TPA bullies score own goal


4:06 pm - February 5th 2009

by Clifford Singer    


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Hot on the heels of the Guardian’s excellent Tax Gap series, LabourList’s Derek Draper sparked a shouting match – real and online – when he invited the TaxPayers’ Alliance to condemn corporate tax avoidance. He pointed out – quite reasonably – that corporate tax avoidance increases the burden on those ordinary taxpayers that the TPA claims to represent.

But the TPA’s campaign director, Mark Wallace, complained that Draper’s tone was quite unreasonable – and added: “Corporate tax avoidance is a rational response to an overly complex and burdensome tax code.” So no condemnation there.

I find the spectre of being shouted at by Draper less menacing than the TPA’s own sneering condenscension towards seemingly everyone involved in providing public services.

Back in August 2008, the TPA’s “grassroots co-ordinator” Tim Aker (salary undisclosed) took exception to Moray Council advertising for a “Street Football Co-ordinator” (salary £19,887), who would work “to improve the health and well being of children and young people in Moray” and be “willing to travel and work unsociable hours”.

“Can you contain the rage?” he raged. “This is unbelievable. Councils now engaging in planning and funding ‘street football’. All you need for football is a few jumpers for goalposts and a ball… Believe you me when I say this job is going in our non-job report in December.”

And, true to his word, it did.

The TPA loves these surveys – they can be counted on to generate outraged national and local headlines across the country. (Its most recent survey “exposed” council middle management pay – except it managed to skew the statistics by including teachers.)

The tabloids lapped it up. “It’s boom time for ludicrous jobs,” scoffed the Daily Mail, barely rewriting the TPA’s press release. “Moronic Moray,” screamed the Sun.

But the Scottish national and regional press didn’t play ball. “Council shows group red card over non-job claim,” was the Press and Journal’s headline, and came up with the novel idea of hearing what the council as well as the TPA had to say.

The Sunday Herald went further. Far from being ashamed, Moray Council was proud of its street football scheme. The post was part-time and so the real salary was only half of that advertised, of which Moray Council provided just £3,000. Grampian Police, Grampian Fire and Rescue Service, and several private companies funded the remainder. (If the TPA had bothered to look – nothing too strenuous, a Google search would have sufficed – they would have quickly discovered why Grampian Police were among the scheme’s keenest backers.)

It’s worth reading Moray Council’s comments to the Herald in full, because they pretty much spell out everything that’s wrong with TaxPayers’ Alliance’s “research”:

More than 70 young people attend weekly street football games on Friday and Saturday evenings in Moray. There has been a marked reduction in the instances of anti-social behaviour – vandalism, teenage alcohol abuse and graffiti – in these targeted areas since the introduction of street football, saving many thousands of pounds.

I realise that the TaxPayers’ Alliance need to grab headlines to attract the donations that keep them in a job, but their poor research lets them down. All they have done is scan for job adverts and picked out those that sound quirky.

Far from being the self-appointed scrutineers they set out to be, the TaxPayers’ Alliance appear to have become a cash-generating body whose raison d’etre is to generate puff to keep their staff in a job. What a pity, they could be so much more useful.

Update: Vino chimes in:

This article highlights that the “Taxpayers’ Alliance” seem rather reluctant to condemn the activities of corporate tax dodgers. This is strange since, it is because the wealthy dodge tax that ordinary taxpayers have to pay more taxes than they otherwise would do. By defending the tax dodging of wealthy individuals and corporations, the TPA demonstrate that they are not interested in standing up for ordinary people who pay the taxes they should – but instead choose the side of the rich and big business who ignore their social and legal responsibilities.

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About the author
This is a guest contribution. Clifford Singer runs The Other Taxpayer's Alliance website. You can join the Facebook group here.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Economy ,Local Government

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Reader comments


A very entertaining article, full of profound insight as to why the public debt needs to continue to mushroom, while our ability to pay for it continues to shrink alarmingly.

You would serve your readership better if, having condemned the TPA, you put forward alternative proposals to shrink public spending to an affordable level. But perhaps it’s difficult to do that and still maintain your ‘liberal’ credentials ?

The TPA also said in response to Draper’s comments that they would favour lower domestic tax rates so that businesses stayed here, and thus did not engage in tax avoidance (legal by the way).

“I find the spectre of being shouted at by Draper less menacing than the TPA’s own sneering condenscension towards seemingly everyone involved in providing public services.”

I don’t really like the TPA, but this article has to be based on the flimsiest excuse to attack the TPA I’ve ever seen…it also doesn’t seem to counter the TPA claims made against Draper, because you are unable to or just don’t want to?

