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Archive for the ‘Money’ Category

It’s party time!

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What is beneath the gloss?

So now that the Diamond Jubilee parties are over and we bask a little longer in the glow, the next party is upon us from tomorrow in the shape of a footballing feast known as the European Championships in Poland and Ukraine. Another few weeks of supermarket prodding will have us overfilled with lager, beer, and frozen pizzas, our homes and cars will be draped with the flag of St. George, the “red tops” will exhort the England football team to glories well beyond their reach (they have only ONCE reached the semi final of this tournament), the new flatscreen TVs will be overheating, and when it all ends……….well there are the Olympics and Paralympics to look forward to in London, along with commercially sponsored torch bearers. One only hopes that South Tyneside Council is NOT tempted to mount the giant screen in the park again, I fear the demand will not be there to sit and watch in a South Shields park!

Of course our politicians will probably be a little more sanguine than myself, especially having invested so heavily in the London Olympics, and I confess most of the Olympian sports hold little interest for me even though there will be some football in Newcastle, but for others this will indeed be a veritable feast of summer sports with Wimbledon and Test Match cricket thrown into the mix. David Cameron and News International will be hoping to share the glory of English and British sportsmen and women as the medal count increases the “feel good” factor and the national index of good cheer. Parliament will be enjoying its long summer break with only the Leveson inquiry interrupting the good news, yet quietly gurgling away beneath the veneer of good cheer and “gloss” will be ……………………the economy.

Let’s not forget, that this is the main event!

After two years of a Conservative led coalition government the track record is not that impressive, the deficit continues to grow (albeit at a slower pace), the national debt is still woefully out of control, borrowing is still at record levels and getting higher, public expenditure is higher now than in the last years of Brown’s disastrous administration, so much for the cuts eh? The slight saving grace is that unemployment has not yet broken past levels which might lead to the sort of civil unrest witnessed in Greece. The Eurozone crisis refuses to go away, banks still appear to need recapitalisng (again) and none of the major European players seem willing to take the bull by the horns and dismantle the single currency. All the while the pan European policy appears to be one of further austerity, less public spending, and increasing taxation, as near every nation in the EU other than Germany slumbers along on virtually zero growth.

Growth? Did I mention growth?

Ah yes, who has the secret elixir which will put more money into the hands of consumers or savers? It is they alone who can provide the demand and stimulus that economies need, and any person in South Tyneside who tells you that they couldn’t use a few extra quid a month is madly deluded. Banks rely on savers to swell deposits, greater deposits create more capital, more capital creates greater liquidity which normally leads to easier lending and investment, yet the current economic cycle has brought us interest rates which creep closer to zero and discourage any saving at all. Similarly current personal and indirect taxation levels do nothing at all to inspire consumer confidence and help us to prioritise our spending on essentials such as mortgages and rents, fuel, and keeping our older cars on the road for even longer. It is almost a pan European deflationary cycle. Our own government is caught up in the very same frame of mind as Labour’s outgoing Chancellor Alistair Darling who was equally determined to reduce the deficit whilst raising taxes and sending out hopeful signals on government expenditure. Neither Labour nor the current coalition appears to have had a “plan B” that might have included some major initiatives to promote economic growth and rekindle consumer demand.

So, sadly, whilst we are in the summer party of love mood we have to remind the politicians that “it’s the economy stupid”, and with that in mind I’ve asked some of our prominent politicians in South Tyneside, along with some business people and other bloggers for their ideas on what we need to do to get our local and national economy on the move. Of course your own ideas are very welcome too.

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Inflation busting pay rises are bad politics

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20% rise for South Tyneside cabinet members described as “slight”

OK, so the full amount in the pot has not changed, but this comment by Cllr. Iain Malcolm the Leader of South Tyneside Council is simply flabbergasting:

Because cabinet members are now expected to attend more meetings, their allowance rises slightly.

Slightly?

In these days where the average lucky employed person has to settle for a rise of 2% or less, and shareholders are at last rebelling against corporate pay rises as large as 4.8%, this award seems designed to cause an uproar with news being revealed just days after a strong election victory.  This is simply bad politics, a faux pas on the level displayed by the coalition government on almost a daily basis.

How on earth Cllr. Malcolm believes this will sit comfortably with the people of South Shields and Jarrow is beyond me, the independent panel appears to have taken some money from the leader of the (heavily defeated) opposition and doled it out to Labour’s favourite sons, I guess they are hoping that this will all be forgotten about over the next two years – the next time any councillors face an election around here.

I will forgive these cabinet members for accepting this grotesque increase in special responsibility allowance only if they can maintain their financial stewardship and deliver NO council tax increases before the next local government election, that will be fair payment for results don’t you think?

