Farm-gate prices: George Eustice should study Venezuela’s Fair Price Law

In January, the environment, food and rural affairs secretary George Eustice told the online Oxford Farming Conference in January, that farmers must “stand their ground” and ensure that the rising costs they face are reflected in the prices paid to them by supermarkets for their produce, has demanded.

Patrick Holden, (below) former head of the Soil Association and now a dairy farmer in Lampeter, explained years ago that the decline in small and medium-sized agricultural businesses in Britain is largely because of the big retailers’ “amoral” buying policies.

“Government wants food prices kept down, but the only way to do that in this country is through this tyranny of exploitation, continually screwing down the prices paid to producers.

“And if a producer doesn’t sell to them, you go quietly out of business. But we’re all complicit. We shop in supermarkets, we own shares in them, our pension funds are in them. We have to question this way of providing cheap food”.

The government’s previous efforts to shift the balance of power, by installing a “groceries code adjudicator”, have had limited impact. George Eustice does not appear to realise that producers wield little or no power against the UK’s largest supermarkets, which control most of the food retail market. The problem of farmers having their margins cut to the bone by them and being threatened with the loss of their contracts for speaking out, has been one of the biggest sources of distress to farmers for more than two decades.

Reuters reported in 2014 that a Fair Price Law limiting costs, prices and profit margins across the Venezuelan economy came into effect (Below: Karlin Granadillo, a top official of the government agency implementing the new price law). 


It builds on the 2011 Fair Price and Cost Law, setting a maximum profit margin of 30% and requiring firms to obtain “fair price certificates” to access dollars through the country’s currency control mechanism.

In a national broadcast President Nicolas Maduro said that the Law for the Control of Fair Costs is intended to establish a necessary balance between the cost of production, of importation, of profit margins that are limited to a maximum of 30%, and the fair price of all products.

The new Venezuelan law would be appreciated by those who signed Britain’s 38 degrees petition to Asda and the CEOs of milk processors and retailers asking them to: 

  • pay a fair price for the milk you buy from dairy farmers
  • and ensure that the price paid covers, at the very least, the cost to farmers of producing the milk.

How long will food producers be able to afford to feed us?

Will fertile land eventually be covered with garden villages as empty houses nationwide rot and brown field sites remain derelict?

The only profit in that will go to developers and those involved in e imported food and commodity speculation as cheap food produced to lower standards and imported with all the environmental costs of transport.





The EC President & EU leaders urged to reclassify gas & nuclear technologies

Leonore Gewessler, Austria’s climate action minister (below left), has accused the commission of seeking to evade scrutiny, rewording thegood day to bury bad news charge’.

She accused the commission of a “a night and fog operation” in the timing of the publication, a charge echoed by Luxembourg’s energy minister, Claude Turmes, who described the draft as a provocation.

Jennifer Rankin reported from Brussels that a member of an official expert group on the taxonomy said the commission had allowed just eight working days – until 12 January – to provide a formal response “to this highly complex and controversial file”, whereas most Brussels consultations last four weeks.

The WWF spokesperson on sustainable finance, Henry Eviston added: “For fossil gas and nuclear, we get a document written behind closed doors and published on New Year’s Eve. If the EU is confident in this proposal, it must hold a public consultation.”

A reader has forwarded a message from economist SEBASTIEN GODINOT [below right WWF European Policy Office]

It relates to the European Commission draft Act classifying fossil gas and nuclear as green technologies – at odds with climate science, the EU climate targets, the EU green finance leadership claim, the Taxonomy Regulation, the first climate taxonomy Delegated Act, the EU Green Deal, etc.

He points out that this would make the EU lag behind the existing global green bond market (excluding both gas and nuclear) and the Chinese, Russian, South Korean and ISO taxonomies, ending: “Avaaz is running an urgent petition against it: please participate and circulate widely”.

To the President of the EU Commission Ursula Von der Leyen, and all EU leaders:

As citizens from across Europe, we call on you to drop nuclear power and gas from the EU taxonomy and invest in guidelines that limit global warming to 1.5C and allow the EU to achieve its 2030 climate targets.

