Feb 06 2007

“Control freak” Ministers water down new openness laws

Labour Government censors breakdown of government spending in Harrow

Bob Blackman, Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Harrow East, expressed disappointment at the Labour Government’s decision to water down new laws which would tell people how much taxpayers’ money is spent in Harrow and in every other part of the country.

A new law, called the Sustainable Communities Act 2007, and introduced by Conservatives, was passed by Parliament with cross-community support from local and national organisations. It could turn politics upside down – by giving local people the power to decide how their cash is spent in their area.

For the first time in British political history, the Government will publish a regular breakdown of the amount of public money spent in each community, and explain how much of that spending is controlled by local people and how much by Whitehall.

More and more taxpayers’ money is being spent by unelected quangos. In Gordon Brown’s first year in office, spending on so-called “executive non-departmental public bodies” rose by 16 per cent. The Taxpayers’ Alliance, has estimated that £64 billion a year is now spent by unelected quangos – equivalent to £2,550 for every household in Harrow. So the need for proper transparency in public spending is urgent.

But in a consultation paper recently issued by the Government, the plans for reports on local spending under the new Act have been severely watered down. Only spending information by councils and NHS Primary Care Trusts will be published – and this is already in the public domain.

Conservatives are pledging to put this right and will:

  • Use the Sustainable Community Act to publish detailed information on local spending by central and local government bodies, and devolve more funding down to local communities.
  • Require Harrow council and Whitehall bodies to publish online detailed figures on how they spend our money, so the press and public can scrutiny waste and inefficiency properly.

Bob Blackman said:

“It is completely unacceptable that control freak Ministers should try to water down these ground-breaking new openness laws. Labour are obsessed with trying to control everything from Whitehall. It speaks volumes that they want to stop local people finding out which areas gets a raw deal from the Government.

“The Sustainable Communities Act can give local communities a far greater say on how their money is spent. In this way, we can tackle ‘Ghost Town Britain’ and the ongoing loss of local shops, services and facilities. Only Conservatives will open up the books and give power and funding so local people can adopt local solutions.”

Notes to Editors

SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITIES ACT

The Sustainable Communities Act 2007 was a Private Members Bill, initiated by Conservative MP, Nick Hurd, with cross-community support from local and national organisations.

The Government is now, very slowly, moving to introduce the provisions of the Act. Section 6 of the Act requires the Government to publish detailed information on spending by local and central government bodies in local areas.

The Act also allows, after detailed consultation with local people, for powers and funding then to be devolved down to a local level, and then allow for such public spending to be focused on the priorities of local people.

GOVERNMENT WATERS DOWN OPENESS RULES

Last month, the Government quietly slipped out a consultation paper on producing local spending reports under the Sustainable Communities Act 2007. In the small print, the Government completely waters down the requirement to publish local information on public spending. They are only publishing information on local authority spending and NHS Primary Care Trust accounts. Yet this information is public domain already. Quango spending will be untouched.

“It would in principle be possible to make estimates of how the expenditure could be broken down at lower spatial levels (e.g. disaggregating County Council expenditure to district or neighbourhood level), using proxy data such as populations, but these do not correspond to actual expenditure and are therefore potentially misleading. More generally, we are keen to include only data which meets high standards of robustness and quality (e.g. statistics collected and collated on a national scale)” (p.10).

“In some cases, one way around this is to allocate the expenditure to the area in which it primarily takes place (e.g. where the hospital or university is located), whilst acknowledging that the benefits of this expenditure are experienced over a much wider area. Again, there are arguments that this is potentially misleading” (p.10).

“The same arguments apply to the treatment of expenditure on large-scale infrastructure projects or facilities which benefit wider areas e.g. roads or hospitals. Apportionment of expenditure of this type to particular areas for the purposes of this Act is likely to be arbitrary and potentially misleading” (p.10).

“Finally, a great deal of public expenditure is in the form of personal payments (e.g. benefits or pensions). These are based on individual entitlements and information on this is arguably of limited use in promoting the sustainability of local communities” (p.10).

“Subject to this consultation, the proposed first Local Spending Report will cover themes relating to local government revenue expenditure across a wide spectrum of activities for the latest outturn year for which quality assured data is available – 2006-07. The proposed Report will focus on existing data sources thereby avoiding additional burdens on public bodies” (p.13).

