives (PFIs), a licence to print money operated by people like Serco. When in opposition, Osborne and Cameron made great play of the fact that such schemes are aimed at deceiving the public. Private companies advance the cash to build hospitals and schools which they then own. The repayments are astronomic and invariably end with the institution in question up to its neck in debt and unable to provide adequate services. Since the election Osborne has continued to sanction dozens of such arrangements!
But back to the land payouts, which are the main treat for the already rich. I have listed some examples but others remain cloaked in secrecy For example, a company based in France called Syral UK Ltd receives £18.7 million fom the taxpayer. On its website it describes itself as a producer of industrial starch, alcohol and proteins. So far I can find no details of the land it owns to justify such a handsome hand-out.
The strangest thing of all is that the government continues to lobby in Brussels for changes to the common agricultural policy, but only focuses on one aspect. It warns that the proposed change to enable a limit to be imposed on payments to large landowners should be dropped. This, the government argues, “would impede consolidation”. It seems that 0.6% of the population owning 69% of the land isn’t equitable enough!
Surely the only subsidies that merit existence are those to small, vulnerable farmers. How on earth can anyone justify simply handing vast sums of money to the ultra-rich landowners? Even the claim that they are not damaging the environment are as daft as suggesting everyone who doesn’t commit a crime should receive a bonus.
This is a classic example of that biblical reference that unto him that hath shall be given. And before anyone rushes to suggest that people on strike are in some way demonstrating greed and self interest, they should perhaps look more closely at so many little-discussed schemes serving to increase the gap between rich and poor, schemes operated by both Labour and Conservative governments. A further article demonstrating how little tax these people actually pay might finally convince you that we are far from all being in this mess together!
Yesterday the death of yet another British soldier in Afghanistan was announced. It prompts one question. Is this the sort of society that our troops are making the ultimate sacrifice for?
JOIN ME TOMORROW FOR THE MIDWEEK QUIZ!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!