Those who want to sign should click on this link:

Austria’s government is threatening to sue the commission if the plans go ahead. The country’s climate action minister said that neither gas nor nuclear belonged in the taxonomy “because they are harmful to the climate and the environment and destroy the future of our children”. She added: “We will examine the current draft carefully and have already commissioned a legal opinion on nuclear power in the taxonomy. If these plans are implemented in this way, we will sue.”

France and other pro-nuclear states, such as the Czech Republic and Hungary, support the inclusion of nuclear, while many governments in central, eastern and southern Europe lobbied for gas to be included as a “bridge” fuel.

One commentator writes: “Basically, France beat Germany. The French — who get over 70% of their power from nuclear plants — organized a coalition of nuclear and natural gas friendly countries to overpower a coalition led by Germany, which shut down its last nuclear power plants on New Year’s Day”.



HMRC’s performance: government recommends 12 actions

Recommendations and conclusions (page 4)

  1. HMRC does not report on the scale of aggressive tax avoidance, which means Parliament cannot assess whether tax law is working as intended.
  1. Recommendation: HMRC should identify and report the value of all tax avoidance schemes. It should include an estimate of the value of those schemes it has challenged but which have been judged to be legal by the courts, both so that Parliament can see the scale of avoidance and ensure improvements are made to tax law.
  1. The number of tax reliefs continues to grow but the scale and nature of the tax foregone is invisible to Parliament because HMRC refuses either to define them or list them comprehensively.
  1. Recommendation: HMRC should define the different types of tax relief, including those it considers to be tax expenditures. It should identify which reliefs it considers require monitoring and evaluation and publish this information to enable to decide which reliefs may require further scrutiny or legislative change.
  1. HMRC is still failing to provide an acceptable service to customers and could not tell us when it would be able to do so.
  1. Recommendation: HMRC should identify what impact its poor level of service is having on tax revenues and produce a detailed plan setting out how and when it will provide an acceptable standard of customer service. This should include a clear plan for the efficient management of its change programme and introduction of new IT systems
  1. HMRC’s performance measures do not cover delivering a consistent level of customer service throughout the year.
  1. Recommendation: HMRC should report its performance against measures which reflect all its aims, including providing a consistent level of service and ensuring that accurate and complete advice is provided first-time.
  1. The number of criminal prosecutions for offshore tax evasion is still woefully inadequate.
  1. Recommendation: As previously recommended, HMRC should strengthen its capability to investigate offshore tax evasion and make tougher the criminal and civil sanctions it can apply. It should make clear that those who persist in their attempts to hide assets offshore will face the threat of prosecution, and should in future demonstrate the significance of this threat through its actions.
  1. HMRC’s public reporting of the additional tax revenue it generates from its compliance work (compliance yield) remains unnecessarily complicated and confusing.
  1. Recommendation: HMRC should report its compliance yield in much clearer and simpler terms. It should state how much cash its compliance activity has recovered each year, alongside its estimates of future revenue and losses prevented. It should also report the range of uncertainty around its estimates.

The  recommendations, taken from a report on HMRCs performance in 2014-15 – which are still valid – may be read here.






HMRC 1: in 2012 elderly taxpayers were harassed by incorrect demands for money – and it’s still happening

In 2012, Money Mail was being bombarded with complaints from distressed pensioners who had been hit with demands for around £1,500. Read the article with three detailed case histories here.

Elderly taxpayers were receiving intimidating letters and huge bills after falling victim to a catalogue of errors by HM Revenue & Customs.

Many felt they are being treated like criminals or serial tax avoiders, because they had failed to spot an error made by the Revenue. They were told they must repay these bills in one lump sum or have it docked monthly from their pension on top of the tax they already pay.

The widespread closure of the helpful local tax offices made it almost impossible for people to see an adviser face to face

When the pensioners complained about these demands, they had to endure months of misery trying to get someone to investigate their case. At the end, the taxman simply demanded payment — often without explanation. Money Mail’s probe has discovered how pensioners are:

  • bombarded with up to seven tax codes for their pension.
  • complaining four times before their problem is properly investigated by HMRC.
  • faced with losing £150 a month from their income.
  • told to pay up without being given a proper explanation.

