Jan 08 2007

Watford Junction to Cut Inter-City Services

Cllr Bob Blackman AM has slammed the Department for Transport over it short sightedness and stupidity for its proposal to dramatically cut the number of Inter City trains that will be stopping at Watford junction station.

Commenting on the proposals, Cllr Bob Blackman AM, Parliamentary Spokesman for Harrow East said,

“The proposals, would limit day long-long inter city calls at Watford Junction to the Birmingham route only. The remainder of the routes would be served by just a few trains stopping at Watford Junction on Monday to Friday – northbound only in the early morning, and southbound only in the evening.

“According to London Travel Watch, the catchment population for the inter-city services from Watford is around 1million people. Those who want to travel north will be forced to firstly travel in to London and board at Euston. Likewise those wanting to travel south will have to travel past their homes and travel into London before heading back north to get home.

“I would urge all residents in Brent and Harrow, who will be affected by this change, to write to me at Cllr Bob Blackman AM, City Hall, The Queen’s Walk, London, SE1 2AA, highlighting their concerns and frustrations so that I can pass on their letter to the Department for Transport and show them how ridiculous these plans are.

“The downgrading of Watford stations is complete and utter madness.”

Jan 07 2007

Concern at ‘paparazzi’ tax inspectors spying on homes across Harrow

Council tax revaluation taking place by stealth across England warns Bob Blackman 

Councillor Bob Blackman expressed concern at reports of “paparazzi” surveillance being covertly rolled out by the Valuation Office Agency – an arm of Inland Revenue. In a stealth council tax revaluation exercise, every home in the country faces photographs of their home – inside and outside – being stored on a computer database, in order to identify features which could be taxed.

  • Two million homes already snapped by stealth: Covert photogrpahy is already under way by the council tax inspectors, despite the supposed delay in the English council tax revaluation. New figures have revealed that in the last year, the number of photographs of homes stored on the system has soared from half a million to over two million.
  • Estate agents collaborating in privacy raid: The Valuation Office Agency is also using taxpayers’ money to obtain information on the outside and inside of people’s homes – by buying up the data from estate agents, Rightmove. Unsuspecting homeowners are putting their property on the market without realising that the tax inspectors are using it to find out how to hike up council tax bills.
  • Tax spies armed with clipboards and long-distance cameras: The ‘Health & Safety’ manual of the council tax inspectors reveals that they are being armed with telescopic lenses & cameras, clipboards, laser pens and location plans and maps of every home. The inspectors are instructed to record any abusive or hostile behaviour by householders. They have the power to impose £500 fines, via the courts, on any household who refuses entry or obstructs the state snoopers.
  • Scrap these powers says Opposition: Conservatives are pledging that the next Conservative Government will abolish the powers of the inspectors to enter people’s homes and gardens.

Bob Blackman said,

“I am very concerned that the privacy and property of honest, law-abiding citizens is under threat from paparazzi-style council tax inspectors.

“There is already public unease at Labour plans for a compulsory national Identity Card Database and the new Children’s Database. The Government is now rolling out a property photo database to match and conducting a council tax revaluation by stealth across the country.

“Not only are civil liberties under threat, but I fear the photographs taken by these tax inspectors will be used to hike taxes on family homes – by taxing features like conservatories, extensions, gardens and patios. Conservatives are campaigning against these plans to send camera-wielding inspectors into Harrow’s bedrooms, bathrooms and gardens, and we will abolish the snoopers’ powers of entry.”

Notes to Editors


The Valuation Office Agency, an arm of HM Revenue & Customs, is using taxpayers’ money to grab information on the outside and inside of people’s homes – by buying up the data from estate agents Rightmove. Unsuspecting homeowners put their property on the market without realising that the tax snoopers will be using it to hike up council tax bills.

“Mr. Pickles: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what property attributes and datasets the Valuation Office Agency’s market comparable reporting tool licensed from Rightmove holds.

Mr. Woolas: “Market Comparable Reporting Tool” is the name given by Rightmove.co.uk plc to its database of properties that were advertised for sale on the Rightmove website. The Valuation Office Agency has access to this information, which for each property was freely available publicly for the period during which it was being marketed.”

Hansard, 23 January 2007, col. 1731W.

“Mr. Pickles: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government whether the data provided to the Valuation Office Agency by Rightmove.co.uk includes the provision of photographs of properties.

Mr. Woolas: Rightmove.co.uk plc does not provide data to the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) but makes information accessible to VOA staff through a web link. This information includes photographs of properties, but such photographs are only for viewing and are not copied by the VOA.”

