Category Archives: Transport

Inaction over climate change is shameful: Martin Wolf

Martin Wolf, former senior World Bank economist who left after becoming disillusioned with its policies, reminds readers that a goal of the Paris agreement of 2015 was to limit the global average temperature rise to less than 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. He comments:

“Achieving it means drastic reductions in emissions from now. This is very unlikely to happen. That is no longer because it is technically impossible. It is because it is politically painful.

He refers to the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on the implications of warming of just 1.5C, making plain the risks the world runs if this limit is ignored and concluding that life will survive, but not life as we know it, continuing:

“We are the shapers of the planet now. This ought to transform how we think. Unfortunately, it has not”.

Wolf believes that the theoretical and empirical arguments for man-made climate change are overwhelming, supporting this and other points made with graphs in his recent Financial Times article. The rise in average temperatures above the pre-industrial average is already about 1C. That shows how hard it will be to keep the final increase below 1.5C, or even 2C. Under the “nationally determined contributions”, he adds, we are in fact on a track towards warming of 3-4C by 2100.

if we are to have a high chance of keeping the ultimate temperature rise to below 1.5C:

  • net global CO2 emissions would need to fall to zero not long after 2040
  • and other sources of climate change — emissions of methane and nitrous oxide, for example — would also need to fall from 2030.

Emissions from industry would need to fall by 75-90 per cent by 2050, relative to 2010. This would need a combination of electrification, hydrogen and product substitution. These options are technically proven, but their deployment on a planetary scale is another matter. Emissions reductions by efficiency improvement will be inadequate.

(Ed) One reservation: many will disagree with Wolf’s assertion that generating energy from bio-based feedstocks is necessary and that agriculture will need to shift to production of energy crops on a huge scale.

He calls for planning changes in urban infrastructure and carbon capture and storage on a large scale, shifting the world on to a different investment and growth path right now and commenting, “This is more technically possible than we used to think. But it is politically highly challenging”.

The natural tendencies are either to do nothing, while insisting there is no problem, or to agree there is a problem, while merely pretending to act. It is not clear which form of obfuscation is worse.

Wolf points out that to preserve our planet requires co-operative effort on a planetary scale – a challenge human beings have historically only met in times of war. Climate change involves huge distributional issues between countries that caused the problem and those that did not, and, not least, between people today, who make the decisions, and people tomorrow, who suffer the results.

He warns that the chances of co-operative action seem near zero in today’s nationalistic world . . . Donald Trump has already repudiated the US pledge – other countries may fail, too:

“It is five minutes to midnight on climate change. We will have to alter our trajectory very quickly but appear to be set on running an irreversible bet on our ability to manage the consequences of a far bigger rise even than 2C, risking a world of runaway — and unmanageable — climate chaos.

“Our progeny will see this as a crime”.

 

 

 

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Contingency plan for a no-deal Brexit: proposals to ferry in critical supplies – food, medicines and possibly car parts

The FT reports that David Lidington, Mrs May’s de facto deputy, has briefed the cabinet that under a no-deal Brexit, the Dover-Calais route could be running at only 12-25% of its normal capacity for up to six months.

“Whatever we do at our end, the French could cause chaos if they carry out checks at their end,” said one government official. “Dover-Calais would be the obvious pinch point. The French would say they were only applying the rules.” This would force Britain to seek alternative ways of bringing in “critical supplies”.

Chris Grayling, transport secretary, has discussed with government colleagues the possibility of chartering ships, or space in ships, to bring supplies into other British ports, thus avoiding the Dover-Calais bottleneck.

Government officials say they do not expect to have to use legal powers to requisition ships, although with only five months to go until Brexit on March 29, there is little time to charter ships on the open market.

According to the FT’s George Parker and James Blitz this move was greeted with disbelief at a stormy meeting of Theresa May’s cabinet on Tuesday. The prime minister announced there would now be a weekly cabinet discussion on preparations for Brexit, whether under a deal or no-deal scenario. If Britain left the EU under World Trade Organization rules, the UK and EU would be in different customs jurisdictions and would be expected to carry out checks on trade across the English Channel.