Big businesses such as Google, Amazon and Starbucks have faced questions from MPs about the small amount of tax they pay in the UK. But while some large corporations and wealthy businessmen use complicated schemes to lower their bills, innocent elderly taxpayers suffer.

A critical problem is the way the taxman deals with complaints. The department has an appalling track record. Banks and insurers have to resolve complaints from their customers in eight weeks but the taxman is under no such obligation.

No change in the 2020s

Readers in their 80s now feel their hearts sink when HMRC’s brown envelope comes through the letterbox. Though with simple and transparent finances (i.e., just pensions and savings) they have unjustly been faced with a range of time-consuming and stress-inducing issues.

These include:

  • Requests to pay tax on another person’s bank account
  • Incorrect demands for money year after year.
  • Letter showing 2019/2020 calculations out by over £1000 (HMRC’s addition error) sent in March 2021 not answered to date.

One elderly reader, forced to employ an accountant in self-defence, found the demand whittled down to two figures and heard from an inside source in 2020 that these errors were due to a software glitch and would not happen again – but in 2021 another very similar demand was received.

The Times in November (Our lives put on hold by the chaos at HMRC) opens:

Taxpayers are being hounded for debts they do not owe and waiting up to seven months for their money amid customer service chaos at HM Revenue and Customs.

Workers and the self-employed are being wrongly threatened with fines and debt collectors, while others have had to wait months for thousands of pounds they are owed in refunds.


News (lowlights) about HMRC from 2005 to 2021 will be recorded on the pages of this website – one page for each year.





HMRC 2: an accountant writes about ‘the HMRC’s Dreadful Service’

In May last year, David Jones – the senior partner and founder of Morgan Jones & Company – wrote an article about recent complaints about HMRC’s performance from accountants and ordinary taxpayers, summarised here. He opened:

“In March, the latest HMRC . . . major error got me thinking about HMRC’s overall poor performance in recent months, most of which cannot be laid at the door of the Coronavirus crisis. Anecdotally, most of my accounting colleagues have now pretty much lost faith in the system, with taxpayers and businesses, not far behind”.

A recommendation placed the end of the article is noted here first as IT problems beset every sector

“HMRC really do need to sort out their ongoing software issues, which have been to say the least, problematical since I was in short trousers! The penalty notice data breach nightmare is just the latest in a string of HMRC software failures; with a tax office spokesman saying; “We are sorry for some penalty notices being incorrectly addressed,” and went on to explain that they’d experienced a software issue linked to inadequate testing within their internal processes”.

HMRC’s Dreadful Service: What are the issues?

All the major accountancy bodies have expressed their frustrations recently, with the Institute of Chartered Accountants recently publishing a catalogue of complaints about HMRC “poor service levels”. The Institute highlighted three key issues:

  • Telephone issues.
  • Processing delays
  • Administrative issues

In David Jones’ opinion, none of HMRC’s failures are directly to do with Covid-19, but the coronavirus has demonstrated what can happen to an already broken system, which – when it has a significant hit – starts developing bigger and bigger cracks before collapsing in a heap. Covid-19 has provided the ultimate excuse for poor customer service to get even worse across much of the public sector and indeed through other industries, such as banking.

HMRC’s Dreadful Service:  What are the priorities to fix?

For a start, it is vital that the accountants’ dedicated phone line (ADL) is restored, when you do manage to get through to HMRC, their individual staff are good and helpful people and who generally sympathise with the caller that “it’s a shame that the ADL has gone” and often helpfully suggest that you write a letter instead. Unfortunately, there is currently a minimum of 75 days delay between receiving a letter and an HMRC official looking at it, let alone actioning it.

Secondly, HMRC really do need to sort out their ongoing software issues, which have been to say the least, problematical since I was in short trousers! The penalty notice data breach nightmare is just the latest in a string of HMRC software failures; with a tax office spokesman saying; “We are sorry for some penalty notices being incorrectly addressed,” and went on to explain that they’d experienced a software issue linked to inadequate testing within their internal processes.

