Saturday, 27 June 2009

Gordon's Top Ten?

Financial Fuck Ups, that is.

1. Taxing dividend payments

Before 1997, dividends issued by UK companies and paid to pension funds were tax-free - that is, the tax could be claimed back via a system of tax credits. Not any more, decided Brown. Tax relief was scrapped, reducing the amount collected by pension funds by around £5 billion a year. Pension funds holding the cash that you, me and almost everyone else in the country plan to use for our retirement have lost around £100 billion over the last 12 years. That's one hell of a stealth tax.

2. Selling our gold

In May 1999 Gordon Brown had a plan to sell some gold. There were two problems with this, which concerned his economic advisers deeply. The price of gold had slumped after a decade of stagnation, but was likely to increase in the proceeding years. Added to this, the announcement of a major sell-off would drive the price down further. Little of this worried Gordon. Experts believe that the poorly timed decision to flog our national treasure has cost us all around £3 billion. Granted, that doesn't seem much nowadays, but more of that later.

3. Tripartite financial regulation

The system of financial regulation dividing powers between the Treasury, the Bank of England and the Financial Services Authority, established by Brown as Chancellor in 2000, missed what amounted to the biggest financial crisis of our lifetime. Whoops. This has led some glass-half-empty commentators to conclude that the system set up by Brown failed and should be replaced. The Commons Treasury Select Committee’s report on the collapse of Northern Rock said that the Financial Services Authority had “systematically failed in its duty” to oversee the troubled bank’s activities. Little did it realise at the time that Northern Rock was the over-leveraged tip of the securitised iceberg.

4. Tax credits

“Gordon Brown claims the tax credits system lifts children out of poverty,” says Simon Blackmore, 38, who was pursued for £6,057 in over-paid tax credits. “Maybe it does, but only to plunge them and their families into debt two years later.” Millions of low-income families have had to pay back the Treasury after receiving too much money in tax credits, putting them under huge financial and emotional strain. Meanwhile, 40 per cent of workers and families who deserved tax credits left billions of pounds unclaimed in the 2008-09 tax year for fear of being chased for the cash later on. Introduced in 1999, reformed in 2000, tax credits have been "a complete disaster zone", according to tax experts.

5. The £10,000 corporation tax threshold

In 2002, Gordon Brown introduced a new tax regime to help small businesses. He announced a new zero per cent rate of corporation tax on profits below £10,000. It was designed to boost the ability of small businesses to grow and prosper. It didn't quite work out this way. It became advantageous for sole traders such as taxi drivers or plumbers to turn themselves into limited companies to take advantage of the new rules. A Treasury Minister later commented that "the Government did not realise how many people would engage in abusive tax avoidance", despite the fact that it was "blindingly obvious" to tax experts "within 5 seconds" of the budget announcement that this would happen. Gordon scrapped the rules a few years later, raising the rate from 0 per cent to 19 per cent when he released how much money was being lost.

6. Abolition of the 10p tax rate

Mr Brown rarely apologises. In fact, he never apologises. But occasionally he acknowledges "mistakes", albeit begrudgingly. Over the abolition of the 10p tax rate in 2007, Mr Brown told Radio 4's Today programme that "we made two mistakes. We didn't cover as well as we should that group of low-paid workers who don't get the working tax credits and we weren't able to help the 60 to 64-year-olds who didn't get the pensioner's tax allowance." Experts use stronger language to describe the Budget of 2007, which was designed to produce positive headlines for the 2p cut in income tax. Accountants calculated that the scrapping of the 10 per cent tax rate, coupled with the increase in the proportion of tax credits withdrawn from higher earners, would leave 1.8 million workers earning between £6,500 and £15,000 paying an effective tax rate of up to 70 per cent.