 

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Written by curly

May 13, 2012 at 11:13 am

Reducing the number of South Tyneside councillors

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Populist move from one current and one former councillor

Well it certainly might be an idea that gains the backing of a large section of the community eager to see the perceived wasting of money halted, but as things stand these proposals from the former Progressive councillor Greenwell Jewitt, and the borough’s Old Peoples Parliament Forum 50, along with backing from current Independent councillor George Elsom seem doomed to failure not least because they are poorly thought through and poorly presented.

The idea sounds great, bringing the number of councillors down from 54 to 36 and reducing allowances by 50% would certainly find favour with a lot of people, many could probably find popular alternative ways to spend the c £300000 that might be saved (in other words the cash would not be saved at all)  but there is no substance, clarity, or technical detail in the proposals, nor does the proposal take account of what actions South Tyneside Council can legitimately take on its own behalf. Our council cannot decide alone to reduce the number of its elected representatives, nor can it decide alone what level of allowances to compensate elected members with.

These decisions can only be taken alongside the guidance, advice, and support of external organisations set up by statute governing the constitution of local councils in England Wales.

One needs to ask Cllr, Elsom and Mr. Jewitt exactly how they would propose making the reduction in councillor numbers. Would they favour continuing with fewer but larger three member seats and elections held at the same time and frequency as the rest of England and Wales, or would they favour two member wards, which require our council to be completely out of step with the rest of England and Wales? Twelve larger wards across the borough would suit me to be sure, but it would be almost impossible to get all party agreement on the shape, size, and the boundaries of these new wards, it might also lead to a reduction in Labour’s dominance at local level. However this is all academic, in order to facilitate a change in the size of South Tyneside Council, the council would need to pass a resolution requesting that the Local Government Boundaries Commission for England carry out a special and specific electoral review just for this borough, and it is a very rare thing indeed for single borough reviews to take place successfully.

Electoral reviews look at whether the boundaries of wards or divisions within a local authority need to be altered. We might conduct these reviews either to ensure fairer representation at local government elections after any significant changes in the distribution of electors, or at the request of a local authority for other reasons.

Things we look at:

  • the number of councillors on the council
  • the number of wards or divisions
  • whether the wards or divisions should be represented by a single councillor, or jointly by two or three councillors
  • the boundaries and names of those wards or divisions

Our responsibilities relate solely to local government in England.

So, as you can see from the above, this will be a major hurdle to overcome, and certainly would not happen overnight!

I think Forum 50’s idea of collecting petition signatures may be the right way to go to promote the council into thinking of considering their proposal, but a realist would recognise that there can be no political will withing the Labour Party to cut their own throats.

Nice try though guys!

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Written by curly

March 11, 2012 at 10:28 am

All in it together

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Brown bookOf course they are!

“We are all in this together”  may have been the most prophetic words uttered by Conservative Leader David Cameron following the post crash demise of the last Labour government, leaving an economy in tatters and the whole of Europe drowning in debt after the sage advice of Brown and Obama to governments and central banks to borrow more and print more money to keep the world floating happily along towards oblivion. Cameron’s words were meant to galvanise public opinion as we entered an age of austerity to tackle the worldwide mountains of debt and return the UK to a “balanced budget” after the profligacy of the Brown/Blair years, yet after two budgets from the coalition government the achievment of that aim does not seem to be approaching with any speed.

We had just gone through a Parliament awash with excess, the MPs expenses scandal had left a very nasty taste in the mouth and the reforms put in place have not done an awful lot to assuage public anger and resentment at what politicians are perceived to be doing with their time and our money, the News International phone hacking revelations and the subsequent Leveson inquiry will probably also confirm the public’s suspicions that our politicians are easy to influence and are seen to be far too close to some journalists and newspaper proprietors for the sake of good honest and open public governance.

Having taken what they think is statesmanlike stances during their years in office it may seem unedifying to some that former holders of great office now hawk themselves around on the world’s stage making an absolute fortune and banking their income not in a personal account, but into the account of a privately owned company specifically set up to reduce their liability to pay the full rate of UK tax. Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, and South Shields MP David Miliband all operate such companies and manage to reduce their tax liabilities by sums that some of us may never manage to earn in a year. Don’t get me wrong, we should all praise success, but if we are all in this together we should all be paying our fair share of taxes.

This “being in it together” though, is now becoming a catch phrase of the left, perhaps Cameron may regret having uttered those words in the first place, there are many who would just love to push them back down his throat, and if they have a reasoned cogent argument then why not? Trouble is, some are none too careful about republishing these words, take for example the septuagenarian Star Trek actor Patrick Stewart, invited by David Miliband to deliver one of his South Shields lectures:

“I have nothing but contempt for the expression ‘we’re all in this together.

