Tax powers so far refused by Westminster

I have updated this blog as we now have updated “GERS” figures and the Scottish Labour party has published its interim “Devolution Commission” report.  Its findings are similar to the Liberal Democrat proposal.

Although the Scottish Conservatives now appear to be moving towards arguing for the devolving of further tax powers there is as as yet no firm proposal from them.

Listed below are the taxes, duties and charges that Westminster has so far refused to pass control to the Scottish Parliament.

In bold are the additional powers the Liberal Democrats are putting forward for devolving.  This information is from its “Home Rule Commission” published in October 2012.

In red are the additional powers the Scottish Labour party might argue for devolving.  I say “might” as its report is an “interim” report only.

The figures are mostly from the “Government Expenditure & Revenue Scotland 2011-12” (GERS).  The figures are included to give an idea as to the level of revenue produced by a particular tax and are a number of millions of pounds.

  1. Full control over income tax including the underlying law dealing with reliefs etc (some additional powers but not complete control)  (similar proposal from Labour) 10,790
  2. National insurance contributions  8,393
  3. Corporation tax (assignation of revenue only)  2,976
  4. North Sea revenue  10,573
  5. Fuel duties  2,296
  6. Capital gains tax (partial control only) (similar proposal from Labour) 246
  7. Inheritance tax (to be devolved)  (possibly)  164 
  8. Other stamp duties – stamp duty and SDRT on shares (estimated)  276
  9. Tobacco duties  1,129
  10. Alcohol duties  (includes spirit, wine, beer and cider duties)  981
  11. Betting and gaming duties  115
  12. Air passenger duty (even though included in Calman) (not clear if to be completely devolved)  (similar proposal from Labour)  213
  13. Insurance premium tax  251
  14. Climate change levy  64
  15. Aggregates levy (even though included in Calman) (not clear if to be completely devolved) (similar proposal from Labour)  52
  16. Vehicle excise duty  (possibly)  475 
  17. Bank levy (estimate as no separate Scottish figure)  180
  18. Licence fee receipts  325
  19. Crown Estate revenue  (not clear if to be completely devolved) (if Scottish Parliament accepts UK Government terms)  10
  20. VAT cannot be devolved but VAT revenue could be assigned  9,554


Taxes already devolved to be devolved under Scotland Act 2012

  1. Income tax (still only partial control over tax bands and will cost Scottish Parliament millions of pounds a year to administer even if not used)  (estimated partial control over)  5,395
  2. Council tax  1,987
  3. Business rates  1,933
  4. Stamp duty land tax (Scottish Parliament control by April 2015)  330
  5. Landfill tax (Scottish Parliament control by April 2015)  97


The Scotland Act 2012 also does not resolve the imbalance between the amount the Scottish Parliament is responsible for spending and which it raises.  The Scotland Act 2012 only takes us to about a third. 

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Another week in “tax land”

Where to start?  I think I will start with the Scottish Futures Trust.  I remember well the negative reaction to the SFT when it was first proposed.  The coverage the SFT has received this week shows how much things have changed.  The fact that the long term costs of PFI are now widely known also shows how good an idea the SFT was.  A report on this from the BBC news website can be found here.

This raises another issue.  Notwithstanding the fiscal powers debate it is clear Scotland is increasingly doing things its own way.  On areas such as health or education the differences are well documented.  Now Scotland is to have its own food standards agency and a new governing body for the Scottish canals.  This is not because of Calman or the Scotland Act but because of the actions of the UK Government.  Add to this the Revenue Scotland announcement and you see the direction in which things are moving.

Now to a subject I have written about before, the Crown Estate.  It is now difficult to find someone against devolving control over the Crown Estate in Scotland to the Scottish Parliament other than the present UK Government.  If the UK Government is not even willing to cede control over this body to the Scottish Parliament then it is easy to accuse them of not seriously engaging in the fiscal powers debate.  A report on the latest ploy by the UK Government to not devolve control of the Crown Estate to the Scottish Parliament can be found here.