“A very entertaining article, full of profound insight as to why the public debt needs to continue to mushroom…”

No, it wasn’t. Try reading the post before hitting ctrl-v in future.

Sorry Neil , didn’t quite get the point of your contribution.

1) The article does not offer any insight into why the public debt needs to mushroom.

2) ctrl-v is the PC keyboard combination for ‘paste’.

7. douglas clark

It does make you wonder how the Taxpayers Alliance is funded though. If they have corporate sponsors, I think we ought to be told.

The TPA also said in response to Draper’s comments that they would favour lower domestic tax rates so that businesses stayed here, and thus did not engage in tax avoidance (legal by the way).

Of course they’d prefer corporations to pay lower tax. And they can keep running that argument constantly because corporations will still find ways to avoid paying it. After all, the cost of paying the tax to hiring some good accountants will always be skewed against taxation.

But it’s hardly addressing the point is it?

I always preferred ?-v

/mactard

Can we, for a minute, remember this is a blog and not the London Review of Books?

Okay, this isn’t the most in-depth analysis ever penned, but it never pretended to be. It’s a blog post.

I enjoyed it.

1 – “You would serve your readership better if, having condemned the TPA, you put forward alternative proposals to shrink public spending to an affordable level. But perhaps it’s difficult to do that and still maintain your ‘liberal’ credentials ?”

If you’d actually bothered to read it, the article was about how a council has managed to save thousands of pounds which it previously spent on cleaning up vandalism and graffiti through running a street football project.

It is therefore a perfect example of ‘shrinking public spending’ while also benefiting the community. Something which an alliance which represented taxpayers would support, but which an extreme right-wing pressure group would not.

It is therefore a perfect example of ’shrinking public spending’ while also benefiting the community. Something which an alliance which represented taxpayers would support, but which an extreme right-wing pressure group would not.

smackdown!

Alas I doubt that a shouting match between Derek Draper and the TPA provides any enlightenment. Tax avoidance is legal but not moral; public companies have an obligation to maximise share holder value, which infers that they will practise tax avoidance.

There is still room for a sensible argument. A requirement for companies to disclose tax avoidance in annual reports would be a starting point — isn’t there already a limited requirement for UK taxable companies to disclose avoidance schemes? Pension schemes might raise their thresholds for ethical conduct. Consumers could be informed about who plays fair and who does not.

In particular, mainstream politicians should think hard about how they engage with the TPA. The TPA is an organisation of knockers (those who are entirely negative) who present an ideal world where everyone can enjoy public services whilst paying less tax. The TPA’s arguments are simplistic and superficial. If you engage them in prolonged debate, you only set yourself up as someone who opposes the ideal. All you can do is shoot down each definition of a “non-job” or “valueless scheme” according to its own worth. Whatever their motives, we have to acknowledge that there will be objections to public projects when the TPA is right.

And *we* ought to be the ones attacking quangos, cronyism, centralisation, managerialism etc with a positive reponse.

@Aaron

“Can we, for a minute, remember this is a blog and not the London Review of Books?”

Hear hear.

15. Alisdair Cameron

The TPA are vile Tory wankers who do occasionally point out some waste of public money, but more often attack valuable preventative expenditure because it doesn’t fit with their ideology, rather than it actually being wasteful (it isn’t).
Derek draper is a vile NewLabour wanker, who does occasionally point out some genuine right-wing shenanigans, but more often blindly lays into anyone who dares criticise the New labour ‘message’ as if they were all from the right (they aren’t), as opposed to being further left, more moral and with greater insight and exp[experience than all of the careerist drones in New Labour

16. Alisdair Cameron

So, in summary, a fight which I’d like both sides to lose…

17. Shatterface

Street football co-ordinator seems a perfectly sensible job seeing as most of the grass pitches I played on as a kid are now streets. There should be a historic right to play football where there were once pitches just like ramblers still have access to a right of way.

Seriously though, as mentioned its a cost-effective way of reducing vandalism and for Daily Mail or Sun staff to describe it as a non-job is a bit rich. Pots, kettles?

What Alisdair said. Draper vs TPA, Arsehole vs Arseholes, *popcorn*

I love the response from Moray council, that’s brilliant.

“Seriously though, as mentioned its a cost-effective way of reducing vandalism and for Daily Mail or Sun staff to describe it as a non-job is a bit rich.”

Question is, can it be proven that it was directly responsible for the drop in crime?

@ Alisdair Cameron, 15, 16 – perfeck, sir, perfeck!

But there is a reasoned argument for both sides – the football thing not Draper, for he is a tit.

You can use jumpers and a ball to play street football, and should it be funded by council?