That’s bullshit – we’re not all in this together,”

“The members of the cabinet are not in the same position as the people who live near me in Bermondsey. What we have seen is not so much a response to a global crisis but Tory policies as usual, masquerading under the claim of necessity.”

Putting aside the fallibility of memory, Stewart seems to miss the response to the UK crisis as well as missing the point on worldwide debt reduction, it does not look or sound so good bleating about the phrase “we are in this together” when one has resided in such luxurious surroundings as these in California:
Patrick Stewarts Californian residence

Picture via Guido Fawkes

The lofty left certainly do not so sound so chummy and down to earth when their wealth is revealed, the folks of Queensferry, Westoe, Trimdon, or Bermondsey must be choking with contempt at any politician/actor (hard to tell the difference with Tony Blair) talking about “being in it together”.

Beam me up Scotty, I want to be in it together with you 🙂

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Cllr. McCabe’s finest moment.

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Why does one councillor spend so much time effort and risk in attempting to stop a legal action?

Cllr. John McCabe has some fine words published in the Shields Gazette this evening, as we learn that Cllr. Khan’s appeal will add massively to the sums expended by South Tyneside Council as they attempt to umask the mystery Monkey blogger:

“Let’s be clear. The Monkey blog is not some whistle-blowing caped-crusader seeking justice for the underdog. It is a vile, filthy and tawdry blog full of lies, slander and frankly horrendous filth against councillors, council staff, their families and reputable businesses in the borough.

“The council has a duty of care to its staff. Cyber bullying should not be tolerated. Four people, who have been libelled the most, agreed to allow their names to be used in the US Courts to seek to unmask this pathetic individual.

“We don’t know who it is, the council has never suggested it is Coun Khan, but given his frantic attempts to undermine this case it is hard to understand why he would spend so much time, effort and risk so much money trying to stop the legal action.

“Coun Khan’s anti-SLAPP motion was an attempt to stop the council unmasking the individual operating as Mr Monkey, but Coun Khan’s actions were dismissed by a judge as ‘frivolous’ at a hearing in September and costs were awarded in favour of the council. In my view, he owes the council taxpayer more than £40,000.”

It is a strange day which sees the passing of one councillor who cost the council taxpayer so little over 45 years  and another intent on costing us so much over a much shorter period. Instead of prolonging the legal actions in the US why doesn’t Cllr. Khan bring matters to a head and call the plaintiffs’ bluff by inviting them to launch a libel action in the UK?

I’m sure that the majority of us in South Tyneside would like to see the end of this affair in a more clear cut manner than the Suarez/Evra long winded  handshake and subsequent apologies.

 

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Written by curly

February 13, 2012 at 6:46 pm

South Tyneside Council prefers to tax widows, divorcees, and single people!

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Council amongst group who wish to see discount abolished.

Currently, if you are a single person living in a household you are entitled to a 25% reduction on your council tax bill, presumably because you make far fewer demands on your local council in areas such as waste collection, water and sewerage, education, library services, care services etc. A household with two adults or more, or with a number of wage earners will make greater demands on these services and can justifiably be charged the full rate.

Now some councils want this automatic discount to be abolished to help them increase their revenues from council tax, and amongst those deemed to favour ” widow’s tax” according to Eric Pickles, is South Tyneside.

“There is clearly a well-orchestrated campaign being run by the Labour Party to target the elderly, single mothers and the most vulnerable,” Mr Pickles said.

“They want to punish people who have worked hard all their lives and paid their taxes simply because they live on their own. There is a gross sense of injustice at raising taxes that could force people out of their homes. This is a widows tax and shows how out of touch Labour is.”

In it’s submission to the consultative government body South Tyneside Council said it would be

“easier to collect an increase in council tax as a result of a discount being withdrawn from someone who can afford it than someone on benefit who can’t”.

Not sure that I see the logic in that argument of course, there must be hundreds of widows, single pensioners, single young people, or single mothers in South Shields whose earning capabilities are far smaller than those of the larger family next door. I also personally know many South Shields folks single, or living with family, who cannot achieve the same aspirations of some on benefits despite going out to work and earning a living!

There are times when the thinking of South Tyneside Council is so far “out of the box” that it is imaginable that the box once belonged to a magician.

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Written by curly

January 30, 2012 at 1:17 pm

David Miliband using tax loophole for avoidance

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david milibandAnnual tax savings estimated at six figures!