A running total of 50,056 customer complaints during the 2020/21 year – almost 5,500 more than at the same point last year

Public Technology reports that after six months of customer service issues continue, HMRC sees a 12% spike in in the number of complaints filed by citizens. The tax agency also saw its performance dip sharply again in November. By the end of the month, stats show another spike in call-waiting times and new struggles with answering online and postal queries. the department had received a running total of 50,056 customer complaints during the 2020/21 year – almost 5,500 more than at the same point last year.

David Jones ends: “Accountants, taxpayers, politicians, businessmen and women et al, have for years bemoaned the fact that HMRC seem utterly incapable of installing and operating an efficient tax software system, so I have a message for Jim Harra, head of HMRC: So, fix it, Dear Jimmy, fix it!  (My apologies to Harry Belafonte for paraphrasing his classic children’s song, ‘There’s a Hole in My Bucket’”.



News (lowlights) about HMRC from 2005 to 2021 will be recorded on the pages of this website – one page for each year.





Bargain Basement Britain 14: US private equity group buys ‘high quality’ construction company

The FT reports that Apollo Global Management, an American private equity group, is to buy housebuilder Miller Homes for more than £1bn, in order to increase its exposure to the UK’s booming housing market. Details of the deal are given on Miller’s website.

Rated ‘excellent’ by Trustpilot, Miller Homes was named Housebuilder of the Year in the 2020 Midlands Insider Residential Property Awards.

The annual awards recognise the key projects, people and businesses operating exceptionally within the Midlands residential property sector, demonstrating an overall contribution to the quality and quantity of housing stock in the Midlands, based on practical completions between 1st March 2019 to 30th April 2020.

Commenting on Miller Homes’ entry, the judges said that Miller had demonstrated a high level of community involvement and delivery of significant section 106 projects.

Funds managed by Apollo affiliates will take control of the company from British group Bridgepoint and the deal is scheduled for completion early next year.





Revitalise democracy to build a stronger and more peaceful country

Nancy Platts (right), a Brighton councillor, says: “There is increasing momentum for change both in unions and the Labour Party. It’s time to replace Westminster’s broken set-up and extend the progressive voting systems we see in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland into Westminster”. Read on here)

In the Guardian, Colin Hines says that to avoid what he sees as ‘a corrosive and permanent Tory democratic dictatorship’,  opposition parties in vulnerable constituencies must make clear that once there is a non-Tory majority elected, the new parliament’s first act will be to change the voting system to an agreed form of proportional representation.

A new report on the benefits of the case for fair votes makes clear that the experience of councils in Scotland as well as governments across Europe shows that proportional voting systems – where every vote counts – help to foster ‘consensual’ politics, where unions and civil society are included as key players:

“When every vote counts – with seats matching how people really vote – parties don’t just pander to wealthier swing seats and a handful of influential voters. They have to win support across the board”.

Molly Scott Cato has long campaigned for democratic reform in the UK – for ‘changing our outmoded electoral system to one that is truly representative’. She advocates exploring ‘possibilities for electoral alliances and pacts where we can agree on a progressive programme and commitment to proportional representation . . . ‘, ending prophetically:

“These are dark days but by showing each other compassion and by standing together in support of a revitalised democracy we can find a way to build a stronger and more peaceful country”.





Is the MP for Lichfield the most enterprising environmentalist in Parliament?

Michael FabricantMP for Lichfield (right), who is now chair of the All-Party Waterways Parliamentary Group, has called for waterways to play a key role in transporting freight across the country in future.

In a debate in the House of Commons (October 28th). He said: “The All-Party Waterways Group, of which I have the honour to chair, has identified that there are something like 1,500 miles of waterways out of the 5,000 miles of navigable waterways that we have, which are suitable for freight”. (Information about these waterways here.)

In addition to the obvious environmental benefits of transporting freight and passengers by water, removing more heavy goods vehicles from motorways and minor roads will significantly reduce accidents (Safety first: transfer more HGV freight from motorways to waterways)






Covid -19, Bulletin 50: ONS – school staff are 37% more likely to test positive for Covid-19 than other workers

Unlike the findings of an earlier study, new figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that those working in the education sector are 37% cent more likely to test positive for Covid-19 than other workers.

