söndag 28 januari 2007

First Great Western stupidity

HST interior
Originally uploaded by seadipper.

First Great Western is refurbishing its Inter-City 125 trains and totally rebuilding the power cars with new low-emission engines. Good, and it is nice to see that proper use is being made of a valuable asset.

But they are shortening the trains and cramming in extra seats. This will cause a problem as it will make them uncomfortable- also they are used on holiday routes where passengers often have a lot of luggage and there will be insufficient space for it. At the moment, you can put luggage on the floor between the back-to-back seats (see picture),

Why are the trains being shortened? The aim is to improve acceleration, which is fair enough, but it could just as well have been done by fitting the drive with a lower gear ratio and leaving the trains their original length. This would have reduced the top speed but on FGW's routes the trains have little opportunity to run at 125 mph anyway due to the close spacing of the stations and speed restrictions.

Passengers getting angry with South West Trains

Wessexs Soldiering On
Originally uploaded by juliang2006.

These trains, known as Plastic Pigs, were introduced in 1988. They have now been withdrawn and put into store. They may well be scrapped despite there being a sortage of carriages.

They have been replaced on the Bournemouth and Weymouth services by new Siemens class 444 trains, which passengers say are cramped and uncomfortable. The seats are hard and the carriages are 14 cm narrower. In my view the class 444 units are amongst the best of the trains introduced for the privatised railways, but they are still not wonderful.

fredag 26 januari 2007

Gay Adoption - what is the government's real agenda

As a gay man who is not averse to a little fling now and again, I can not be accused of either being in the closet or anti-gay. However, the idea of gay couples, or anyone else for that matter, having a "right" to adopt strikes me as peculiar.

Nobody has a natural "right" to a child, but the notion that they do has led us to this, as well as the use of peculiar reproductive techniques - there is a lesbian woman I know who has had a child through artificial insemination, which is just as bad; not having both parents is a bad enough misfortune if it happens through natural causes, so it cannot be right to deliberately engineer the situation.

Adoption is principally for the benefit of the child and it is for the rest of society to do its best to make sure that the child is placed in the best possible circumstances. And providing a home for a child, whether one's own or anyone else's, is a long-term business. So the likely stability of the relationship is an important factor. Now I know that there are many same-sex couples who have been together for thirty years or more, which is a lot longer than many marriages, but this kind of stability is unusual.

There are other factors too. Men and women are different and children need both a male and a female parent as a role model. There is also the reaction of peers, at school, for instance, to consider. How will classmates treat someone with two mums or two dads? They could get a rough time.

On the other hand, there may be circumstances where adoption by a gay couple may be the best option available. So why legislate at all? Surely the people in the adoption agencies can be relied on to use their common sense. One has to ask what is the government's real agenda is on this? Why is it pushing this nonsense? After all, if people want a companion to make a fuss of, why don't they go the the local animal rescue centre?

Although I am no fan of Cardinal O'Connor, I am pleased to see he is standing up to the government.

Cardinal's statement on gay adoption

måndag 22 januari 2007

Small town USA support for Land Value Taxation

American town supports land value tax

This is a local campaign for land value taxation in small town USA. So it sounds as if the Daily Mail readers whom New Labour is so anxious to keep on side would actually do very well out of a switch from present taxes to Land Value Taxation. Unless the government's stupidity exceeds its craving to hold on to power, it might yet do the right thing.


asbo - yob
Originally uploaded by statravelphotos.

The latest goverment gimmick is something called "Respect Areas". These are meant to curb anti-social behaviour with measures like "parenting orders"

The whole thing sounds as if it has been dreamt up by some advertising agency to show to the Middle England voters that SOMETHING IS BEING DONE.

Thus, government in Britain has become little more than a string of disjointed panic responses to the concern of the moment. The sole aim is to get voted in next time.

The thing will have the opposite effect to that intended. Living in a Respect Area will get you respect on the street, just like having an ASBO does.

lördag 20 januari 2007

How long distance travel used to be done

Simon On Call
Originally uploaded by Tango_hui_voine.

This carriage is about fifty years old. It was originally built with both fist and second class compartments, plus a guard's van for bicycles, luggage etc. They were for long through workings where vehicles would be shifted from one train to another to save passengers having to join in a scrum at Birmingham New Street, which is the Department of Transport' idea of what should happen.