Some 30% of all Britain’s food requirements are met from imports from other EU countries; Dover is a key port of entry, with over 2.5m heavy goods vehicles passing through the port each year.

Pauline Bastidon (sic), head of European policy at the Freight Transport Association, said: “We are open to all kinds of ideas about how to keep supplies flowing in a no deal Brexit. But it’s hard to see where the extra ships would quickly be found. Nor can I see how other UK ports could possibly handle the huge volumes currently going through the Dover strait.”

The Times adds: Dover handles more than 2.5 million lorries a year and has no capacity to hold trucks waiting for advanced customs clearance. Other UK ports (Ed: see map, right) do have that capacity and could be used to take some Dover traffic. And, reassuringly:

“Ministers say that disruption would also damage EU companies and that there would be political pressure from member states for the European Commission to mitigate the most damaging aspects of a breakdown in talks”.

 

 

 

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FT: City of London’s clean air plan is a model for others

The FT’s editorial board highlights actions being taken by the local authority to turn parts of the City of London’s ‘Square Mile’ into a zero-emissions zone by 2022. Details here.

As the FT’s Simon Kuper recently reported, air pollution is said to contribute to more than 9,000 premature deaths in London each year and its harmful nitrogen dioxide levels are nearly as bad as those in Beijing and New Delhi – and much worse than in other developed cities such as New York or Madrid.

Nitrogen dioxide, which inflames lungs and is linked to shorter life expectancy, has become a major problem. The capital missed binding EU limits on air quality that came into force in 2010, largely due to diesel vehicles — which, it later emerged, emitted higher levels of pollutants in the real world than in tests. Congestion, which has pushed average traffic speed down to 8mph, compounds the problem. Add in the City of London’s narrow streets and tall buildings, and two of the capital’s five hotspots for excessive nitrogen levels lie within it.

The mayor of London is making headway

The impact of the City’s plans will be even greater if they bolster commitments by Sadiq Khan, London’s mayor, to prioritise fighting air pollution throughout the capital and force the government to take action across the country.

  • From this year, all new single-decker buses will be zero emission.
  • New taxis must be hybrid or electric.
  • Next year, an ultra-low emission zone will come into force in central London, expanding outwards in 2021.

The borough of Westminster has proposed turning Oxford Street, the UK’s busiest shopping location, into a zero-emissions zone by 2022 and a parliamentary committee has called for a UK-wide ban on new petrol and diesel cars to be brought forward eight years, to 2032.   

The FT reports ‘lessons elsewhere’. Singapore has had an automated electronic road pricing scheme since 1988 and is moving to a satellite-based scheme in 2020 and advocates a move to cycling rates such as those In Amsterdam or Copenhagen.

Take a carrot-and-stick approach? The FT editorial board thinks that governments should both help and oblige people to change their behaviour

It cites Germany’s carrot-and-stick approach. A court ruling this week banned older diesel cars from driving in certain parts of Berlin – after the government had offered car owners generous bonuses for trading in older diesel cars.

The FT believes that The British government has not provided enough fiscal incentives to businesses and individuals who bought diesel vehicles in the mistaken belief that they were greener.

The Centre for London think-tank has proposed offering cash or mobility credits — which can be used to pay for public or shared transport — for scrapping diesel cars, as well as smarter distance-based car charges, and higher vehicle excise duties on the most polluting cars. The FT’s truism:

“Despite efforts to address it in London and other big cities, air pollution will remain dangerously high unless more people change behaviour. The City of London’s bold moves are worthwhile — but need to be happening not in a bubble, but right across the world’s major cities”.

 

 

 

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Secret State 24: HS2 overbudget revelations

Two ‘hidden’ reports see the light of day – how many more are buried?

In July, Andrew Gilligan reported that the HS2 high-speed rail project is “highly likely” to go as much as 60% over budget and cost “more than £80bn”. A Cabinet Office report by the government’s Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA), classified as “official-sensitive” and “not for publication”, described the scheme as “fundamentally flawed” and in a “precarious position”. A group of Conservative MPs, led by Jeremy Lefroy the MP for Stafford, mounted a new bid to cancel HS2.  

