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The LVTC blog, by Henry Law

The comments in the LVTC Blog are a personal view of our Hon. Secretary Henry Law and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of the Campaign.

This is a place for personal observations and comments on politics, economics, current affairs, on-going discussions on the potential for LVT to remedy some of the current ills, and the impact on Society of any of the above. 

Please read and enjoy, and feel free to respond to Henry if you have any thing you would like to add.

More welfare for landowners

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A nice little welfare handout for landowners was slipped almost unnoticed into the Chancellor's Autumn Statement last week. New developments will be exempt from empty property rates from next October: all newly built commercial property completed between 1 October 2013 and 30 September 2016 will be exempt from empty property rates for the first 18 months. This is described as "a victory for the property industry, which has campaigned for a change to empty rates for years."

Osborne praised the work of the working group of MPs, led by York Outer MP Julian Sturdy, in reviewing empty property rates. He said that empty rate relief for new development would "help the construction industry".

This is doubly strange.

The Internet is changing

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The internet is subtly changing. The Financial Times, the Daily Telegraph and the Times are now behind paywalls and give limited free access. The Guardian adopted a different strategy with free access and a comments page called "Comment is Free" (CIF), paid for out of advertising. The quality of the articles is middling-to-poor, and they are mostly written by the Guardian's old warhorses. Their views are 100% predictable.

For several years, however this has provided a useful forum for discussion and the exchange of views. But the Guardian has just altered the format of its CIF website and introduced what is called "threading". Responses are gathered together instead of being in chronological order. This seems to be unpopular - an overall look at the number of comments suggests that there are less than half the number there were before.

In addition to making navigation difficult, the threading system has led to fragmentation of discussions to the point of meaninglessness. The comments have degenerated into one-liners.


High speed rail - who will benefit?

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Pro-HS2 research group Greengauge 21 says it thinks the rest of the country will benefit more than London from the high-speed link.

Tax avoidance - Labour wants your opinion

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The Labour Party has climbed onto the bandwagon of concern about tax avoidance by issuing what it calls a "Challenge Paper" which tells us that "Labour believes addressing tax avoidance at both an individual and corporate level must be a priority. At home, this means making it plain to the Crown Dependencies that we will expect them to observe the letter and the spirit of the law and being prepared to legislate if necessary. Abroad it means leading on international action to crack down on practices that cause Britain to lose out.

There is nothing there about the possibility of changing the system so that it was not vulnerable to avoidance in the first place. The paper is available for consultation until 28 February 2013, with submissions going to the "Stability and Prosperity Policy Commission" as they prepare a detailed policy document on the issue for publication in March 2013. But since Labour is, or should be, well aware of the possibilities that exist for reconstructing the tax system rather than tinkering with it, this gets things off to a rotten start.

I tried to register on line to contribute my bit but never succeeded in getting past the registration hurdles, as the website was programmed to accept only UK postcodes. That does not inspire confidence either, but if you can be bothered, here is the link.

Euro not dead yet

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Despite predictions of its imminent demise several months ago, the Euro struggles on. Some people are surprised, but those with an interest in its survival have successfully managed to keep kicking the can down the road. How much longer can it go on? Last week, statistics from Eurostat confirmed that the Eurozone remains in recession. The day before that, millions of people across Europe, but predominantly in the most affected countries: Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece, took to the streets in protests. Unemployment figures are at record heights.

There were those of us who queried the Euro project from the start.

UK property tax pickle

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Between them, Chancellor George Osborne and Local Government minister Eric Pickles, have missed the opportunity to reform Britain's property tax and made a mess of things instead. We reported previously that the government had decided to defer the UBR revaluation for two years, until 2017. The FT now reports that

"Colliers International, the property agency - which has described the decision as a 'scandal' - has launched an e-petition on the Downing Street website calling for the 2015 revaluation to go ahead as planned.

"The firm's own research suggests that rents have fallen steeply in many parts of the country since the last valuation in 2008, meaning that tenants are locked into overly high rates. The falls include 26 per cent in the Northeast, 20 per cent in the East Midlands, 21 per cent in Merseyside and 23 per cent in Yorkshire.

"By contrast rents in London's West End have risen 26 per cent in the same period, meaning that shops in the most expensive part of the country will benefit from the delay in the revaluation.

The Chancellor, in the meantime, has decided against either a review of Council Tax bands or to go ahead with the LibDems proposal for a "Mansion Tax". We would not argue with that. Cable's proposal for the Mansion Tax was never a good idea and it was easily shot down on the grounds of practicality alone. It is unfortunate that the LibDems muddied the waters with the suggestion in the first place. Waters have been further muddied by the misrepresentation of land value tax as a wealth tax, which it absolutely is not.

As to the fairness or otherwise of delaying the UBR revaluation, the report of a 26% rise in rents in London's West End gives the game away. The beneficiaries of delay are not the shops who rent the properties but their landlords. On the same line of reasoning, those who are losing out from a revaluation are not, on the whole, the shopkeepers, but the owners of provincial properties; either way, the effects of a change in property tax do not last beyond the first (upwards only) rent review.

Thus a revaluation would change the relative values to bring them in line with changes since the last one. But it makes little difference to most businesses, especially small ones. If rates are held down, they will be hit with a bigger rent rise when trading conditions pick up. Landlords win regardless, since theirs is an each-way bet. If the government was concerned about small businesses, they would have outlawed the onerous, unfair, and ubiquitous "upwards only" rent revision clause.

However, having deferred the UBR revaluation for two years, the way is now open for a comprehensive reform of Britain's property taxes, replacing them all with a national tax on land values. This would broaden the tax base by raising revenue from properties - vacant and poorly developed sites - which currently make little or no contribution. If most people paid about the same as now, the additional revenue raised would help to pay off government debt and then pave the way for substantial cuts in taxes on wealth creation. But does not seem as if it is not going to happen. If the Conservatives were really the party of business, a Conservative Chancellor to be giving top priority to cutting taxes on wealth and its creation.


The behaviour of this one reveals humbug behind their rhetoric. But we seem to be in the Age of Humbug. It is humbug all the way across the board - I referred last week to the humbug that lies behind protestations about tax avoidance by people who refuse to talk about the one tax reform that would stop it dead in its tracks.

MPs grill tax avoidance rogues

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Representatives from the big trans-national tax avoiders - Google, Amazon and Starbucks, had a grilling by MPs yesterday. But the rogues missed a trick. These companies' obligations to the British government begin and end with the value of the infrastructure that they enjoy in the UK. That's it. This is fully reflected in the land value element of the rents they pay on the properties they occupy, plus the UBR the companies themselves actually pay. I doubt if they own much, if any, property in the UK, so we are talking about town centre shops, sheds on fringe industrial estates and perhaps little offices in a posh address in SW1, rented from investment companies and the odd duke. If the UK government wants the money to which it is rightfully due, it should collect it from the companies' landlords through a tax on the rental value of land. It is a pity that the company lackeys did not point this out very firmly.

When confronted by MPs with the charge that the tax avoidance was immoral but not illegal, they should have retorted that the British tax system, like most others, is based on the systematic theft of private property, combined with a failure to collect a value which is created and sustained by public action, largely at the expense of taxpayers, and to which the government has a perfectly legitimate claim. That really is immoral.

Next for the MPs' grilling should be Chancellor George Osborne and his predecessors, and Treasury civil servants. They should be asked why they have not put a robust tax system in place, one based on sound moral principles. Caroline Lucas could usefully take the opportunity to point this out to her colleagues, over coffee, between now and the time her LVT bill comes up for discussion early next year.

There is a verbatim report of the farcical exchange here in the FT.

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