Tuesday 17 April 2012

Two cheers for George Osborne at the bottom of his very deep hole

George Osborne has single-handedly dug a hole for himself so deep that it may yet come in handy as an artesian well to relieve the country’s worst drought since 1976.

George's bottomless pit - with thanks to The Sun

Though as I recall Harold Wilson managed to bring that to a swift conclusion by naming his Sports Minister Denis Howell the Minister for Drought, whereupon it promptly rained every day for weeks.

A rare shot of Drought Minister Howell without an umbrella

Surely the time is now ripe to give this title to Nick Clegg or Eric Pickles, ideally encouraging them to perform traditional native American rain dances on Horse Guards Parade until the clouds break.

Alternatively, the Government is very welcome to pay for the Hann family to enjoy a fortnight’s beach holiday at any stricken resort on the south coast, since I can absolutely guarantee that this will produce a 14-day downpour to replenish the rivers and aquifers. It is surely no coincidence that the parts of the country that have no shortage of water are the ones where we spend all our time.

A typical Hann holiday destination

But let us return to George in his hole, with ordure being dumped on his head from all sides. I have already added several shovels full of my own, on the vexed question of the so-called pasty tax. A measure which threatens to create a bureaucratic nightmare by making VAT chargeable if any oven-fresh product (apart from bread, because at least George knows enough history to remember Marie Antoinette) is above the ambient temperature of the shop at the time of sale.

My central point was that tax should not be complicated: it should be simple and low. However, it should also be compulsory. I wholly share the resentment caused by the widespread impression that, for the richest individuals and corporations, deciding whether to pay any tax at all is entirely up to them.

Which is why, for once, I think George has a point in his move to restrict tax relief on charitable donations. No one wants to stop people giving their own money away, though the broad definition of charities in this country leaves many of us wondering whether the benefiting causes are always good ones.

One of my own favourite charities - but not everyone's idea of a good cause

But why is it necessary for the rich to give not just their own money but yours and mine, too, in the form of the proportion they would otherwise have paid in tax?

Much lower down the giving chain, I concluded that the whole Gift Aid scam had gone crazy when I started having to endure needlessly long queues to enter stately homes, zoos and even the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace so that each visitor could be quizzed as to whether they were a UK taxpayer. And, if so, whether they would like to make an additional donation at no cost to themselves by faffing around filling in a form with their name and address so that the charity concerned could claim a tax refund on top of the cost of their admission ticket.

I make a now well-rehearsed short speech about how I am clearly not making a charitable donation but paying the market rate for entry to an attraction, which always leaves the nice person on the desk looking rather hurt. For his next Budget, maybe George might like to think about sorting out that time-wasting and bureaucracy-generating racket, too, and simply leaving us more money in our pockets to disburse as we see fit.

Even though it disadvantages me personally as the owner and occupant of a listed building, I also find it hard to argue with George’s logic in removing the zero rating for VAT of “approved alterations” to such structures, which always seemed utterly perverse when VAT had to be paid in full on simply keeping them in good repair.

So that’s two cheers from me, George, if you can hear me down at the bottom of your pit. Sadly this is almost certainly your cue to get your coat, clear your desk and start researching rain dances on the internet.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

1 comment:

CC said...

Depressing to know massive greed, stupidity and arrogance are not indigenous
to American taxation alone. Hoping there's
a special place in Hell for the rich, like "our" Mr Romney, who think its OK to pay a smaller % tax rate than we middle class and working class folks, because I'd really hate to spend eternity anywhere near them.