Is Britain’s own “deep state” once again covering up mistakes and denying access to critical documents (Carne Ross)?

Yesterday the FT reported that an official report by consultants PwC covering the second phase of HS2, from Birmingham to Leeds and Manchester, has been kept secret for the past two years. It alleges that Britain’s new £56bn high-speed rail line will cost taxpayers 25% more than similar schemes in other countries. The project was compared with more than 32 other high-speed rail projects, including the 621km Madrid-Barcelona line and the 301km Beijing-Nanjing line.

Since 2016 the management of HS2, which answers to the Department for Transport, has refused to publish the report, despite freedom of information requests from Lord Berkeley, a transport expert.

He said. “The fact that the government is embarrassed by their findings should not be a reason to withhold publication.” The findings included the following factors:

  • HS2 will have 25 stations — far more than equivalent schemes abroad — and they are more likely to be in city centres.
  • The 10-year hiatus between the UK’s first high-speed line and HS2 meant that the UK did not have the “base, industry and knowledge to deliver the project easily”.
  • The UK has a higher population density than some equivalent countries and so has had to pay higher land values, greater compensation and carry out more extensive environmental mitigation,

The benefits of HS2 are becoming harder to discern

The Treasury’s own Infrastructure and Projects Authority has given HS2 an “amber/red” rating for each of the past six years, meaning there is a “high risk” of it not delivering value for money.

A recent report by the European Court of Auditors (ECA), which monitors value for money, found that high-speed trains rarely run at the speed they are designed for, with most running at just 45% of top speed, with none running above 250km/h. The study of 10 European lines found that the decision to “build high-speed lines is often based on political considerations, and cost-benefit analyses are not generally used to support cost-efficient decision-making.”

The ECA found that only one of the 10 routes, from Paris to Lyon, have been profitable if construction costs were taken into account.

 

 

 

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Can Britain afford to offshore ship building?

Cammell Laird, working to full capacity in 2012

Though Cammell Laird’s Birkenhead shipyard won two contracts this month, worth a total of £619 million, to provide spares, repairs and do maintenance work for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary over10 years, news of plans to axe about 40% of the workforce (290 jobs) by the end of March 2019, was given to union representatives and workers today (11th October).

The Unite union is demanding that Cammell Laird sets out the business case for cuts which will see the loss of vital skills and ‘backdoor casualisation’ of the workforce. It fears that the proposed job losses will undermine the shipyard’s ability to fulfil new contracts.

Unite’s assistant general secretary for shipbuilding, Steve Turner, said: “The loss of jobs at Cammell Laird would see skills gone for a generation and be a further blow to the UK’s shipbuilding industry . . . it is clear that the government must and can do more to support UK shipbuilding jobs. This must include the government stepping in and supporting the retention of skills and jobs while shipyards like Cammell Laird wait for new contracts to come on stream”.

Instead of ‘offshoring’, the government should be handing contracts to build the Royal Navy’s new fleet solid support vessels and a £1.25bn contract for Type 31e frigates (maritime security-focused platforms) to UK shipyards, using British made steel as part of an industrial strategy that supports jobs and communities across our four nations.

https://www.savetheroyalnavy.org/fleet-solid-support-ships-an-important-part-of-the-naval-logistic-chain/

Yesterday it was reported that MPs had urged civil servants (defence officials) to pick a UK company for the £1billion contract for three Fleet Solid Support vessels for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. Commons Defence Committee chairman and senior Tory MP Julian Lewis feared that foreign firms subsidised by their governments could undercut British rivals.

Penny-wise, pound foolish?

The MoD’s director general for finance told MPs the department’s biggest concern was “what will deliver the greatest value for money”- meaning the lowest bid – a narrow perspective. But as Labour MP John Spellar pointed out, the Treasury would benefit from tax revenue ploughed into public coffers if the work was carried out in the UK  –  “a significant return” – which would be multiplied by work given to British steel and component manufacturers.