Now to the UK Government’s so called “Heritage tax”.  “The Heritage Alliance is disappointed that the UK Government has refused – despite widespread opposition and strong challenges to the rigour of its evidence base – to reconsider its Budget proposal to remove zero rating of VAT on approved alterations to listed buildings.”  No sign yet of a u-turn on this proposal.  More on this can be found here.

The Sunday Times recently reported that Scottish Government advisor Dr Andrew Cameron has advised that a tax break, which would allow wealthy landowners and investors to plant trees in exchange for tax offsets, would help Scotland meet its forest coverage goals. That would of course require further tax powers to be devolved if this was to be just a Scottish tax relief.  Let’s also not forget that the last attempt at something like this was a complete shambles.  Hopefully if this idea is revisited lessons will have been learned.  A story on this issue from 2002 can be found here.

Now to the “shared services” debate.  The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee has found that a Whitehall scheme to share resources across departments has cost hundreds of millions of pounds more than it saved.  The scheme ran £500 million over budget, costing £1.4 billion, and of the five departments that took part, only one broke even.  A report on this from the Telegraph can be found here.  Sadly I am not surprised with this report.

Aggregates Levy is one of two other miscellaneous taxes recommended for devolving to the Scottish Parliament under the Calman Commission.  The other being Air Passenger Duty.  The UK Government has so far resisted devolving Aggregates Levy due to a European Court action by the British Aggregates Association.  An update on this from HMRC can be found here.  The UK Government are fast running out of excuses for not devolving Aggregates Levy.

I was not surprised to read that many elderly farmers are working long past retirement age because they fear losing agricultural property relief (APR).  APR is likely to reduce their liability to inheritance tax.  Their worries have been prompted by HMRC’s tactics of challenging APR on farmhouses at every opportunity.  A report on this from the STEP journal can be found here.

Now to matters slightly further afield.

The European Commission’s Brussels IV proposal to simplify the settlement of international successions has received the final backing of the European Union’s Council of Justice Ministers.  The regulation will come into force in 2015 and will apply directly in all member states, other than Denmark and the opting-out members UK and Ireland.  Hopefully this is something that the UK and Ireland will consider again in the near future.  A report on this from the European Commission can be found here.

Now to France.  As expected, France’s new Socialist government has announced a series of increases in personal and business taxation.  They include new wealth taxes and a tax on foreign owners of holiday homes.  A similar idea was floated last year by the Sarkozy administration but it was dropped when the French Government was advised that such a tax would not survive a challenge under European Union anti-discrimination legislation. Hollande may believe he can avoid this by calling the levy a “social charge” rather than a tax.  A report on this from the STEP journal can be found here.

The New York Times has published an article describing just how easy it is to set up a Delaware shell company without disclosing its beneficial ownership.  This is something that the US Government has regularly pilloried many other countries for.  Apparently Delaware has more corporate entities than people.  The article from the New York Times can be found here.

A Berkshire man has been convicted of evading £430,000 inheritance tax on a Swiss bank account he held jointly with his mother.  HMRC obtained Michael Shanly’s account details from the French authorities, who had bought them from a former employee of HSBC Geneva, who had stolen them from the bank.  This is a good example of the increasing co-operation between European countries and the increasing effectiveness of HMRC.  A report on this from the BBC news website can be found here.

Australia has introduced its highly controversial carbon tax, after years of bitter political wrangling.  The law forces about 300 of the worst-polluting firms to pay a A$23 (£15; $24) levy for every tonne of greenhouse gases they produce.  The Australian Government says the tax is needed to meet climate-change obligations of Australia – the highest emitter per-head in the developed world.  A report on this from the BBC news website can be found here.  The environmental taxation debate in the UK, in contrast, has slipped down the political agenda over the last few years.

I think I will end with Cyprus.  The Cyprus government will not agree to cut its 10% corporation tax rate in order to secure a European rescue of its banking sector and public finances.  Cyprus may though have to agree to a further VAT increase as part of these negotiations.  Cyprus is taking a similar stance to the one taken by Ireland over the last couple of years.  A report on this can be found here.