“Data Sources

The Report will contain a list of items of expenditure detailed in Annex B from the following data sources:

  • Communities and Local Government Revenue Outturn (RO)
  • Department of Health Audited Accounts of Primary Care Trusts” (p.13).

DCLG, Sustainable Communities Act 2007: Local Spending Reports – Consultation Document, 20 February 2009.

Ministers have refused to commit to extending this to other bodies, saying merely that they may be “developed over time”.

“Mr. Stewart Jackson: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government with reference to her Department’s consultation paper on the Sustainable Communities Act 2007, whether she plans to extend local spending reports to include information on relevant executive agencies and non-departmental public bodies.

John Healey: On 20 February 2009, the Government launched a consultation on the Sustainable Communities Act 2007: Local spending reports. In this consultation, the Department is seeking views on proposals for putting in place the first arrangements for local spending reports including which bodies, expenditure, spatial level and period should be covered by the reports, and also how the reports might develop over time. The consultation on the first arrangements closes on Friday 3 April, and on Friday 15 May for how the reports should be developed over time. Copies of the consultation document have been placed in the Library of the House.”

Hansard, 11 March 2009, col. 504W.

GROWING SPENDING BY QUANGOS

According to the Government’s latest survey, expenditure on so-called “executive non-departmental public bodies” (one type of quango) was £42,994 million in 2007-08, up from £37,023 million in 2006-07.

Cabinet Office, Public Bodies 2008, January 2009, p.10 and Public Bodies 2007, p.10.

In total, there are 1,162 quangos in the UK, costing the taxpayer £64 billion, equivalent to £2,550 per household, according to research by the Taxpayers’ Alliance

TPA, Quangos: the Unseen Government of the UK, May 2008.

Feb 05 2007

Government must scrap plans for unfair ports tax after Lords defeat

Conservatives campaign against Labour’s unfair hikes in business rates

Bob Blackman, Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Harrow East, welcomed the news that the House of Lords has voted against Government proposals which threaten the future of local firms based in ports. The unfair new taxes, in the form of backdated business rates, threaten to lead of thousands of job cuts and harm the whole economy – including the car industry.

Unfair retrospective taxes: Following decisions made when Gordon brown was Chancellor, the Government has changed the way that business rates are calculated for ports – taxing individual firms rather than port operators. Rather than introducing the new system at the 2010 rates revaluation, local ports firms are to be hit with unexpected bills backdated to 2005.

Knock-on effect on economy: The new taxes will hit the wider economy, as a range of companies are based in ports, reflecting the globalised economy. It is feared that many shipping companies may similarly switch their business to Zeebrugge or Rotterdam, finishing journeys by road or rail, and bypass British ports as a result of the new taxes.

Explosive warning from Insolvency Service: The Government has introduced regulations to allow port firms to pay off their backdated bills over eight years. Yet the Insolvency Service have revealed that the retrospective liabilities will still have to be ‘booked’ immediately, and the new additional liabilities could make firms ‘balance sheet insolvent’ (hindering their ability to raise credit) or worse, if they trading debts become too much, make them ‘commercially insolvent’. The Lords has voted against these regulations.

Bob Blackman explained:

“The unfair new taxes, in the form of backdated business rates, threaten to lead of thousands of job cuts and harm the whole economy. Conservatives are calling on the Government to scrap the ‘ports tax’ completely after this week’s vote in Parliament.

“Local firms are already struggling to make ends meet thanks to the recession. These unfair, retrospective taxes from Gordon Brown’s tax inspectors could be the last straw. Even the Government’s own Insolvency Service is warning that the Ministers’ plans could push firms into insolvency.

“This whole affair has exposed systemic failure at the heart of Government. The retrospective taxes break the Government’s own rules, there was no impact assessment, no consideration of the harmful effect on the wider economy and inadequate warning. Yet no-one is taking responsibility.”

Notes to Editors

GOVERNMENT DEFEATED IN THE HOUSE OF LORDS

On Wednesday 19 March, the House of Lords voted down the Government, calling for the Government to think again on the “Non-Domestic Rating (Collection and Enforcement) (Local Lists) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2009”. The Government was defeated by 77 votes to 69 votes at 8.30pm.

Lords Hansard, 18 March 2009, col. 305.

The ‘non-fatal’ vote does not ‘kill’ the regulations, due to the constitutional convention that the Lords does not vote down secondary legislation.