Steve Turner said that a failure to have these ships made in Britain would be ‘a gross betrayal of UK ship workers and regional economies, putting at risk manufacturing skills vital to our country’.

 

 

 

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The Financial Times offers two perspectives on the shadow chancellor’s economic proposals

Earlier this month the FT warmed to the shadow chancellor. Following Jim Pickard’s first respectful report on any aspect of Labour policy, an article, by Jim O’Neill, chair of the Chatham House think-tank and former Treasury minister, had the headline, “The UK opposition steps into an economic void left by a government grappling with Brexit”.

 

Following a couple of caveats, O’Neill writes: “In at least six policy areas, which Mr Corbyn and his shadow chancellor John McDonnell are treating as priorities, businesses and the government need to catch up (detail here)”.

  • The first area on which Labour sees clearly is Britain’s productivity crisis.
  • Second is the orthodox belief that lower corporation tax will magically boost investment spending.
  • Third, risking large amounts of money on fixed investment no longer appears attractive.
  • Fourth, businesses need to rediscover profit with purpose.
  • Finally, there is the housing crisis.

But today there was a decided change of direction – had the editorial board been leant on?

THE EDITORIAL BOARD: Labour’s economic plans have serious flaws: shadow chancellor John McDonnell is ignoring the realities of modern business. The following – mainly speculative – points fail to convince:

  1. Mr McDonnell’s most eye-catching announcement was a compulsory share ownership scheme. Employee ownership and other profit-sharing schemes are by no means outlandish. Many businesses already choose to run them in order to recruit and motivate their workforce. There are also sound political reasons to give employees a greater share of ownership and a bigger voice on boards after a decade in which wages have remained stagnant in real terms. But companies should not be coerced into taking such action.
  2. Mr McDonnell claims these proposals are designed to tackle Britain’s productivity crisis – the evidence for this is sketchy and outdated.
  3. It could increase the cost of capital and deter investment.
  4. As the scheme would bear only on employers with more than 250 workers, it could also disincentivise growing businesses.
  5. There is a real danger that Labour’s prescriptions may end up only harming the patient.
  6. Businesses (and many voters) are concerned that the proposals on the table may only be the tip of Labour’s interventionist ambitions.
  7. With Brexit representing a step into the unknown, however, the UK needs to preserve business and economic stability, not further radical experimentation

Then a reversion to something approaching approval

“Nationalisation, dilution of shareholdings, workers on boards, sweeping trade union powers — John McDonnell’s economic prospectus for Britain is the Labour party’s most radical in several decades. The shadow chancellor further developed the party’s socialist credentials in his address to its conference in Liverpool on Monday. He senses that the appetite for change is great enough to take Labour into office on a hard-left ticket at the next election”. And: “Labour’s policies do speak to the mood of many voters. Many Britons believe inequality is growing, public services are collapsing and the excesses of capitalism need taming”.

Though not as wholehearted as the conclusion of former Treasury minister O’Neill:Dealing with the UK’s deep-seated economic problems requires sustained thinking and attention, not just occasional lip service. The Labour Party has stepped into the vacuum left by the government and appears to be offering the radical change that people seek.

End note: email from Moseley hit harder than the editorial board: 

  • Looking forward to a rise in the number of companies with 249 employees, if any stay in the UK, should the nightmare come about at the next election ( Ed: as share ownership proposals apply only to companies with over 250 employees).
  • The shadow Treasury team admits that private, unlisted companies could not be compelled to hand out dividends to workers. In theory that could incentivise public companies to delist from the stock market.
  • The next problem is that foreign-listed companies will not be obliged to hand equity to their UK workforces. Again, that could provide an incentive for London-listed companies to switch their listings to an alternative financial centre such as New York or Frankfurt.
  • Nor is it clear how the British government could force an overseas company with a London listing to comply with the scheme if most of its workers are abroad.
  • One group of workers who could feel aggrieved by the proposals are those in the privatised utilities such as rail and water. Labour is determined to nationalise the utilities, and admits that — as state workers — staff would no longer be eligible for the share scheme. At present a third of employees in United Utilities participate in their employee share scheme, as do two thirds of South West Water employees and 70 per cent of Severn Trent’s UK employees.
  • Another complication is that some companies could find alternative routes to rewarding shareholders, for example by carrying out share buybacks instead of dividends.