South Shields’ part time MP David Miliband may add another couple of words to his CV having been variously described as a globe trotter, Labour leadership loser, former Foreign Secretary, chip shop connoisseur, banana waver, a man with high earning outside interests, and now a tax avoider!

Since losing the battle to lead the Labour party to his brother Ed, the man that Tony Blair pushed onto the people of South Shields is trying his hardest not to mirror the lifestyles and wage earning capacities of the majority of his constituents in South Tyneside by adding to the growing list of opportunities available to former cabinet ministers. Speech making has never quite been so profitable for former front bench performers, add this to consultancies, and the vice-chairmanship of Sunderland AFC and our rarely seen Member of Parliament can justifiably claim to have never had it so good!

Last November (as reported in the MPs Register of Interests), David Miliband joined the advisory board of the Sir Bani Yas Forum in Abu Dhabi, the Daily Mail reported that  he was paid almost £5000 for transport and accommodation for himself and a member of his staff, and also received £64,475 from the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs! The article also claims that he receives pay at a rate of more than £21000 per day from the UAE, and his recent decision to do work for a Pakistani company, Indus Basin Holdings, earns him an additional £50000 per annum for five days work!

Rather than being paid personally and taxed through PAYE, like the majority of us, Miliband’s earnings are channelled through a company jointly owned by himself and his wife Louise, the Office of David Miliband Limited, and by exploiting both partners tax allowances and taking their income in the form of share dividends, it is estimated that Mr. Miliband is avoiding paying taxes to the tune of a six figure number. Laughing all the way to the bank!

You might want to complain about how much other people are paying David Miliband, personally I’m not that bothered, best of luck to him I say. I am a bit bothered by this stance over tax though, particularly as it was an area that the last Labour government intended to address. Alistair Darling was determined to close this tax avoidance loophole, and some couples were hounded through the courts by HM Revenue before it became clear that the practice was legal, then Labour declared :

‘The Government will therefore bring forward proposals for changes to legislation.’

Fortunately for Miliband, they never did, it must be just a little embarrassing for him though to be seen to be so out of step with his constituents, and to be seen as avoiding his full tax bill when many of those who struggle to keep up to date with benefits regulations are hauled through the courts.

Meanwhile in another article Oliver Wright suggests that David Miliband is still struggling to come to terms with his brother’s leadership and is happier to be a big earner away from Labour’s front bench, sadly Wright suggests that the two have an awkward relationship and only meet rarely at family events even suggesting that he still finds it very difficult to be in a room with Ed.

It does make me wonder what former South Shields MPs such as Arthur Blenkinsop or Chuter Ede would have made of their modern day successor.

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Written by curly

January 30, 2012 at 12:59 pm

Have I missed out on a tax reduction?

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Labour’s Iain Malcolm in odd statement

Cllr. Iain Malcolm, Labour’s Leader of South Tyneside District council is quoted today as saying:

“We have been able to reduce council tax year on year since I become leader.”

Has a year been missed out of my life? Have I been in a state of cryogenic suspended animation on another planet? Did they deliberately miss me out?

I have lived in South Shields all of my life, and as far as I can recall during the history of paying council tax on South Tyneside my bill has only ever gone up (or last year stayed the same thanks to the Coalition government), can someone please tell me which year during Iain Malcolm’s leadership that it was reduced?

Every time that South Tyneside Council had a “consultation exercise” on its website about council taxes I was offered a choice of four different levels of increases, never once was I offered the choice of a freeze or a reduction.

Has the “dear Leader” been terribly misquoted or has he become temporarily deluded into thinking he has become a tax cutting Tory after successfully squeezing the council’s budget?

 

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Written by curly

January 26, 2012 at 2:10 pm

Councils maxing out the credit card

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laughing dogA little light relief for South Tyneside tax payers

I’m already getting pretty tired of the lacklustre economic performance of the Conservative led coalition government still labouring under the debt burdens left by its predecessor and weighed down by the yolk of the Eurozone debt crisis, the mantras are now ineffective and sharp clear results are what we are all screaming out to see. In the absence of any real growth policy the UK economy continues to slumber and the message that Labour “maxed out” the nation’s credit card continues to be broadcast ad nauseam. Yet, even after acknowledging the massive difficulties faced in attempting to reduce the structural budget deficit, and the mounting contributions to the IMF and the Central European Bank to shore up Italy, Greece, Ireland, and possibly Spain and Portugal too, it will be hard to argue that they are succeeding in meeting many targets when the next round of public spending figures are produced by the National Statistics Office. I confidently predict that despite the reductions in spending that we will see overall public expenditure continuing to rise seemingly unabated  and the PSBN (Public Sector Borrowing Requirement) will once again be a huge area of concern, after almost eighteen months in office the coalition will not have been able to show any real impact on the important numbers that determine how the international financial institutions regard our economy. Additionally the recently announced plan to print more money inject a further £75 Bn worth of quantitative easing into the banking system will have no guarantee of reaching the parts of the economy that need it (SMEs and consumers) and almost every guarantee to further fuel inflation which is already above the Bank of England’s targets, savings and pensions are about to be eroded further.