Hansard, 18 January 2007, col. 1327W.


The Valuation Office Agency is also rolling out a computer database of every property in Britain. In May, the database held half a million photographs. The Government now says that the database holds over two million photographs.

“Mr. Pickles: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many domestic properties in England have photographs allocated to the address by the Valuation Office Agency as part of their council tax valuation records.

Mr. Woolas: I have been asked to reply. Of the 22 million domestic property records in England, some 2.5 per cent. (549,000) have a photograph or photographs attached.”

Hansard, 15 May 2006, col. 713W.

“Mr. Pickles: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many photographs are stored on the Valuation Office Agency’s central database.

Dawn Primarolo: There are 25 million records for business and domestic properties there are 2.2 million photographs as at 20 November 2006.”

Hansard, 16 January 2007, col. 1025W.

There is no limit to number of photographs that the database can hold.

“Mr. Pickles: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what the technical limit is of the number of photographs that the Valuation Office Agency’s digital photography application can hold.

Mr. Woolas: There is no technical limit on the number of photographs that can be held by the Valuation Office Agency’s digital photography application.”

Hansard, 19 June 2006, col, 601W.


Conservatives have obtained the health & safety manual used by the council tax inspectors – which shows how all the council tax inspectors are equipped with cameras and laser pens:

A manual highlights the recommended equipment that council tax inspectors should use – including three different types of tape measure, the latest laser measuring equipment, and telescopic viewers “for long range measurements.”

(VOA, Practical Health & Safety: Surveying Equipment, 2005).

The full list what they are told to have for their inspections is as follows:

To successfully undertake inspections for Council Tax purposes, you will need the following equipment:

  • 20m tape and/or Laser measuring device
  • Clipboard, pens & pencils, eraser
  • Supply of dwelling survey sheets VO 9072
  • Personal Alarm
  • Location plans/street maps
  • Identity Documents
  • Camera

– You should be issued with your own personal 20m tape. The availability of laser measuring devices in offices may be limited therefore you may have to book one out for your inspections. Check your local office practice. If you do take a laser tape, make sure it is in working order before leaving the office and that the batteries are not flat.

– All staff on outdoor duties are issued with a personal alarm. If you do not have one, ask your line manager. Check it is in working order before leaving the office.

– You must carry your Identity card (VO 9053) and Authority to inspect (VO 9056) with you at all times. Make sure your authority is up to date and signed by the relevant Listing Officer.

– As with laser measuring devices, the availability of cameras in offices may be limited so you should your local office booking procedure if you are not issued with an individual one.

– Of course you will be provided with a briefcase to carry this equipment…

Avoid contentious discussions e.g. the rights or wrongs of the Council Tax system. Do not offer any advice regarding payment of Council Tax…

“You must adopt a methodical, systematic approach to inspecting dwellings to ensure you obtain all the necessary information in the most efficient way. Always start your inspection by taking a quick look around the outside of the property (or around all the rooms in a flat) to get a feel for what you’re dealing with. You should then draw your sketch plan on the survey sheet, decide on the required measurements, take your measurements working from front to back and record on the sketch plan, complete the dwelling codes, complete the remainder of the dwelling survey sheet and finally take a photo”.

Valuation Office Agency, Practical Health & Safety: Council Tax Referencing Best Practice.

The council tax inspectors should also involve noting whether the householder is potentially abusive or violent when conducting the internal inspection.

“There needs to be a more consistent approach to incident reporting, by raising awareness amongst staff that reporting is viewed as important by management. There should be a policy of learning from incidents. For example, all incidents involving violence must be investigated, and a robust stance taken with those abusing, threatening or assaulting referencers and valuers viz. always report to police for legal action… Improve records on client files of all appropriate incidents including potentially violent information” (VOA, Practical Health & Safety: BMI Recommendations, pp. 3, 8).

The Valuation Office Agency has spent almost half a million pounds (£438,749) on purchasing 2,126 digital cameras, for these tax inspections and surveys.

Hansard, 30 November 2005, col. 587W.


If any householder tries to obstruct the council tax inspector from entering their home, they can be fined £500 and have a local police record.

“Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether an individual prosecuted in the magistrates court for intentionally delaying or obstructing a Valuation Office Agency representative conducting a council tax valuation inspection would receive a criminal record if convicted.

Hazel Blears: A person who intentionally obstructs a valuation officer commits an offence and may be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level two (£500) on the standard scale. This is not a recordable offence and will not be recorded nationally on the police national computer, but will be recorded on local police and court records.”