The second class (originally third class) were more spacious and comfortable than Virgin's Club Class which costs zillions to go on.

onsdag 17 januari 2007

School Leaving Age to be raised to 18

I have watched the debate on this since the announcement was made last week.

The Times Comments, which seem to come mainly from schoolchildren and teachers, are mostly agains the idea. This one sums up the general view.

"I am a pupil at school and I want to stay on at school. But there are horrible children at my school who make not only pupil's lives a misery but also the teachers which is not a good evironment for people to be in. So this would be atrocious to keep children in education until 18 if they do not want to because they will just cause havoc.I am a pupil at school and I want to stay on at school. But there are horrible children at my school who make not only pupil's lives a misery but also the teachers which is not a good evironment for people to be in. So this would be atrocious to keep children in education until 18 if they do not want to because they will just cause havoc."

My own view is that learning opportunities should be avalable to everyone of every age. But whether schools and universities are a suitable kinds of institution to enable young people to make the most of themselves is another matter. Obviously some do well in that environment, but many flounder and then cause mischief to themselves and others around. So it seems to me that more fundamental questions need to be asked. Unfortunately, the people who do politics tend not to ask that sort of question, so it looks as if we are about to blunder into another expensive mistake.

tisdag 16 januari 2007

Halifax reports soaring property prices

And so we have another report - this time from Halifax - to tell us how the price of housing keeps going up. (yesterday's Guardian, article by Angela Balakrishnan)

As mentioned in an earlier blog, it is not the price of bricks and mortar that has gone up. The most expensive bricks are still less than 75p each, cement is under a fiver a bag and there are plenty of building workers following the influx from eastern Europe. What keeps rising is the price of the land the houses are standing on.

It is worrying that so little is understood about this phenomenon by campaigners and and economists, as they demonstrate when they argue for a tax on property or land price gains.

How would this be implemented? When would the tax be an increase in value from? Since the previous year? Since Domesday? Since the previous sale? And why not on the whole value?

And when would the levy be paid? Once in a while? Every year? At the time of sale? And if the increase in value turns out to be a bubble value, what happens when the bubble bursts? Will property owners receive refunds?

There is certainly a case for taxing land values, but there are many wrong and harmful ways of doing it and only one right way. Those in favour of land taxation should think through the implications of what they are proposing.

A Land Tax is 200 years overdue - more

On 11 January, the Guardian published a letter by Kevin Cahill in response to the article on Monday. Kevin Cahill is author of "Who Owns Britain and Ireland"

"There is only one legal owner of land in the UK, the Queen (A land tax is 200 years overdue, January 8). All others have one of two forms of medieval tenure, either freehold or leasehold. When Adam Smith argued for a land tax, 97% of the land was held by about 3,000 families and the rest held not so much as a blade of grass. Now 70% of the population have a stake in a private home and, indirectly, in land. Of the UK's 60m domestic acres, the 41m acres of agricultural land, constituting 69% of the surface of the UK, are held in freehold by 158,000 people or families, about 0.26% of the population. The land occupied by home owners is about 2.5m acres, just 4.1% of the domestic land mass. Residential property is not an unproductive asset, it is the sole shelter and main asset of 70% of the population. What is proposed is an increase tax on homeowners, who constitute 70% of the population, while ignoring the 0.2% who hold 69% of the country."

This is very interesting. If there is only one legal owner of land in the UK, the Queen, and all others have one of two forms of medieval tenure", Is not the abolition of these medieval tenures overdue?

Her Majesty could then collect the rent of her land (at its current value) and use it for its rightful purpose - to pay for the expenses of government. It is a proper function of a Monarch to ensure that this is done.

There would then be enough money to run the country without having to be constantly on our backs with ever-increasing demands for more and more taxes.

måndag 15 januari 2007

The wonders of rail privatisation.

Incompatible trains
Originally uploaded by seadipper.

The train on the left is a class 319 Thameslink train with a BSI coupling. The train on the right is a Virgin Voyager with a Scharfenberg coupling. They can't be joined so if, say, the Voyager breaks down, the 319 cannot push it out of the way. And they cannot be attached to a locomotive - a special match vehicle has to be put in between.