Have a good weekend.

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A glorious week of sunshine in “tax land”

I will start with where to find one of the most comprehensive and detailed review’s of last week’s UK Budget statement.  The link is to the always impressive Institute of Fiscal Studies and can be found here.  In particular see the “Business tax, stamp duty and anti-avoidance slides”.  Slide 9 on “Forecast revenue from anti-avoidance measures” is particularly revealing.

Now to the fiscal powers debate.  I was disappointed to see that Peter de Vink has been deselected by the Scottish Conservatives.  Peter was hoping to be elected to Midlothian Council in May.  As far as the fiscal powers debate is concerned this shows that there are some on the centre right in Scotland who can see the opportunities that fiscal autonomy or independence could bring.  Peter’s article in the Herald can be found here.

The First Minister has announced the setting up of a “Fiscal Commission Working Group” to establish a fiscal framework for an independent Scotland.  The group will include former World Bank Chief Economist and Nobel Prize winner Jospeh Stiglitz of Columbia University.  My only slight concern relating to this group is that it comprises four economists, albeit eminent economists.  This group needs to ensure it has an understanding of the underlying law and legal framework that is crucial to creating a new fiscal framework for Scotland.  That includes the creation of a Scottish Exchequer.  I will once again reiterate my call for a review of all government tax, law and registration services in Scotland.  A Scottish Government press release on this can be found here.

I was also interested to read about a report by the David Hume Institute which claimed that an independent Scotland would be liable for around £100bn of debts and liabilities.  In particular I was interested to see one of the first references to the “other side of the balance sheet”.  The report says that the UK has approximately £821bn of “assets”. The £100bn figure comes from deducting £69bn of assets from approximately £152bn to £171bn of debts and liabilities.  A Scotland on Sunday article on this story can be found here.  This particular part of the fiscal powers debate has a long way to go.

In advance of May’s local government elections, Reform Scotland has called for non-domestic rates to be devolved in full to local authorities.  This would mean a variable business rate in different areas of Scotland.  The Reform Scotland paper can be found here.  Non-domestic rates is one of two tax powers presently devolved to the Scottish Parliament, the other being council tax.  Although these taxes are administered by the local authorities control rests with the Scottish Parliament.

The proposal would also mean that local authorities would keep the revenue they collect from business rates.  At the moment this revenue is handed back to the Scottish Government.  The Scottish Government then redistribute it as part of its grant to each local authority.  The Reform Scotland proposal could also be used as a framework for when control over the Crown Estate is devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

According to a study carried out by accountancy firm UHY Hacker Young, Edinburgh businesses contribute more to the UK economy per head of population than any other major city in the UK.  The main reason given is that Edinburgh wasn’t hit as hard by the financial crisis as London.  In addition, oil-rich Aberdeen was the only major UK city to see its economy grow during the recession.  This is excellent news for the Scottish economy.  An article from the Scotsman on this can be found here.

Now to corporation tax.  The Financial Times recently reported on how 15 multinational companies are considering locating substantial operations in Britain as a result of UK corporate tax reforms.  What I found most interesting about this report is when tax competition is discussed in a UK context it is a positive thing.  Contrast this with the tone of the debate over devolving control over corporation tax to the Scottish Parliament.

Continuing on the corporation tax theme.  It is not just the headline rate of tax that is important.  The underlying law which deals with, for example, reliefs is just as important.  Further evidence for this is shown by a recent statement by the European Commission.  The European Commission are claiming that the UK is breaking European law by imposing an immediate capital gains tax charge on companies that relocate to another EU member country.  The Commission has requested that the UK abolish this exit tax within two months, or be referred to the European Court of Justice.  I await the reaction to this by the UK Government with interest.  The statement from the European Commission can be found here.

The Unoccupied Properties Bill has been introduced at Holyrood.  At the moment empty and unfurnished residential properties are exempt from council tax for the first six months.  After that period, they qualify for a 10% discount.  Under this Bill local authorities will be given the power to charge up to twice as much council tax on residential properties that are empty and unfurnished.  It is hoped this will act as an incentive for home owners to bring their empty houses back into use.  The Scottish government has also announced a new loan fund which will be specifically targeted at projects bringing properties into use for affordable housing.

