Let’s have fairer Council Tax for all Home Owners

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The biased nature of the Council Tax System has long been a frustration to me.  I do not like any system that operates with one rule for you and another for us. 

The current range of council tax bands does not spread the burden of council tax fairly across society.

Council Tax paid by home owners whose properties are worth below ~£1m understand and accept the principal of banding. The same principal should be extended to properties valued all the way up to £100m and above.

The Lib Dem’s High Value Property Levy does this. It establishes graduated council tax bands for properties £2m and above. At last, the same set of rules for all home owners.

A bit of detail

The highest current council tax band is defined by its lower limit, i.e. property valued at £320,000 in 1991. This converts to ~£960,000 in today’s house prices (*see below for source).

While owners of properties valued below this level pay council tax in increasing increments across eight council tax bands, all properties valued above ~£960,000 are charged council tax at the same rate. Bands at the bottom of the council tax scale are extremely narrow. The lowest band spans only a valuation difference of £12,000.

As it is reasonable for people living in properties valued at £300,000 and £30,000 to pay different levels of council tax, so it is reasonable that council tax levied on property valued at £100m should be more than on property valued at £1m.

The Lyons Inquiry of 2007 recommended revaluation of properties and the redrafting of council tax bands to both reduce payments at the lower end, and increase payments for higher valued properties, yet no action was taken by the Labour government.

If elected to Westminster I would support the extension of Council Tax bands and this spreading of the burden. I would also call for government to get on with revaluing properties across the UK as soon as possible.

* Source: Nationwide Building Society data by broker Knight Frank, as reported in the Independent, Oct 2012: ind.pn/TM27XC

 

It’s paying tax that is the moral duty

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Today’s build up to the Autumn statement reminded me of David Cameron saying earlier this year that “cutting taxes is a moral duty”. When I think about that my blood runs ever so slightly cold.

How can this be right when every individual and business in the UK benefits from our state system? Should every individual and company not pay their bit towards the state education, NHS, good roads, infrastructure and social care that underpins the system in which they operate?

If you’re reading this thinking about school fees and BUPA payments, well, I’m genuinely pleased things are working out for you. Whether you are an employee or boss, however, your business would not have grown and will not survive without a well-educated, healthy, employable, mobile British society.

How does the barista get to work? Where did the coder learn his stuff? How does the latte drinker afford that extra shot? How would Google operate in the UK if we weren’t blessed with a generally educated, curious, social population, that can afford to buy computers? The common good really does benefit everyone. Paying for it, through taxation, is a good, sound and reasonable business expense.

According to government figures, the tax gap in the UK for 2012/13 is £34billion. For 2011/12 it was £35bn. For 2010/11 it was £32bn (see links below). That’s a lot of schools and roads.

I don’t call for crazy levels of taxation. Legitimate business expenses should be tax deductible. I’m glad the Liberal Democrats raised tax thresholds at the lower end of the scale. I have nothing against profit, per se. Tax avoidance however, whether it’s VAT, excise, income or corporation tax, will bring the whole tower down.

Eric Schmidt said last year that he has ‘a fiduciary responsibility to our shareholders’ that prevents the company from paying more tax abroad. I respectfully suggest Google shareholders – and others also – have a fiduciary responsibility to ensure their company pays for services rendered by the state, in any country in which it operates. 

Let’s have a shift in perspective. Forget Cameron. Paying taxes is the moral thing to do.

And if you pay yours already – good on you. You are doing the right thing.

References:

Lib Dem Policies – Delivered

I thought I would share my personal list of policies that were included in our 2010 Manifesto and have been delivered by the Lib Dems in Government:

It’s a wonderful list, including some of the most socially democratic policies this country has seen for a generation.

Not bad for 57 MPs.