GORDON BROWN’S NEW PORTS TAX

  • Up to this year, in each of the 55 statutory ports in England & Wales, one combined business rate bill was paid by each port operator on behalf of all the firms within it. However, following a review that was originally initiated in May 2006, the Valuation Office Agency has decided that each firm is now a ‘separate occupation’ and must each pay an individual business rate bill.
  • Rather than giving advance warning of future changes, the VOA has retrospectively backdated the new tax bills for local firms to 2005. As a result, port firms across the country have been hit with unexpected, massive bills, just as the recession bites.
  • No impact assessment was made (Hansard, 7 October 2008, col. 594W), no consultation was undertaken (Hansard, 6 October 2008, col. 351W; Hansard, 16 October 2008, col. 1410W), no assessment has been made of the effect on the wider economy  (Hansard, 14 January 2009, col. 761W), and the policy contravenes the Treasury’s own guidance on retrospective taxation  (Hansard, 9 October 2008, col. 802W).
  • Due to poor communication and lack of forward warning, this has been an unexpected tax change. The ports firms are contractually unable to renegotiate their contracts with the port operators to have a reduction in rent to compensate. The Government has admitted that it failed to warn local firms in advance properly: “The VOA has recognised that, in the exercise of re-assessing rateable values within ports, it should have done more to inform businesses of developments” (Hansard, 10 February 2009, col. 1853W).
  • The Government is using secondary legislation to allow the retrospective business rate bills to be paid off over eight years in instalments. However, firms will still be required to pay the taxes, and under company law, they will have to declare these liabilities in their accounts, which could make some firms technically insolvent. This secondary legislation was voted down in the House of Lords.
  • The Government’s Insolvency Service has also warned Ministers that the liabilities will remain, even if paid by instalments: ‘The debt, like any other, would indeed have to be ‘booked’ immediately… Depending upon the company’s overall financial health, it may not have assets to cover this additional liability.  In such circumstances, the company would be “balance sheet insolvent” but it is possible for companies to trade on in such a situation if they have reasonable expectation of being able to pay their debts as they fall due. However, these companies might be unable to pay their debts (i.e. their other trading debts together with the part of the backdated tax debt now payable) as they fall due.  In such circumstances, the company would be “commercially” or “liquidity insolvent”.’ (Letter from the Insolvency Service to John Healy, 9 February 2009).
  • As an illustration, car industry firm CAT (UK) was warned it may be forced to relocate business to France.
Source: Evening Gazette, 6 February 2009.
  • The cross-party Treasury Select Committee recently recommended: ‘We have received clear evidence that firms will be forced to declare themselves insolvent. The Government’s proposal to extend payment terms for port businesses comes too late for those firms which have already ceased to operate in the face of the huge rates bills presented. It is probable that, even with an eight year period to pay, the backdated and prospectively increased rates bills may make many firms technically insolvent. We recommend that, in recognition of the fact that the Valuation Office Agency is to blame for the situation faced by the port firms, the Government takes steps to mitigate further the difficult position faced by port businesses. Consideration should be given to the proposal to maintain the rateable values of premises in statutory docks and harbours at the levels published in the April 2005 rating lists until the new ratings list is published in April 2010.’ (Treasury Select Committee, Administration and expenditure of the Chancellor’s departments 2007-08, HC 35, 23 January 2009, paras 138-139).

Feb 04 2007

Tougher action needed against anti-social behaviour in Harrow

Calls for new powers to tackle persistent troublemakers and yob behaviour

Bob Blackman, Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Harrow East, called for tougher police powers to tackle anti-social behaviour and crack down on yobs.

This comes as new answers to Parliamentary Questions show that across London, 387,862 incidents of anti-social behaviour were reported to the police last year. But because of the massive under-reporting of such low-level crime, the real number of actual incidents could be as high as 3,562,018 last year.

Under new Conservative proposals, firm action would be taken against the yob behaviour that blights neighbourhoods, as well as taking steps to tackle the underlying causes.

  • The police would have stronger powers to remove troublemakers from Harrow’s streets -taking yobs to the police station rather than moving them on, while new curfew orders could ‘ground’ persistent troublemakers at night after school hours.
  • Licensing laws would be more robustly enforced, revoking the licences of any shops in Harrow which systematically peddle alcohol to under-age children.
  • Violent offenders would be prosecuted instead of being let off with a caution.
  • More police would patrol the the streets, by cutting police paperwork and bureaucracy which pins them down to police HQ in South Harrow.