Hansard, 6 December 2005, col. 1106W.

Released by: Bob Blackman

Date: 26th March 2007

Jan 06 2007

Secret council tax revaluation plans to tax homes in Harrow – Exposed

Tax handbook blows away Government spin doctor denials

Secret Government plans for tax hikes on family homes – including how they look – have been exposed after Conservatives forced Gordon Brown’s council tax inspectors to publish their explosive tax revaluation handbook. This new evidence blows away denials from Government spin doctors that there is no ‘stealth’ council tax revaluation underway.

  • Taxed for the look of your home: The 80 page manual – by Gordon Brown’s Valuation Office Agency – is illustrated with photographs of every type of home, including architectural styles; brick, thatch or stone fascias; sash windows; age periods and house dimensions. The tax men are instructed to grade individual homes with particular computer codes. These codes are then entered into an American ‘Computer Assisted Mass Appraisal’ database which will calculate how much extra tax that home should pay based on its features.
  • Taxed for your cul-de-sac, patio or parking space: On top of this, ‘Value Significant’ property features that must be coded by the tax inspectors to calculate council tax bills include: living in a quiet road or cul-de-sac; near to convenient public transport; garden; patio; roof terrace; balcony; sea or hill views; near a field or golf course; conservatory; double glazing; and number of bedrooms, bathrooms, garage spaces and parking spaces.
  • Stealth revaluation now underway: Despite the Government claims on the “postponement” of the council tax revaluation in England, Labour Ministers have given explicit authorisation for the council tax revaluation database to go ahead after the announcement of the postponement. Taxpayers’ money is being spent on refining the next-generation technology which has been bought in from secretive American contractors. Gordon Brown has valued the computer software alone at £6 million. The ‘Big Brother’ database also allows for the imposition of a house price tax, now being piloted in Northern Ireland from April.

Councillor Bob Blackman said:

“Claims by Whitehall spin doctors that the council tax revaluation in England was postponed have been exposed as a complete sham. Labour Ministers have given their express authority for every home in Harrow to be sized up, and every home improvement or sign of a nice neighbourhood, to be photographed, catalogued and taxed by Gordon Brown’s inspectors.

“I fear council tax bills will rise purely for living in a quiet road, being near to a bus stop, or having a parking space. People who rent will be taxed just as much as those who own their home.

“Labour Ministers and Gordon Brown believe they have the right to intrude on people’s privacy to tax your home and punish those who live in nice neighbourhoods. But Conservatives will scrap these revaluation plans and abolish the tax inspectors’ rights of entry. We will stand up for people’s property and privacy.”

Notes to Editors


Over the last year, the Government has repeatedly tried to block the publication of the handbook that council tax inspectors are planning to use for the council tax revaluation. The document entitled ‘Dwellinghouse Coding: An Illustrated Guide” was produced by the Valuation Office Agency, an arm of Gordon Brown’s Inland Revenue. When asked via Parliamentary Questions, Ministers refused to release the document on supposed ‘privacy’ grounds, but this has been obtained now by Conservatives under the Freedom of Information Act.


Value Significant Features


Agricultural Property – main farmhouse


Agricultural Property – other house or cottage


Agricultural Property – temporarily vacant


Agricultural Property – worker’s cottage


Balcony – up to 3 sq m


Balcony – over 3 sq m and up to 5 sq m


Balcony – over 5 sq m and up to 7 sq m


Balcony – over 7 sq m


Composite – boarding/guest house


Composite – hotel


Composite – industrial


Composite – not known not including agricultural


Composite – office


Composite – public house


Composite – shop


Shared drive


Functional / economic factor


Facility – adjoining conservation area


Facility – adjoining golf course


Facility – adjoining other ‘positive’ facility / amenity


Facility – adjoining park


Garden – garden where not usual


Garden – no garden where usual




Leisure facility – equestrian, paddock only


Leisure facility – equestrian, including stables


Leisure facility – swimming pool, outdoor


Leisure facility – swimming pool, indoor


Leisure facility – tennis court


Quality – atypical for Group or Type


Patio – where value significant


Plot size – large for Group or Type in locality


Plot size – small for Group or Type in locality


Roof Terrace – up to 3 sq m


Roof Terrace – over 3 sq m and up to 8 sq m


Roof Terrace – over 8 sq m and up to 15 sq m


Roof Terrace – over 15 sq m


Restrictive covenants and other (non-agricultural) tied dwellings


Condition at sale


Traffic – main / busy road


Traffic – quiet road or cul-de-sac


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