  • Investing nearly £1 billion to crack down on tax avoidance, raising an extra £9 billion per year by 2015
  • Increase Capital Gains Tax to 28% for higher rate taxpayers whilst keeping it at 18% for basic rate taxpayers
  • Providing £400 million to give respite breaks to carers who work over 50 hours a week
  • Delivered on the key Lib Dem pledge of a £2.5bn Pupil Premium to bring extra funding to disadvantaged students. Its rate has now been increased further and is £1,300 per eligible pupil in primary schools and £935 per eligible pupil in secondary schools in 2014-15
  • Taking 3.2 million low earners out of income tax altogether through the key Lib Dem policy of raising the basic income tax threshold
  • Introduced a banking levy so the banks pay a their fair share of tax
  • Created a Green Investment Bank, triggering an extra £15 billion of investment in green infrastructure by 2014-15
  • Scrapped the expensive and impractical ID cards programme
  • Increased funding for dementia research by 150%, reaching £66.3 million by 2014-15 (England & Wales)
  • Investing around £400 million to make psychological therapies available for those who need them, including for the first time children and adolescents (England)
  • Introduced waiting times for mental health treatment
  • Introduced targets to ensure mental health treatments on a parity with physical health
  • Ensured the Government maintained the commitment to end child poverty by 2020
  • Phased out the compulsory retirement age
  • Creating a new, simple single state pension – a Citizen’s Pension – set above the basic means test level
  • Banned private sector wheel-clamping to put an end to rogue clampers (England & Wales)
  • Secured a judicial inquiry into Britain’s role in torture and rendition
  • Mapped out the Government’s path to renewable energy to 2050, including massive investment in low carbon electricity
  • Banned new coal-fired power stations that don’t have Carbon Capture and Storage technology
  • Ensured the overseas aid budget was protected from cuts – and hit the international 0.7% of GDP target from 2013
  • Scrapped burdensome Home Information Packs and improved energy performance certificates to make them more user-friendly (England & Wales)
  • End the routine detention of children for immigration purposes
  • Introduced the Green Deal, letting people pay for energy efficient home improvements with the savings on their energy bills
  • Improved our libel laws, including making it harder for companies to silence their critics and improving freedom for academics to publish their research (England & Wales)
  • Strengthened freedom of speech by removing the offence for using ‘insulting’ language from Section 5 of the Public Order Act
  • Switched off the controversial ContactPoint database for school children (England)
  • Removed innocent people’s DNA from the police database (England & Wales)
  • Vetoed the Snooper’s Charter plans to monitor everyone’s online activity
  • Ensured there is no replacement of the costly Trident nuclear weapons system this Parliament
  • Delivering an £800 tax cut to 25.4 million people by raising the income tax threshold to £10,500 in 2015, with 3.2 million low paid people being taken out of having to pay income tax at all
  • Restored the link between pensions and earnings, which had been scrapped by Margaret Thatcher
  • Ended the rule forcing people to buy a pension annuity at 75
  • Established the Equitable Life Payment Scheme and begun payments to people who lost their money, ending years of stalling under Labour
  • Agreed to the Vickers Report recommendation to separate retail and investment banking

(The original publication from the campaign team includes page references. Presentation is a little cheesy, though, so brace yourself:  http://whatthehellhavethelibdemsdone.com)

Rural Broadband: Am I missing something?

Because of an enquiry from a constituent, I have gone back, this morning, to coverage maps for the Superfast Berkshire project, which detail which areas will receive fibre optic services by the end of the project in 2016.

They are truly extraordinary – and not in a good way. I showed them to our MP on the DCMS Select Committee (John Leech) and even he was astonished to see the appalling provision that’s been negotiated on behalf of West Berks, compared to the coverage for the East.

And remember, the Lead Authority for the Superfast Berkshire project was the loveable Tory team on West Berkshire Council. Richard Benyon was along side them, sticking up for the needs of his rural residents.

Superfast Berkshire - Fibre Coverage by Phase (Superfast Berkshire (http://www.superfastberkshire.org.uk/CHttpHandler.ashx?id=34509&p=0))

Superfast Berkshire – Fibre Coverage by Phase
(http://www.superfastberkshire.org.uk/CHttpHandler.ashx?id=34509&p=0)

EXTRAORDINARY EXAMPLE: If you look at the map close-up, below, you’ll see, under the green and the red shading, that Yattendon is well covered. Good for Yattendon, no problem with that at all, in itself. But while Yattendon village is covered twice and the greenfields around are promised superfast coverage by December of this year, Hermitage and Hampstead Norreys are not expected to receive fibre optic superfast coverage by the end of 2014, the end of 2015 or the end of 2016. Perhaps not even, at all.

Large numbers of people live and work in Hermitage and Hampstead Norreys. Lots of children need to do homework online. What did they ever do to offend West Berkshire Council? What were their Councillors – those people elected to represent their interests – doing while this so-called negotiation was going on?

Looking at the project completion map (the purple one, below), even once the additional funding of the Rural Communities Broadband fund, so proudly trumpeted and the ‘planned’ infill satellite and wifi coverage, only 25-50% of households in Hermitage will receive coverage >2Mb.