The new bill will also controversially reduce the non-domestic business rates discount for some empty commercial properties from 50% to 10%.  The argument put forward is that this will encourage owners to bring boarded-up shops back into use.  A report from the BBC news website on this can be found here.

Now to England.  Over 85% of local authorities have accepted the UK Government’s offer to freeze council tax rates.  This is contrast to the agreement reached between the Scottish Government and all of Scotland’s local authorities.  England’s local authorities were offered a one-off grant worth 2.5% of their budget if they agreed to the freeze.  More on this can be found here.

Let’s end with Wales and the news that the Welsh Government has started to consult on whether Wales should be a separate legal jurisdiction.  The Welsh government will ask the judiciary, lawyers and members of the public whether they want a jurisdiction along the lines of those found in Scotland and Northern Ireland.  An article from the Law Society Gazette on this matter can be found here.

Have a good weekend.

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Budget week in “tax land”

As with any Budget statement, it is best to take a few days before passing judgement.  That said, and even before all of the detail has been analysed, there are a number of issues that stand out even just 24 hours after the Chancellor sat down.

The first concerns the debate, for “debate” read “leak everything”, that has surrounded a large number of Budget issues over the last few months.  We have a come a long way from the days when Gordon Brown did not even tell Tony Blair what was going to be in the Budget statement.

The proposed reduction in the top rate of income tax has dominated the political news coverage over the last few months.  The debate over how much it has raised will not end with the Budget statement.  There is no doubt it has led to a great deal of tax avoidance, aggressive tax avoidance.  That was to be expected.

The changes to the personal allowance and tax rate thresholds, has already begun to dominate the news coverage.  The coalition government must be hoping that the news coverage concentrates on the increase in the personal allowance and not the 300,000 more people who will be drawn into the 40% income tax rate from 2013/14.  To put this in context.  In the 1980’s approximately 5% of people were higher rate taxpayers.  Now it is 15%.

The freezing of age related allowances is also likely to cause problems for the coalition government.  Somehow they need to show that this is a good example of tax simplification.

The claim that does stand out is that by reducing the top rate of income tax, combined with other avoidance measures, five times more tax will be raised from the richest.  The Institute of Fiscal Studies noted today that that this is the third worst Budget statement for measures relating to tax avoidance.  This is measured on how much tax the avoidance measures to be introduced are likely to save.

Now to an old Budget favourite, stamp duty and Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT).  The SDLT changes were not unexpected especially for anyone who buys a Sunday newspaper.  The Chancellor announced that the level of stamp duty on residential properties over £2m which were bought via a company would increase to 15% with immediate effect.  In addition, overseas companies that already own UK residential property worth more than £2m will be subject to capital gains tax (CGT) from April 2013.  The CGT point was less expected but nonetheless welcome.  This though should have been dealt with many years ago.  The Chancellor also made it very clear if avoidance of this kind continues, further measures would be introduced without warning which have retrospective effect.

That though is not the main issue with SDLT in Scotland.  In Scotland only around 10 properties a year are sold that are worth over £2m.  The jump from 1% to 3% of SDLT at £250,001 is a much bigger issue.  Hopefully that will be one of the first issues dealt with when this tax is finally under the control of the Scottish Parliament.

One change I was hoping to see, in vain I might add, was a targeted VAT reduction for home repairs and renovations.    

Now to the fiscal powers debate.

The UK and Scottish Governments have agreed a number of changes to the Scotland Bill.  Both Governments will now recommend that their respective Parliaments support the Bill.  A number of minor changes have been agreed.  The Scottish Government has secured changes to the sections of the Bill dealing with borrowing powers and the Supreme Court.  It was also agreed that the measures contained in the Scotland Bill would only be implemented with the agreement of the Scottish Parliament.