So, it comes as little surprise that we learn today that fiscal responsibility is still not something appreciated by some officials in local government, the Daily Telegraph carries an account of how councils in England, Scotland, and Wales continue to allow Chief Executives and other higher managers to spend on corporate credit cards to fund a “work style” that many could only dream of. I know it’s only small beer in the larger scheme of things but it is indicative of an attitude that ignores a responsibility and accountability that they have to local tax payers and the way that they spend other people’s money. Local councils. they say, have racked up credit card debts of around £100 m over the last three years spending on such things as overnight hotel bills, first class travel, and gifts. However when delving deeper into the reported figure for spending which exceeded £500, we see things which perhaps might put some Chief Executives on a par with MPs during the horrendous disclosure of their expenses.

  • Take a look at Essex County Council and ponder on its spending of almost £1m on “legal matters”, it turns out that most of these were the payment of fines! They also ran up huge bills at Tesco and Marks and Spencer.
  • Then ponder over how Pembrokeshire Council can spend over £5m on a credit card and include what looks like the whole of its social housing maintenance bills, £500 for a gingham dress, and over £1000 for an iMac (surely a Windows PC would have done the job?). On closer inspection it feels like the whole of their operations are paid for by credit card rather than the direct paying of invoices from departmental budgets, one has to ask why?
  • Aberdeenshire spent over £2500 on 60″ and 42″ flat screen TVs, almost £1000 on Nintendo DS game consoles, almost £6000 on Apple Macs and software, over £6000 on camcorders and digital cameras, over £1000 on tickets for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, they are another council who spent over £1000 on a top spec iMac Pro where a cheaper laptop would probably have done the same job. They also spent almost £5000 on theatre tickets and sent staff to just about the four corners of the earth!

Council tax payers in South Tyneside might like to know that our neighbours at Gateshead Council spent almost £44000 on their credit card, North Tyneside a whopping £1.28m over three years, Newcastle City Council under £7000, Sunderland along with South Tyneside managed to total an absolute NIL! (There may, of course be smaller amounts that fell below the £500 reporting threshold).

I am pretty much shocked at how councils have managed to use credit cards so widely, I’d like to think  their use may be a way to pay for goods and services quickly and effectively especially if they are engaging in internet shopping, I’d also like to think that they are buying at the cheapest available prices on behalf of their tax payers. However, items like Macs are more a “desirable” than a “must have”.

Any thoughts from those involved in buying on behalf of local councils would be much appreciated.

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Written by curly

October 17, 2011 at 10:22 am

I have no problem with Cllr. Branley’s allowances…..

with 17 comments

….so long as she tells the people of Westoe ward about them.

So after years and years of not claiming any allowance for giving up her time to serve as a South Tyneside District councillor Jane Branley has decided to join the majority of our other councillors in claiming what local government entitles her to. I have no problem with that at all, being an elected councillor, for most people, is an onerous task with responsibilities and duties which are time consuming, and unless we want purely voluntary councillors then we had better be prepared to go back to the days when only those of independent means could afford to give up their time to serve on the council. Rest assured, there are not that many people in South Tyneside who could afford to do that, and if we want our councillors to be fully representative of the people that elect them then they would have to include many who are employed, unemployed, housewives, retired people, and younger people, the allowance is there in recognition that being a local councillor these days is pretty much a full time job and without it many suitable people simply would not be interested in serving their community.

Having said that, the vast majority of councillors in South Tyneside are now earning on average around £12000 pa (taxable), we seem to have a lot of people with “special responsibilities”.

Update 20:32

I have just learned this evening, with some shock, that Jane Branley is suffering a terminal illness, and therefore I have scrubbed the majority of the above post. It would not be right, and totally lacking in compassion to add further pressure to her or her family at this time. I certainly do not expect nor wish her to respond or to make the statement that I have called for, she now deserves time for herself and her medical treament.

I offer my sincere apologies to Jane and her family if this post has seemed insensitive or caused offence, it certainly was not meant and would not have been made at all if I was aware earlier of her current plight. I wish her well, she has a huge majority and is extremely well respected in her ward, let us offer our prayers.

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Written by curly

October 11, 2011 at 4:22 pm