Bob Blackman said:

“This Labour Government has been soft on crime, and soft on the causes of crime. We live in a country where no one seems to say ‘no’ any more and nothing happens when a young person steps out of line. This has to change.

“With so many reported and unreported cases of anti-social behaviour, Harrow’s police need the power to ‘ground’ young persistent troublemakers – so we can prevent them from getting into worse trouble. We need to get more police on the beat, prosecute serious offenders and tackle the underlying causes of crime such as drug addiction, educational failure and family breakdown.

“Conservatives are the party of law and order – championing common sense, strong families, united communities and a system which places the victim above the criminal.”

Notes to Editors

GROWING PROBLEM OF ANTI-SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR

  • Cost of anti-social behaviour: The cost to Government agencies of responding to reports of anti-social behaviour in England and Wales is approximately £3.4 billion a year (National Audit Office, Home Office: Tackling Anti-Social Behaviour, 2006-2007, 7 December 2006).
  • High levels of anti-social behaviour: On average, 16 per cent of the population perceive high levels of anti-social behaviour in their area, with the young and the less well-off being disproportionately affected (Home Office, Crime in England and Wales 2007/08, 17 July 2008, Table 5.04).
  • Almost two-thirds of under 16s breach their ASBOs: Between June 2000 and December 2006, 49 per cent of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders were breached. The breach rate for 10-16 year olds is even higher. It now stands at 61 per cent – up from 57 per cent (Home Office, Anti-social Behaviour Order Statistics; Detailed breakdown of data by CJS area, 8 May 2008).
  • The caution culture: The number of young people cautioned by the police for indictable offences, such as violence against the person, robbery and theft has increased by a quarter in the last five years. There were 58,600 under 18s cautioned in 2003 compared to 75,300 in 2007- an increase of 28 per cent (Ministry of Justice, Criminal Statistics England and Wales 2007, November 2008, Table 3.4).
  • Police spend more time on paperwork than on patrol: Just 14 per cent of all police officers’ time is spent on patrol compared with 20 per cent of their time on paperwork (Hansard, 29 September 2008, col. 2353W; 10 December 2007, col. 91W).

Conservative proposals to tackle anti-social behaviour

– Police should be able to remove young troublemakers from our streets altogether, not just disperse them into a different area. Police should be given the power, sometimes, to take them back to the police station and make their parents come and collect them. Conservatives are exploring the best way of implementing this.

– One of the options under active consideration is the extension of powers that are already available to police officers to get young people off the streets. Section 30 of the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 gives police the power to disperse groups in a designated area where there is persistent anti-social behaviour and return unsupervised children to their homes, if found to be out after 9pm. Under the new proposals, there could be an option to take anti-social youths to a police station to reflect the seriousness of the anti-social behaviour.

– Police should have power to apply to a Magistrate for an order against a persistent troublemaker, confining them to their homes for up to a month – except for during school hours. If an individual breaks that curfew order, they should expect to find themselves arrested. The aim of this short, sharp, shock would be to help prevent young troublemakers from going on to commit more serious offences. At the moment, an ASBO is in force for a minimum of two years and is not a fast enough punishment.

LOCAL FIGURES

Only 11 per cent of victims report anti-social behaviour to the police. According to the British Crime Survey, 73 per cent of people experiencing anti-social behaviour do not complain about incidents to anyone.   An average of 11 per cent of people reported incidents to the police or community support officers (Home Office, Perceptions of anti-social behaviour: Findings from the 2007/08 British Crime Survey Supplementary Volume 1 to Crime in England and Wales 2007/08, Statistical Bulletin 15/08, 2008, Table 1.9).

Assuming that the 3.8 million incidents of anti-social behaviour recorded by police last year only represents 11 per cent of the total, then the actual number is likely to be in the region of 35 million. The table below shows the number of incidents recorded in each police force area in 2007-08, and the estimated actual number of incidents.

Anti-social behaviour

(2007-08)

Number of incidents recorded by police

Estimated number of actual incidents

England and Wales

3,868,002

35,163,655

 

Metropolitan Police

387,862

3,526,018

 

Data source (excluding estimates): Hansard, 21 January 2009, Col. 1486W.

Page 22 of 33« First...10...2021222324...30...Last »