The problem there lies that it is councils, who for so long, have said that kids cannot play on the streets – “No Ball Games” signs – they are absolutely everywhere – especially on council estates. And piece of grass, though an impromptu rubbish tip, you are not allowed to play on.

I understand the principle, though I do not get the message – take the bloody signs down and not criminalise kids with ASBOs for playing – simple as that really.

21. Conor Foley

Sunny: what about asking Derek to cross-post here occasionally (inclusiveness and all that)?

22. Shatterface

Richard (19): best way to see if the reduction in crime is due to street football is to replicate the experiment elsewhere.

@19, Richard: “Question is, can it be proven that it was directly responsible for the drop in crime?”

Given the small sample and localisation, it can’t be provable over a short period of time. It may be provable over many years, or by using more samples.

Whether the football scheme per se is responsible for reductions in youth offending/annoyance is unimportant in Moray. It works for them and is cheaper than the alternatives.

If you really want to urinate tax payers’ money down the drain, examine every innovative scheme that may improve community life. Count every pound and count every minute of worker cost. Alternatively, look at community cost of social upheaval.

My own opinion: Moray street football created relationships from kids with adults outside family. And it isn’t the only way.

@Will Rhodes, “You can use jumpers and a ball to play street football, and should it be funded by council? ”

Quite. Anecdotal, I know, but I recently did quite a lot of work for a community and police consultancy group, like wot we have had in the London boroughs ever since the Broadwater Farm riots. They do what they say on the tin, work for better relations between police and community. The particular group I worked for had a fantastic record of youth engagement and a whole sub-group run by a couple of local teenagers.

In the time I was there, this sub-group group set up and ran a borough football tournament with hired pitch space, trophies, local media coverage, police teams and local youth teams, to the tune of about 200 people all told. They’re going to use it as a springboard for more regular football events.

Total cost, won from (I think) the National Lottery Awards for All scheme: £600.

The instinct to centralise and professionalise everything and turn it into a managerial function must be resisted. It’s too expensive and it deadens enterprise. There are people out there who will get stuck into this stuff and get something out of it themselves, if they’re only given the funding and the encouragement – everyone’s a winner. The TPA may be wankers, but this is the kind of thing they’re right to highlight, even if they do it for the wrong reasons.

What Alisdair said. Draper vs TPA, Arsehole vs Arseholes, *popcorn*

This isn’t really a TPA vs DD battle. I think this is a broader left vs TPA battle, where a well funded campaign group is deliberately seeking to undermine good projects by doing frivolous and misleading research.

The Other TPA website is a good resource on all this.

“this article has to be based on the flimsiest excuse to attack the TPA I’ve ever seen”

Lee, you underestimate me: I can think of much flimsier excuses.

“remember this is a blog and not the London Review of Books”

I did offer Sunny my 12-volume thesis on fiscal stimulus, but he claimed he didn’t have the server space – even after I started shouting.

“best way to see if the reduction in crime is due to street football is to replicate the experiment elsewhere.”

Oh no – imagine the headlines.

Don’t see the Guardian’s tax gap series as particularly excellent. And as a campaign it seems to be achieving little. There are already more comments on this item than on their blog for today.

The headlines would be harder to sustain if more professional footballers were willing to help promote the sport: say what you like about Wayne Rooney but he has helped turn the sport legit.

The problem with the football scheme is that it doesn’t address the underlying problem – that these youths have a propensity to commit crime that can only be prevented by entertaining them with sport. When my friends and I were young we didn’t engage in crime and antisocial behaviour when we were bored because (a) we knew it was wrong and (b) we feared the consequences of our actions. In short, the money is wasted because it is being spent on sticking plaster, not on a cure.

Richard, that’s a weird perspective. How did you know it was wrong, and why did you fear the consequences?

When was young I had a fair few friends would do daft things, but I was involved in stuff that gave me something better and more constructive to do.

Socialising kids into the idea that they can organise things themselves, that adults are happy to help them, and that fun can be had without trashing things is a good thing. While I personally am not interested in football (I got into sailing, benefits of a coastal town), I can see that team sports generally are a good thing for people not used to or raised in the idea of working with people.

Socialising people into doing something constructive is a cure.

Missing from all this is any criticism of a Labour government whose attitudes to the rich and tax allow leeches like the TPA to flourish. The TPA are a minor target in comparison and a distraction from the billions of pounds in potential tax revenue that Labour let float away every year.