Superfast Coverage at Project Completion (Superfast Coverage at Project Completion (http://www.superfastberkshire.org.uk/CHttpHandler.ashx?id=34510&p=0))

Superfast Coverage at Project Completion
(http://www.superfastberkshire.org.uk/CHttpHandler.ashx?id=34510&p=0)

I could go on further about East Ilsley, East Garston and Compton, with a population of ~2,000, where 0-25% superfast coverage is the best that is promised by the end of the project. Scandalous.

Looking at these maps, one would assume that Reading was leading the Superfast Berkshire negotiations, that Windsor and Maidenhead must have held the floor, that Slough drove proceedings, but no – no, West Berkshire Council was the lead authority on the Superfast Berkshire Project. Richard Benyon proclaimed more than once, how wonderfully the negotiations were going.

If this is the best result our MP can get from good negotiations, lord preserve us from his bad ones. There are times, in life and in politics, when being nice is simply not enough.

For more information about the Superfast Broadband project, see their own site: http://www.superfastberkshire.org.uk/CHttpHandler.ashx?id=34509&p=0

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West Berkshire Broadband

At a recent event in the centre of Newbury, I heard yet more stories from people living and working outside of Newbury and Thatcham about the poor broadband speeds. Two rural business leaders reported broadband speeds below 2Mb. Particularly worrying, as they are based in Elcot and Winterbourne, villages that are not included in the current Superfast Broadband plans, at all.

This is shocking. If I am elected to Westminster, for the sake of all businesses and residents across West Berks, I will campaign vigorously for better broadband services in and across our district.

People should be able to run businesses from home, whether you’re a publisher sending multiple picture files to a printer on the far side of the world or a hotel that would like to offer its guests more than 2Mb.

In West Berks we have many sophisticated businesses in our villages: From hi-tech science in East Garston, to Engineering Consultancy in Hampstead Norreys, to PR and marketing in East Ilsely. They all need broadband that’s as fast and reliable as we have in our towns.

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Faster broadband is important for everyone in our communities – whether it’s children doing homework, day to day banking, or grannies keen to stay in touch with their families.

Earlier this year, I visited John Leech, our MP representative on the DCMS select committee. He was astounded at the bad deal Gordon Lundie and Richard Benyon had negotiated for West Berkshire from the Superfast Berkshire consortium. Leaving rural areas so far behind nearby towns in terms of the service the receive and when they are likely to receive it, is very shortsighted.

You can read the speech I gave to Conference about the importance of broadband infrastructure for all our communities, here: http://westberkslibdems.org.uk/en/article/2014/853249/judith-bunting-s-speech-to-conference-on-the-critical-importance-of-broadband-services-to-rural-areas

Flying the Flag for Newbury Business

June 9th, 2014

 

Judith Bunting with Vince Cable at the Bloomberg Keynote Speech
Judith Bunting with Business Secretary, Vince Cable at the Bloomberg Keynote Speech

At Nick Clegg’s recent keynote speech in London today Judith Bunting asked what the government could do to further encourage the development of our science, technology and research industries of the M4 Corridor.

“These companies are the future,” Judith Bunting said. “Their research, development and manufacturing provides the precisely the kind of highly skilled work that is underpinning the economic recovery of the country.” She went on, “Should hi tech industry be eligible for the kind of tax-breaks enjoyed by other industries, like film and TV?”

“If I am returned to Westminster, I will pursue the idea of tax breaks for start-ups in the technology industry. Vodafone was once a Newbury start-up as was Quantel. Now they employ thousands of people in our area.  Our hi tech industries and their skilled workers are critical to stimulating economic growth.”

Nick Clegg was glad to acknowledge the importance of the technology industry to the economic recovery of Britain. With reference to the speech made by Judith Bunting at Federal Conference, last year, he emphasised the importance of getting reliable broadband coverage extended to the whole of the UK. In his speech, earlier, Nick said, “If this parliament was about reviving the economy, the next will be about rewiring the economy”.

Nick also celebrated Vince Cable’s work in promoting the teaching of engineering, electrical and technical skills in FE Colleges and the establishment of the Apprenticeship and the Higher Apprenticeship schemes in which companies sponsor students to take technical education to degree level.

Nick Clegg giving Keynote Speech at Bloomberg June 2014
Nick Clegg: Keynote Speech at Bloomberg

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