The proposed reservations of insolvency procedures and regulation of health professions will also be removed preserving the Scottish Parliament’s existing legislative competence for these areas.  More on this can be found on the Scottish Government’s website which can be found here.  The list of proposed amendments agreed by both the present, and previous, Scottish Parliament Scotland Bill committees is also listed.  These lists show how few changes have been made to this Bill.  A report from the BBC news website on this matter can be found here.

The House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee has said that the Crown Estate’s control of 50% of Scotland’s coast and almost all the seabed should be devolved to Scotland’s local authorities.  The Scottish Affairs Committee said management of the marine environment lacked transparency and public consultation.  It is now difficult to find someone who is opposed to devolving this power.  Does that mean the Scotland Bill will be further amended to include this power?  I suspect not.  More on this can be found on a report on the BBC news website which can be found here.

I was intrigued to see the Secretary State for Scotland, Michael Moore, asking for tax clarity from the Scottish Government and in relation to the independence referendum.  There is a simple answer to this question, and which would provide a degree of certainty for individuals and businesses alike.  There should be no major changes for two or even three years to the tax legislation, and system of administration, that the Scottish Government inherits in the event of a “yes” vote.

I was not surprised to read that the Scottish Government is struggling to persuade HM Treasury that the new Scottish police and fire services should be exempt from VAT.  This is likely to mean an annual VAT cost of between £22 and £36m.  Under the current structure police forces are treated like local authorities and are exempt from VAT.  However, if they merge they may be subject to VAT.  A report on this from the BBC news website can be found here.  My earlier blog on this can also be found here.

The new definition of a charity will apply to all UK charity tax reliefs from April 2012.  More information on this can be found here.  I still find it odd that when it seems that everyone is talking about tax simplification, that bodies wishing to become a charity have to meet various conditions set by OSCR (Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator) and then by HMRC.  The reason for this is that the definition of a charity in Scotland is different from that used in England and Wales.  HMRC apply English and Welsh law.  This means if Scottish charities wish to claim the various UK charity tax reliefs then they also have to submit an application to HMRC.  What utter nonsense.  If the UK Government were serious about tax simplification, the fact that you are registered as a Scottish charity should be enough to allow a charity to claim the various UK tax reliefs.  The same issue applies in Northern Ireland as it now has its own charity regulator.

I was interested to see that the European Parliament has finally voted to approve the cross border inheritance law proposed by the European Commission to clarify which jurisdiction’s succession law should govern an international estate. The UK and Ireland remain opted out of the regulation.  A report on this from the BBC news website can be found here.

François Hollande, the Socialist candidate for the French presidency, has provided more detail of his plan for a 75% top rate of income tax.  He now says there will be a ceiling on the total tax paid by an individual in one year; and that the rate will be only temporary until the public sector budget is balanced.

Finally to Greece and some encouraging news.  The head of the European Union’s Greek task force, Horst Reichenbach, has reported the collection of almost €1bn (£830m) in back taxes.  Almost double the target figure.  A good start but still a fraction of the amount outstanding as they believe there is around €8bn in uncollected tax revenues.  More on this from a report on the BBC news website can be found here.

Have a good weekend.


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Air Passenger Duty – a sign of things to come

The Herald reports today that various English airport authorities are not happy that Air Passenger Duty is likely to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

This reaction is not unexpected.  I suspect that each time a tax is devolved similar arguments will be made.   This debate is not unique to the UK.  The on-going battle of wills between Ireland and France and Germany over Ireland’s low corporation tax rate shows its European dimension.

The Herald also reports that one option being considered is to simply devolve the right to collect this tax but not vary it.   I suspect that is not a serious proposal as only devolving the right to collect a tax does not make the Scottish Parliament more fiscally accountable nor provide it with a new economic lever.   If this is a serious proposal then it shows how hard it is going to be devolve any new tax or fiscal power to the Scottish Parliament.  Air Passenger Duty is a minor tax and in theory is fairly easy to devolve.  Even the Calman Commission recommended that it be devolved.  Last week’s Crown Estate announcement provides further evidence of how reluctant HM Treasury are to give up any power at all.

The report from the Herald can be found here.


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