Attention has been drawn to this subject by the thoughtful journalist Ben Chacko, who describes the finding as ‘a wake-up call to ministers’.

The government has not acted on calls from the National Education Union for a mass teacher recruitment drive to facilitate smaller class sizes which would have increased one-on-one teacher-pupil time to make up for the disruption Covid has already caused to the education of millions of children.

Schools have also been short-changed by government’s failure to invest in recovery. Many remain poorly ventilated despite education unions flagging proper ventilators as a priority back in the summer, when there was time to act.

Chacko points out that there are ways to stop schools becoming intensive Covid incubators:

  • investment in ventilation and air filtration.
  • mask-wearing in schools.
  • siblings isolating after infection cases
  • and isolation of close contacts after a positive case rather than applying this only for omicron cases — given the delay in identifying which variant is involved.

He concludes that the government has demonstrated in the 20 months coronavirus has stalked the land, that pressure for the measures necessary to protect pupils, teachers and the communities they live and work in will have to come from below.





Covid-19, Bulletin 49: Stiglitz explains “one person’s freedom is another person’s ‘unfreedom’ “

Extracts from the Jordan Times – a generous site which did not imprison this public interest article behind a paywall. The author, Joseph Stiglitz (below right), is one of America’s wisest men – the other being Noam Chomsky. Stiglitz writes:

In a pandemic, one person’s actions affect the well-being of others. And whenever there are such externalities, the well-being of society requires collective action: regulations to restrict socially harmful behavior and to promote socially beneficial behavior.

There is deep misinterpretation, especially among the right, of individual liberty. Those who refuse to wear masks or socially distance often argue that requirements to do so infringe on their freedom.

But one person’s freedom is another person’s “unfreedom.” If their refusal to wear a mask or get vaccinated results in others getting COVID-19, their behavior is denying others the more fundamental right to life itself.

One person’s behavior can deny others the right to life itself

Any infringement of an individual’s liberty by requiring safe and highly effective COVID-19 vaccination pales in comparison to the social benefits, and consequent economic benefits – of public health.

It is a no-brainer to require all individuals, with only limited medical exemptions, to be vaccinated. While many governments appear to be too timid to impose this requirement, employers, schools, and social organisations, any organised activity that brings individuals into contact with others, should do so.

As long as the disease rages in some parts of the world, the risk of a deadlier, more contagious, more vaccine-resistant mutation grows.

As we have been learning for the last 18 months, global health is a global public good. In most of the world, however, the problem is not resistance to vaccination but a severe shortage of vaccines. Evidently, the private sector is unable to scale up production to ensure an adequate supply.

  • Is that because vaccine producers lack capital?
  • Is there a shortage of glass vials or syringes?
  • Or is it because they hope that fewer doses will lead to higher prices and even bigger profits?

Among the key barriers to greater supply is access to the requisite intellectual property, which is why the IP waiver being discussed at the World Trade Organisation is so important.

Intellectual property rights, in the case of these vaccines, must be waived in the public interest

President Joe Biden first invokes the DP Act

Given the urgency and scale of the challenge, more is needed: Among the steps US President Joe Biden’s administration could take is to invoke the Defence Production Act again and leverage the federal government’s ownership of key patents.

The US has been allowing the pharmaceutical companies to use this public IP freely, while they reap billions of dollars in billions of dollars in profits. The US must use every instrument at its disposal to increase production at home and abroad.

(Ed: accolades to Cuba, whose biotech business models include technology transfer and non-exclusive intellectual property licences. In November the journal Nature published the successful results of Cuba’s two home-grown vaccines which are being exported to Venezuela, Vietnam, Iran and Nicaragua, When the who has approved them will be exported throughout the developing world.)

Joseph E. Stiglitz is a Nobel laureate in economics, University Professor at Columbia University and a member of the Independent Commission for the Reform of International Corporate Taxation