50% Income Tax

24 04 2009

alistair-darling-budget-2009The increase in the rate of income tax for the high earners seems to be the most talked about topic of this year’s budget. The tax applies to all those who earn £150,000 or more. Add to that the National Insurance contribution and it equates to more than half of one’s salary. The aim of this rise, according to the chancellor Alistair Darling, is to contribute to the Treasury coffers to make up for the huge amounts of public sector borrowings, £175 billion this year itself.

But it looks like the aim of this move is to gather support from the majority of the public who seem to hold all those who earn huge amounts of money responsible for all the mess that the economy is in. A poll by the Times newspaper shows that 57% of the respondents back this increase in tax. The accountancy and tax experts will definitely see a rise in business since they will have many clients asking them to look for loop holes allowing them to dodge the tax. And who will then pick up the bill? The hard working majority of course.

A lot of measures have been introduced in the budget to help people, like the scheme for the 18-25 year olds, £2000 car scrappage scheme, ISA allowance, etc. But its one thing to announce something and another thing to actually implement it.

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But, its not whats in the budget that’s important, but what wasn’t included in the budget. If the money coming in is less than the money going out, it may be OK to borrow money in the short term to cover that deficit. But somewhere along the line, cuts in spending will have to be made. There is no clear indication where those cuts will be made.

To make a start, how about the MPs themselves cutting back on the expenses that they claim from the tax payer. I mean claiming back 88p for a bath plug, how ridiculous is that. Its like almost mocking the tax payers. It is understandable that an MP from, say Newcastle, should be able to stay in London when performing his duties and expect the tax payer to pay for that. But that doesn’t mean buying a second home and pocketing the profit made from it. Its means lodging in a hotel during the stay. And if the MPs really care for the taxpayers, why not take a pay cut? Its not a lot to ask. Many workers have taken a pay cut in companies so that their colleagues can keep their jobs.

The Treasury estimates that it will spend £119 billion of the £671 billion on Health services this year. How about asking those who drink excessively and then take up the resources of the NHS when their bodies cant take it to pay for the service. How about allocating resources to curb rising obesity so that money doesn’t have to be spent on treating illnesses arising from it. Distributing garden tools and seeds across the schools would provide physical exercise and free produce as well.

People who currently receive help paying their fuel bills could be provided with subsidies allowing them to purchase energy efficient appliances such as electric kettles. This would reduce the energy used which would reduce the bills which would reduce the amount payed by the Government. Subsidies over 50% could also be provided to buy solar panels which would make homes thatreceive fuel allowance self sufficient which means that they wouldn’t be requiring the help from the Government.

There are many other ways that the money can be spent efficiently by the Government. Asking a group of over-paid Government consultants isn’t going to help, ask the public for ideas. I am sure that a lot of constructive ideas will emerge.

In hindsight, if the Government had spent their money wisely when it was coming in and saved for a rainy day, there might have been a bit of buffer that the Chancellor could have used. We instead ended up with no savings and a massive hurricane instead of a rainy day. The budget doesn’t seem to be based on sound economics, but on hope and a prayer. If the Chancellors own figures are to be believed from last year, we should be in a recovery sometime soon. But instead, we are still in a deep recession. Yet, he hopes the economy will grow by 3.5% in two years time. How? Manufacturing is affected despite the weak pound and the financial sector is not as big as it used to be. Who will then lead the recovery?

Even if the figures are somehow achieved, it is still better to plan for a slow growth and be pleasantly surprised by the massive growth than to plan/hope for massive growth and then get it spectacularly wrong.

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First the Chancellor giveth, then the Chancellor taketh away.

25 11 2008

Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling

Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling

Yesterday, the Chancellor Alistair Darling announced in his Pre-Budget Report the much talked about 2.5% cut in the VAT, bringing it down to 15% from 17.5%. In the same breath, he also announced an increase in income tax for those earning £140,000 and above. From April 2011, people falling into this income bracket will have to pay income tax at the rate of 45p.

The cut in VAT is to come into effect from the 1st of December. This leaves ample time for businesses to revise their prices and change the all the labels in the stores, but at the same time, being just in time before the Christmas shopping.

So, how will the change affect the prices? Will a loaf of bread or a bunch of carrots be any cheaper? No, because food products do not attract VAT. Surely, utility bills as a result will go down. Sadly, no because the VAT on utilities such as gas and electricity already have a lower rate of VAT charged at 5%. A cut of 2.5% doesn’t look as if it will make a huge difference in prices, especially compared to the generous 20%, 35%, 40% discounts offered by the retailers already.

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Then, the motive behind the cut is to give confidence to the consumers to go out and spend. But, confidence cannot be used to pay for a brand new PlayStation 3, can it? You need something else, namely, money. The primary reason why people are spending less money on the high street is because they have very little surplus left over after paying the high utility and food bills. And those who have enough surplus choose to save it for a rainy day.