7. Failing to spot the housing bubble

Gordon Brown said he ended boom and bust, and in those innocent days before the collapse of the global finance system we believed him. In 1997, he outlined his plans. "Stability is necessary for our future economic success", he wisely informed an audience at the CBI. "The British economy of the future must be built not on the shifting sands of boom and bust, but on the bedrock of prudent and wise economic management." The other components of that bedrock including a trillion-pound debt mountain and a decade of unchecked and unparalleled house price inflation presumably slipped his mind. In 2003 a mild-mannered Liberal Democrat MP by the name of Vince Cable dared to question the mantra of "the end of boom and bust". He asked Gordon Brown: "Is it not true that...the growth of the British economy is sustained by consumer spending pinned against record levels of personal debt, which is secured, if at all, against house prices that the Bank of England describes as well above equilibrium level?" Gordon replied: "The Honourable Gentleman has been writing articles in the newspapers, as reflected in his contribution, that spread alarm, without substance, about the state of the economy..." We all know what happened next.

8. 50 per cent tax rate

Robert Chote, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, has said the tax hike which heralded the end the new Labour may actually end up losing the Government money. "If you look at what happened when higher rates were last changed in the 1980s, that might lead you to suggest that such a move might actually lose you revenue, rather than gain it, as people actually declare less income for tax," he said.

9. Cutting VAT

"It would be funny if it wasn’t so serious," said a tax accountant when asked about the Brown-Darling brainwave to cut VAT by 2.5 percentage points. As a nation of shoppers, rather than shopkeepers, a chopped down sales tax sounds like a good idea, providing a vital boost to hard-pressed families at a time of financial hardship. There were two problems. It costs £12.5 billion a year and it has made little discernable difference to those hard-pressed families because it is shopkeepers, rather than shoppers, who have pocketed much of the benefit.

10. Public-sector borrowing

If Gordon had only saved a little more in the good times, we might have had a little more to fall back on in the bad, economists sigh. Last month saw public-sector net borrowing hit £19.9 billion, the highest on record, according to the Office for National Statistics. The chancellor of the exchequer, Alistair Darling, has forecast that Government borrowing will reach £175 billion this year. It is forecast that total government debt will double to 79 per cent of GDP by 2013, the highest level since World War 2. Mr Chote recently warned that "the scale of the underlying problem that the Treasury’s detailed forecasts identify will require two full parliaments of mounting austerity to repair.”

James Charles in The Times.

The Penguin


jaydeeaitch said...

"two full parliaments of mounting austerity to repair."

More like two generations. Your twin penguins will be paying for this throughout their lives, from egg to grave.

Tax lawyer said...

Missing from the list is the change to the remittance basis of taxation for foreign domicilliaries (commonly referred to, albeit incorrectly, as the non dom rules). The rules were undoubtedly unsatisfactory in their extant form but the knee jerk change announced in 2007 has, quite rightly, caused a huge loss of credibility to a government in the eyes of potential inward investors. It was estimated, but without any proper academic grounding, that the change would raise an extra £4BN pa in taxes. On the ground, the change is thought to be producing no net revenue and, to boot, a significant loss of potential investment and spending into the UK economy.

As a tax lawyer working in this area, I reckon I have already seen the loss to the UK of over £1BN of new investment from overseas, and the related spending, job creation etc., which has all now gone elsewhere.

This change, together with the 1997 pension changes and the presiding over the housing/credit bubble (which I do not accept was anything but deliberate) will, imho, leave the UK utterly screwed for two generations.

With so many of the members of legislature now shorn of credibility, perhaps, it is now high time that attention be turned to scrutinising the policies of the past 10 years.

Anonymous said...

Oh for fucks sake! There must be someone recently back from Afghanistan with access to a Barrett M90 surely...

Vincetastic said...

Hey Ranting Penguin, this top ten list is fantastic. I don't think Gordon Brown as a clue what he is doing. Is it time for the next PM yet? Well, it could be worse, at least he's not George Bush. You can post this to our site and link back to your site. We are trying to create a directory for top ten lists where people can find your site. The coolest feature is you can let other people vote on the rankings of your list.