A four day week in “tax land”

For those of you struggling to sleep at night, may I recommend the latest UK Finance Bill.  According to the accountants Grant Thornton, at 686 pages, it is the longest Finance Bill in UK history.  The Finance Bill can be found here.  I am reluctant to even mention the fact that the UK Government has announced 45 tax consultations in case you stop reading.

I enjoyed Jeremy Peat’s comment piece on the UK Budget.  Jeremy comments on the 50p rate of income tax, the 40% income tax band, the economy and lending.  I particularly liked this comment: “What about incentives? Well, one effect of the Budget is to drag very large numbers of folks into the 40p tax band. Logically, I would have thought the adverse effect on the incentives of this substantially larger group would be expected to be [much] greater than any positive incentive effect from reducing the top rate to 45p for a much smaller group.”  If you are registered with the Herald website you can find all of Jeremy’s article here.

Now to the fiscal powers debate Italian style.  It is claimed that Italy’s prosperous German speaking South Tyrol autonomous province wishes to buy its financial independence.  South Tyrol has a population of around half a million and already has a large amount of autonomy. Up to 90% of tax revenue stays in the region, while the other 10% goes to Rome.  South Tyrol was occupied by Italy at the end of the WWI and annexed in 1919.  After WW2 the Allies decided that the province would remain a part of Italy, but would be granted a large amount of autonomy.  The article that I came across on Twitter can be found here.

“Devo max” for London?  An interesting article from the London Evening Standard can be found here.  I am surprised that Boris Johnson has not made more of an issue of this before now.

Last week I mentioned the report by the David Hume Institute on the debts and liabilities that an independent Scotland may be responsible for.  The report also made reference to the fact that the UK has approximately £821bn of “assets”.  I was glad to see that the “asset” side to the fiscal powers debate continued this week.  An article in the Scotsman on this issue by Jennifer Dempsie can be found here.

It seems that any new charge is automatically labelled a “tax”. My first example is from Dundee and a so called “tax on creativity”.  Members of Dundee’s licensing committee have decided to postpone implementing a controversial act that it is claimed could hinder the city’s arts scene.  The rule would have required exhibitions or public shows put on by the artists, gallery owners, musicians or publishers to be licensed from 1 April, even if they were free.  With the cost of a licence ranging from £124 to £7,500, artists said many free shows and exhibitions would simply not take place. The background to this is the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010.  An article from the Courier on this can be found here.

My second example has been termed a “property extension tax” by the Daily Mail.  The Mail reported this week on how planning permission fees for property extensions will increase from £160 to £300 in Scotland.  The Mail compared this with the £150 charge in many English local authorities.

Now to the unsurprising news that charities have banded together to protest at the capping of donor tax relief that was announced by George Osborne in his Budget statement.  Two leading umbrella bodies, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and the Charities Aid Foundation, have set up a website calling on Osborne to exclude charities from the proposed cap.  More than 200 organisations have already signed up to support the campaign, called “Give It Back George”.  Principals of five Scottish universities are among those signatories to a letter asking the UK Government to abandon this proposal.  The campaign website can be found here.  An article on this from the Scotsman can be found here.

An article in the Herald claims that this week’s 8% rise in Air Passenger Duty (APD) will lead to a 46% growth in HM Treasury’s revenue from APD by 2016.  It does seem that APD makes the news every week.  The reason for that is how APD is at the centre of a number of debates.  The airline industry would like to see it abolished or at least reduced.  Then there is the call for it to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament.  The UK Government has already signalled its intention to partially devolve APD to Northern Ireland.  Worth also noting that until recently the environment would be mentioned in the context of APD.  That though now rarely happens.  How quickly things change.  An article from the BBC news website can be found here.  If you are registered with the Herald website an article on APD can be found here.

The Guardian reports that the House of Lords Financial and Economic Affairs Committee has warned against the planned European Union financial transaction tax.  That is not a surprise.  What is interesting about this article is that it covers a possible alternative to the proposed financial transaction tax.  The alternative is the introduction of national stamp duties on share transactions, which the UK already has and which France is set to follow in August.  The Guardian article can be found here.

Now to Ireland and news that almost half of Ireland’s 1.6 million households have refused to register to pay the new €100 annual tax on residential property by the 31 March deadline.  The mass non-compliance was organised through an Internet campaign and backed by protest marches.  The levy, which also applies to foreign owners, is expected to rise sharply next year.  A report on this from the Irish Times can be found here.

Swiss authorities have issued warrants for the arrest of three German tax inspectors.  The three are accused of buying a CD containing bank client data stolen from Credit Suisse in Zurich, which led to the investigation of hundreds of German taxpayers with undeclared Swiss accounts.  The Prime Minister of North-Rhine-Westphalia has come to the defence of the tax inspectors and has said that the tax inspectors were only doing their duty.  Given the escalating war of words between these countries in this issue, I suspect that this matter will run for a while yet.  A report from Spiegel online can be found here.

Good luck to Edinburgh Rugby this weekend and also to those competing at the new look Gala RFC sevens.  I wonder if any politicians will be pictured eating hot pasties or sausage rolls at these events.  Have a good Easter 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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