 

 

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Secret State 23: leaked Cabinet Office report, HS2 “highly likely” to go 60% over budget. HS2: no comment

Andrew Gilligan reports today in The Times that the HS2 high-speed rail project is “highly likely” to go as much as 60% over budget and cost “more than £80bn”, according to a Cabinet Office report by the government’s Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA), which describes the scheme as “fundamentally flawed” and in a “precarious position”.

The report, classified as “official-sensitive” and “not for publication”, dated December 2016, was written by Paul Mansell, an IPA adviser embedded in HS2. ‘Leaked’ to The Sunday Times, it warns that chaos in the project — officially costed at £56bn — threatens wider public spending, with a “very high opportunity-cost impact across other government departments”.

A group of Conservative MPs, led by Jeremy Lefroy the MP for Stafford, is mounting a new bid to cancel HS2. Last week they met Chris Grayling, the transport secretary.

An earlier June article by Andrew Gilligan referred to documents seen by The Sunday Times. Doug Thornton, HS2’s former head of property, said the HS2 high-speed rail project put him under “tremendous pressure to accede to an enormous deceit” that the official budget for buying land and buildings was accurate. He alleged that it was wrong by billions of pounds; the budget was based on “rudimentary map-based analysis by interns” and contains errors in the tens of millions even on single properties. HS2 did not dispute the figures.

Thornton and Bruce are understood to have given extensive oral and written evidence to the National Audit Office (NAO), which confirmed that it is investigating HS2’s land and property budget.

Thornton was paid more than £200,000 a year and ranked two rungs below HS2’s chief executive. In the documents, he said he was sacked after refusing to “at worst, severely mislead” HS2’s own board about the state of the programme. The head of planning and performance, Andrew Bruce, was also placed on leave of absence 30 minutes before he was due to “present major budget, programme and capability issues” to the board, according to Thornton. The two men left in 2016 as the bill to allow HS2’s phase one, from London to the West Midlands, reached a critical stage in parliament. HS2 told MPs and peers that buying the 11,000 properties and plots of land needed to build this section of the route would cost £2.8bn, a figure it maintains to this day. However, Bruce had produced detailed calculations that the true cost of property in this phase alone would be £4.7bn. Thornton said HS2 may have “knowingly misled parliament”.

Thornton’s documents were passed to Lord Berkeley, a Labour peer and chairman of the Rail Freight Group. He said: “HS2 has been covering up and Chris Grayling knows that the budget is not deliverable. HS2 could not be reached for comment.

Rail News reports that after a request by the Department for Transport, consultant quantity surveyor Michael Byng, who created the method now used by Network Rail to cost its projects in the wake of major overruns, has prepared a 4000-page document analysing the costs of HS2. He concluded that the true cost of Phase One between London and Birmingham is likely to be at least £50 billion, compared with the official figure of £24.3 billion. This includes a one-third contingency allowance but not the cost of new high speed trains.

The cost of the whole scheme, including the extensions to Manchester and Leeds, is now said to be over £100 billion.

 

 

 

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Bad decisions by government 37 – third runway at Heathrow

 

UK aviation policy is primarily predicated on the requirements of airport operators, major airlines and the Treasury – the needs of passengers come last says Steve Beauchampé in The Birmingham Press. 

The governments long-awaited – and unsurprising – decision to proceed with construction of a third runway at London Heathrow is fundamentally flawed, supported with redundant arguments and highly questionable financial assessments. If the UK had a comprehensive and comprehensible national aviation strategy Heathrow would not be operating at anything like 95% of capacity.

That it does so is the result of a system that essentially forces millions of UK passengers per annum to travel long distances, often in arduous and stressful conditions, to use both Heathrow and London’s two other main airports (Gatwick and Stansted) at great cost both to themselves and the environment. rather than utilising their local airports, many of which are working to a fraction of their capability.