That’s because it’s almost impossible to see a news report nowadays without it mentioning yet another company announcing job cuts. This creates uncertainty among those who are employed about the security of their jobs. Those who have recently been made redundant have no choice but to save money. But those who have a job also save since they don’t know how they are going to put food on the table next month or meet their mortgage repayments.

Another thing that’s hard to miss in a news report is an interview with the boss of a SME (Small & Medium Enterprise) business who has been denied a loan from his bank, or has had his overdraft facility cancelled. This leads to cash flow problems which means the business cant pay its staff, pay its utility bills, or even buy raw materials to maintain production. In addition, creditors, who owe money to the business, are unable or reluctant to part with their money. As a result, staff numbers have to be cut down adding to the number of unemployed across the country.

How can such news create confidence?

Perhaps, the Chancellor should look at reducing the VAT temporarily on utilities, or even get rid of them for the time being. More importantly perhaps, he should make sure that SMEs, who are perfectly healthy, should have access to loans and overdrafts at a reasonable cost to maintain their cash flow. After all, the SMEs are not asking for charity, just for funds which they are prepared to pay back with due interest. It makes sense for the Government to ensure that businesses that are perfectly sound to not go bankrupt just because they do not have enough cash or credit to meet their current liabilities. After all, the SMEs employ a lot of people in the private sector of the economy and contribute to the Treasury in the form of National Insurance and Corporation Tax. Since people are employed, it saves the Government the trouble of have to pay job seekers allowance, hence reducing its outflow.

So, it is perhaps job security and income security that will encourage the consumers to go out and spend, as Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown along with countless retailers are eagerly hoping, fingers crossed.

But it seems highly unlikely that the cut in VAT will have the intended purpose of instilling confidence among the consumers and going on a spending spree, but for the sake of the economy and the countless people who are unemployed, lets hope its not all in vain. The high earners are certainly hoping for it, since they are going to be paying for it, come 2011.

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Meeting with Headteacher Darling.

8 11 2008
Alistair Darling, Chancellor of the Exchequer. Image from TimesOnline

Alistair Darling, Chancellor of the Exchequer. Image from TimesOnline

Since many of the banks had seemed to have failed to pass on the Bank of England’s very generous 1.5% cut in interest rate to their customers on the Standard Variable Rate (SVR) mortgages, the mischievous bankers were summoned to a meeting with the head teacher, a.k.a., Alistair Darling, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. They were told to pass on the interest rate cut to their customers, or else, face detention.

A standard variable rate is where the interest rate is tracked by the lender, solely at its discretion, to the base rate of the Bank of England or the LIBOR rate. So, the obvious excuse that the bankers gave for not passing on this cut was that the cost of borrowing money on the open market, i.e., the LIBOR rate, had not come down at the same rate. That’s true, although the LIBOR rate did drop by 1.07% from 5.56% to 4.49% on Friday. The lowest rate since May 2004, incase you thought why it was that significant.

Bowing to pressure, Lloyds TSB, Halifax, Nationwide, Abbey, Royal Bank of Scotland, NatWest (part of Royal Bank of Scotland), Northern Rock and Bradford & Bingley have all cut the interest rate by a full 1.5%. Also, the fact that the LIBOR rate has fallen makes it hard for the banks to justify their reluctance to pass on the cut.

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Usually, the banks are quite quick to match a hike in interest rate by the Bank of England because it allows them to justify doing so. However, they don’t seem so keen when the rate is cut.

The opposite is true for the savings rate. Most banks have been more than happy to cut the interest rates on their savings account using the recent cut in rates by the Bank of England as the justification. This hardly seems like the right thing to do when banks are desperate for funds to lend and one of the sources is the deposits by the customers, the other being borrowing on the open market. Since its expensive to borrow on the open markets, as the banks themselves are saying, they should be trying to entice customers to deposit money.

But what’s amusing is that Alistair Darling and his advisors actually assumed that the banks would pass on the cut to their customers. Why would they? They are not charitable institutions that work for the best interests of their customers. They are financial institutions whose main aim is to make profit and make their shareholder’s investment in them worthwhile. Lets not forget that banks all across the globe have lost billions, if not trillions, of pounds in the financial crisis. So, it is but obvious that they would try hard as they could to make up for the loss.

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No wonder then that people have literally started to stuff cash under their mattresses. The chief executive of G4S, the security transport company, Nick Buckles, recently said that the amount of cash in the system had increased since people are preferring to use cash instead of credit. It emerged recently that the number of £50 notes in circulation had increased by 20%.

He added, “People use it as a means of budgeting. They don’t like credit, so clearly there’s more cash transactions, more ATM transactions. And I guess the £50 note issue is people hoarding cash at home.”

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