The idea that by spending money on one of the gazillions of potty Council ego trips you save some other hypothecated amount would last five minutes in a Company with bottom line , its rubbish move on seriously …This discussion comes at the problem from the wrong end .
There is an assumption that it is reasonable to expect people to behave other than self aggrandising and inefficiently with other people `s money. This is not an assumption shared by New Labour . The Party that gave you the target for targets will not trust a state serf to sit the right way round on a lavatory seat unaided by guidelines. For reasons that would hardly need explanation to a Conservative this has made matters worse whilst creating yet another level of said management hypothecating savings to themselves .
The tax payer does not expect the public sector to work well , nonetheless it agrees that some social provisions like health are still better not left to the private sector . The question is how do we make them less awful , forget good .
In that they have no real clients ( despite the risible adoption of Commercial language ..ehg “clients “ ) the only means the voter has is criticism and ridicule and for their sterling efforts the tax payers alliance should applauded. This is only micro adjustment though
It does not mean that tax payers want to dismantle the NHS of course but Sunny is quite wrong if he thinks they support conspicuous waste or are fooled by just so stories of cost effectiveness . On the broader canvass over the last ten years the majority behind tax for services has declined and now there is a clear wish for a reduction of the state’s role . We have seen this in the electrifying effect on the Polls of the IHT event . Cameron is , in fact , is treading very warily but I fear severe cuts are in store for the Public sector as the economy screams for tax cuts and we cannot borrow any more .

PS Do stop this myth about taxing the rich. It has been discussed at length on this site and the conclusion of the IFS is unequivocal. There is no tax to be got . Tax will have to come from ordinary people and if you do not even engage with them , you are lost( as indeed you are )

“How did you know it was wrong, and why did you fear the consequences?”

I knew it was wrong because I wouldn’t like it to done with me. Plus I’d been told by school and parents that it was wrong.

Why did I fear the consequences? Because I thought the police would arrest me if I broke the law and I didn’t like the idea of getting into trouble.

Public companies have a legal duty to maximise profit for their shareholders, so if they can avoid tax without breaking the law, they have a duty to do so.

I guess it should come as no surprise that the people criticising this post have clearly not bothered to read it through: Good news to them is like sunlight to a vampire.

But perhaps people (and by extension, corporations) have a moral duty to avoid paying as little tax as possible. I mean, the government knows exactly how it can raise more cash: stop invading foreign countries and supporting the military spending of other nations. Whatever a shareholder, pension fund or rich individual spends on any money they keep from tax avoidance, it is unlikely to do as much as harm as it will be spent by a state. If Britain were more pacific a state, perhaps the obligation would be different.

37. douglas clark

Every time an issue like this comes up, someone comments, ‘but companies have a duty to maximise their profits to shareholders’ and then sits back assuming they have stated some immutable truth. I would like to see some articles on here arguing the pros and cons of that position.

It seems to me, for instance, that no company – except mercenaries perhaps – can make a profit outwith the framework of a civil society. And that they ought to have an equal responsibility for maintaining it as the rest of us. By paying their fair share. Not engaging the brightest minds we have in attempting to find loopholes. There is an arms race between the Revenue and tax avoidance lawyers.

As companies are only taxed on profits, they are simply being greedy at the expense of the great unwashed.

What is annoying is that both plcs’ and rich individuals have a completely unfair advantage in that by spending – by their scale of things – a modest amount on corporate lawyers, they can avoid taxation almost completely. We, on the other hand, can not.

If the Taxpayers Alliance was actually about reducing taxation for us all it would favour that approach. That it doesn’t, seems pretty odd to me.

Nuts: I meant avoid paying as MUCH tax as people 🙂

douglas – companies are basically made-up bits of paper to make large-scale risk-taking possible. They don’t really exist. People do. Why tax corporations at all? It is the people in those corporations who benefit from their wages, and pay taxes on them, and the people who buy the company’s products who benefit, and who pay tax on the sale. Surely those contributions should pay for the framework of a civil society.

Why not look at companies in a completely different light?

Get rid of corporation tax completely, make it zero – then make it that the people who are the directors of the company are the actual owners – that would then be there income/capital what-not, then use personal taxation on that sum. When the company goes PLC – you give the shareholders an option of being taxed as an part owner or that they pay income tax on dividends they receive. Or something along those lines. Don’t tax the company, tax the people who own it using income tax. May be too complicated but you would see more tax revenue.

Even the great capitalist country, the USA, is wanting to close tax loopholes where tax havens are acceptable – and with international agreement this can come about – which it should. Then, once they have been closed – you can start getting the tax that people should pay.

Put the fear of god into those who use tax havens by simply ‘assuming’ what they have hidden away and tax them on that amount until they come up with the real figure – they will either do that or pay the tax, if the latter, increase that amount the next year until you have the correct amount.

Rather draconian I know – but as this government can be draconian to the ordinary Joe – why not to businesses?

41. douglas clark

sanbikinoraion,

Well, that might work better than what I suggested. Though you notably left shareholders out of your survey. Was that an oversight?


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