Birmingham International Airport handled 12.9m passengers in 2017 but could cope with around double that number. Meanwhile, Nottingham East Midlands welcomed a paltry 4.88m whilst major population centres such as in the North East, South West, South Wales and along the south coast are all but bereft of decent flight choices. This is not only down to the London-centric approach which blights so many activities in the UK, but the failure of successive governments to challenge and take on the vested interests of London airports and the major airlines.

Two key arguments put forward in favour of a third runway at Heathrow are particularly fallacious

The first is that Heathrow must continue developing as a ‘hub’ airport, competing for passengers not with Birmingham, Manchester or even Gatwick, Stansted and Luton, but with Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Dublin and increasingly Dubai!

So a third (and later probably fourth and fifth) runway at Heathrow is essentially required to allow the airport’s operator Heathrow Airport Holdings to attract passengers who will never leave the airport environs but whose visit is solely to transfer from one aeroplane to another, Great news for HAH, who enjoy increased landing fees as a result, and good news for the Treasury, who collect airport tax each time that a passenger takes a flight.

But it is hardly good news for UK travellers who are not being provided with flights from their local airports to the locations that they want and at a time when they want to fly. Indeed the hub strategy encourages those in the north of England, Northern Island and Scotland to take domestic flights to Heathrow and then transfer planes to reach their ultimate destination.

Yet hub airports may soon be an outdated concept, with technological improvements meaning that modern aeroplanes will be able to fly further (and faster) without the need to refuel (its already possible to fly non-stop from London to Sydney). Point-to-point flying seems more likely to be the way ahead. 

The second argument in favour of Heathrow runway expansion is that many airlines do not want to fly out of the UK’s ‘regional’ airports (with the possible exception of Manchester, which handled 27.7m passengers in 2017) and would be unwilling to give up valuable landing slots at Heathrow.

But this argument is unacceptable. We would not tolerate train operators refusing to serve smaller stations nor bus companies running services only on main routes. To combat this attitude the number of slots available at Heathrow needs to be limited rather than endlessly expanded, whilst the national airport strategy that Conservative MP and anti-Heathrow Runway 3 campaigner Justine Greening called for earlier this week should focus on ways to create an environment which encourages airlines to relocate services outside of London and the South East.

This is particularly apposite given that both Birmingham and Manchester airports will be stops on the HS2 network by 2030. And whilst there is a real risk that limiting slots at Heathrow will result in some airlines pulling routes and services out of the UK altogether, the country is a large enough aviation market to offer sufficient paths to profit that most such withdrawals will likely be less than crucial and, in some cases, perhaps temporary.

In agreeing to support Heathrow’s third runway the government have committed to paying £2.6bn in compensation to those communities near to the airport that will be destroyed or significantly affected by the project. To which can be added an estimated £10bn in public funding for the new infrastructure and environmental measures required to support the expansion.

How much better to invest this money throughout the UK to create a national airport infrastructure to meet the needs of the travelling public, and one befitting the worlds fifth largest economy.

 

 

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New Fleet Solid Support ships: cash-strapped MoD should look at the total cost-benefit of building in Britain

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Jeremy Corbyn is in Glasgow today, where – reversing New Labour policy – he will call for Navy shipbuilding contracts to stay in the UK.

The contract could lead to over 6,500 jobs in the UK, 1,800 of those in shipyards: “Our proposal would both sustain existing shipbuilding and supply chain jobs and create new ones – right here in Scotland and also across the UK.”

The MOD, which is alleged to have ‘lost controls of costs’, hopes for a cheaper option. Its spokesman added: “We are launching a competition for three new Fleet Solid Support ships this year and strongly encourage British yards to take part”.

“Until the new Fleet Solid Support Ships (FSS) arrive, these hardy veterans must stagger on into the mid-2020s” 

STRN points out that the need for these important ships was first stated in 2015 – and it is feared that the first ship will probably not be ready for sea until around 2025.

The three currently supporting ships supply ammunition, food and spares are “antiques built in the late 1970s and saw action in the Falklands War”. Corbyn warns:

“By refusing to help our industry thrive, the Conservatives are continuing their historic trend of hollowing out and closing down British industry. Over the course of the 1980s under the Tories, 75,000 jobs were lost in UK shipyards, leaving just 32,000 remaining.