Any ten year old with a train set knows that all the trains should be fitted with the same type of coupling. Seemingly the experts who are responsible for co-ordinating Britain's railways do not.

The delights of rail privatisation.

Mini seat
Originally uploaded by seadipper.

I am only a shrimp of a guy - I weigh less than 60kg, but even I can only just squeeze - literally - into this seat.

Thameslink was taken over by First group who call it First Capital Connect. They are refurbishing the trains and giving them a psychedlic livery, and this is part of the result. I suppose it is OK to put a child, but then they can't see out, as they are looking at the stack of luggage opposite.

The article that closed down Design Magazine

"Design" was a magazine that had been produced since the nineteen-forties by the Design Council, a body originally set up in 1944 under the title "Council of Industrial Design", with the aim of improving the quality of British product design as industry was brought back to civilian production after the end of the war.

This article was submitted in late 1993, when rail privatisation was being progressed the the Major government. Derided as a "Poll Tax on wheels", the scheme was widely considered unworkable even then, but the government persisted, in the face of threats by the Labour opposition to re-nationalise if it got re-elected. The rest is history.

The editor of the magazine was told not to publish the article and resigned. The magazine was then closed down. Here is the text of the unpublished article.


Trains haven't the glamour of cars. Normally, boarding a train is not a prestigious thing to be seen doing. The car has replaced the train as an emblem of progress. (1,2) It is the epitome of the consumer product.

Since the consumer revolution of the 1960s, typified by the Carnaby Street phenomenon, people have come to believe in markets, since they deliver the goods. Attitudes have changed fundamentally; the idea has grown up that people could actually define their individuality through their tastes and preferences, exposed in their patterns of consumption, which take as representing their social position. This is why “lifestyle marketing” is possible. The railways have playing this game for several years now; their current television promotion for example, refers to other advertising and invites the viewer to recognise the rail service as just another consumer product.

Faith in the market drove the privatisation programme of the 1980's, but the more arthritic and bureaucratic bodies such as the railways have been left till now. The hope is that consumerising the service will save money and restore a sense of glamour.

This is being achieved by breaking up British Rail into components, corresponding to spheres of functionality: train operating companies will run the trains and market the services, using rolling stock hired from leasing companies, and paying Railtrack for the use of the track, stations, and signalling; other companies will carry out repairs and maintenance. The operating companies will be transferred from public to private ownership by setting up 25 operating organisations, which will move into an intermediate “shadow franchise mode” before being offered as franchises for periods of seven to ten years. The rolling stock leasing companies will follow a similar path to join the former British Rail Engineering Ltd in the private sector.

The transformation of Inter City gives an indication of the way that things are likely to go; it is being reconstructed as a brand label, and under the auspices of marketing managers Keith Handy and Martyn Cornwall, a new range of liveries for the different long-distance routes has been prepared, to be unveiled in April. A similar branding process will be applied throughout; Keith Handy is enthusiastic about the sophisticated Inter-City liveries which will mark the flagship routes, but he warned that we should also brace ourselves for some pretty awful, poorly conceived, naive solutions. This is a textbook example of niche marketing, and the variety of rolling stock which the new regime will inherit is perfectly adapted to the task; there is a range of vehicle types which are the counterparts of everything from a Porsche – the Inter-City 225, perhaps – to a Trabant – the ramshackle four-wheeled Pacer which haunts the more run-down areas of Britain's northern conurbations.

The branding process will ensure that horses are matched to courses, market driven, with resources deployed to best advantage. At some point, for example, someone will question the technology-led development which has resulted in a modern inter city coach (3) costing over ten times more, in real terms, than its 1950s counterpart (4); the extra cost is partly attributable to complex ancillaries such as air conditioning and the running gear intended to operate at modern speeds. How much new rolling stock there will actually be, however, is questionable because of the shortness of the proposed franchise periods and their financial structure.