“Our shipyards used to produce half of all new ships worldwide. Our current market share is now less than half a per cent. The Tories seem hell-bent on accelerating and deepening this industrial decline.”

SNP MSP for Glasgow Anniesland, Bill Kidd, is sceptical, saying: “Workers on the Clyde and people across Scotland haven’t forgotten Labour’s betrayal of the industry in 2014.

 

 

 

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Broken Britain 16: HMRC refuses to investigate money-laundering and tax fraud charges by largest Conservative donor

Three classes of British looting: which is the most culpable?

Professor Prem Sikka, Professor of Accounting at University of Sheffield and Emeritus Professor of Accounting at University of Essex, draws attention to the case of the UK telecoms giant Lycamobile, the biggest donor to the Conservative Party, which has accepted £2.2m in donations since 2011.

Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has refused to assist the French authorities and raid Lycamobile’s UK premises in order to investigate suspected money laundering and tax fraud.

Economia, the publication for members of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) which covers news and analysis on the essential issues in business, finance and accountancy, reports:

Following an initial denial (left, Financial Times), Economia confirmed that in an official response to the French government dated 30 March 2017,  a HMRC official noted that Lycamobile is “a large multinational company” with “vast assets at their disposal” and would be “extremely unlikely to agree to having their premises searched”, said the report.

The letter from HMRC to the French government added, “It is of note that they are the biggest corporate donor to the Conservative party led by Prime Minister Theresa May and donated 1.25m Euros to the Prince Charles Trust in 2012”.

This is an ongoing saga: in 2016 Economia noted: “The Tories have come under fire for continuing to accept donations of more than £870,000 from Lycamobile since December, while it was being investigated for tax fraud and money laundering”.

In 2016 In May it emerged that KPMG’s audit of Lycamobile was limited due to the complex nature of the company’s accounts. Later, KPMG resigned saying it was unable to obtain “all the information and explanations from the company that we consider necessary for the purpose of our audit”.

HMRC: “has become a state within a state”.

Prem Sikka (right) continues, “The House of Commons Treasury Committee is demanding answers to the Lycamobile episode – but HMRC is unlikely to prove amenable”.

In recent years, the Public Accounts Committee has conducted hearings into tax avoidance by giant global corporations such as Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Starbucks, Shire and others. The hearings have not been followed by HMRC test cases.

The Public Accounts Committee has also held hearings into the role of the large accountancy firms in designing and marketing avoidance schemes and exposed their predatory culture. In a telling rebuke to PricewaterhouseCoopers, the Committee chair said: “You are offering schemes to your clients—knowingly marketing these schemes—where you have judged there is a 75% risk of it then being deemed unlawful. That is a shocking finding for me to be told by one of your tax officials.”

Despite the above and numerous court judgments declaring the tax avoidance schemes marketed by accountancy firms to be unlawful, not a single firm has been investigated, fined or prosecuted.

There are real concerns that HMRC is too sympathetic to large companies and wealthy elites.

A major reason for that is the ‘revolving door’, the colonisation of HMRC by big business and its discourses: its current board members include non-executive directors connected with British Airways, Mondi, Anglo American, Aviva, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Rolls Royce.

After a stint at HMRC many of the non-execs return to big business. Corporate sympathies are therefore not counterbalanced by the presence of ordinary taxpayers or individuals from SMEs and civil society.

Sikka ends: “In such an environment, it is all too easy to turn a Nelsonian eye on corporate abuses and shower concessions on companies and wealthy individuals”. Read more here.

 

Why should we care?

Because tax revenue pays for the services used by all except the richest, the education health, transport and social services, increasingly impoverished by funding cuts imposed by the last two British governments.

The Shadow Chancellor has twice called for more rigorous examination and tightening of processes at HMRC to ensure that corporations and wealthy individuals are free from political corruption and pay fair rates of taxes.

Will the next government elected be for the many, not the few?

 

 

 

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