Like it or not, the role of designer in this exercise is reduced to that of cosmetician, since design is allowed to be no more than an adjunct to marketing. Any designers attempting to tackle their commission at a more fundamental level will come up against the brick wall set by the assumption that the market is sufficient to answer the social issues raised. What is more, they will be stymied by the totally fragmented new structure. The problem is not that the new arrangement is anarchic; co-ordination is to be imposed by the Office of Passenger Rail Franchising, headed by Roger Salmon. But he is not a debating forum where public concerns come to the surface and market forces cannot map such concerns – for example, at the interfaces between the different franchises, or when mishaps occur, demanding prompt action.

The idea that public services might be integrated and co-ordinated is, unfortunately, is an insight that has been lost in recent years. But just after the war, it was in the forefront of people's minds; it motivated the establishment of the Design Council and was a guiding influence in the Festival of Britain. After their involvement with the 1951 Festival, Design Research Unit (DRU) was charged with the largest and most complex design programme ever initiated in Great Britain. Its aim was to rationalise British Railways, making it a major component of a national transport system. Consequently, the design of all the elements – rolling stock, signage, graphics – was undertaken in the context of, and in relation to, the system of national life of which the rail services formed a part (5). It spelled out one unambiguous message: here is a transport system serving the nation. Design was to establish the role of the transport system by giving form to the social values and institutions to which all assented.

Here was design stepping out of the system of differences that styling and marketing have created, to embody national concerns and interests above and beyond individual wants and needs. DRU developed a style signifying “disengaged public concerns”; the public transport system is not, on these terms, a consumer product. Design here was functioning at a deeper level, not as an adjunct to marketing, but transcending social differences to take a broader view, bringing together opposing interest groups. It is the purpose of design to achieve this by expressing, in a subtle way, those hidden and unstated values, which cannot be put into words, but hold society together.

Thus, the niche marketing entailed in the railway privatisation raises fundamental questions about the nature and purpose of design. In the present context, design become “good” to the extent that it meets the expectations of a particular consumer group. There is no possibility that something might appeal to all (6). If society is regarded only as a constellation of discrete consumer groups, there can be no such thing as “good” design.

Could the current reorganisation achieve coherence? The authors attempted to piece together a flow diagram to show how the different elements of the privatised railway structure would fit together, firstly with themselves, and secondly, into an integrated transport network. They were unable to do the former because at the time of writing, too much was still undecided. And there is no opportunity for the latter, given the nature of the scheme. Leaving things to the market will merely expose the problems: passengers will get angry when told their tickets are not valid on half the trains plying the route, and the lack of integration will be revealed dramatically, for example, as passengers from the continent and all parts of Britain start to converge on King's Cross some time around 2005.

This limitation of the market has an economic dimension, too. The burgesses of Reading clamour for Crossrail, but are unwilling to put their hands in their pockets to finance it. The market cannot inform them of the social processes that actually shape the nation's economy. If you baulk at being called a “customer” and not a passenger, if you think of railways as a public service, and, as such, above the marketplace, then you must feel uneasy about what is going on.

Henry Law and David Sawyers 2 March 1994


1 “Rail, Steam and Speed” by J M W Turner.
2 “Her's is a lush situation” by Richard Hamilton.
3 The mark IV, the equivalent vehicle of the late 1980s, with air conditioning and aircraft-type plug doors, designed for 140 mph running, this carriage cost over ten times more in real terms than the mark I. Whether the modern carriage is ten times better than it predecessor is, however, arguable.
4 The mark I passenger coach, 1951. Mechanically simple, designed to run at speeds of up to 90 mph.
5 The corporate identity unveiled in 1965. (Design 189 ?date /Design 193 January 1965) Design Research Unit/Professor Mischa Black, commissioned by the British Transport Design Panel: signing/liveries/ class 52 diesel locomotive.
6 SNCF Corail coach interior, or interior of Paris Metro train: by making concessions to no group's taste, everyone can feel included.


The authors were asked to revise and the above article is the revision. The revised version was accompanied by the following

I hope this is now all right. We have attempted to incorporate as much factual information as possible but we belong to a generation that was brought up with the notion that design is about ideas. To have written a piece that implied otherwise is something that we could not honestly have put our names too.

If the article is still not suitable, please accept my apologies; also, please let me know as soon as possible, as we would like the opportunity to try to place it elsewhere.

fredag 12 januari 2007

Trust the market

たまご屋/egg store2
Originally uploaded by motocchio.

Markets are a good thing. Whether you are buying or selling, you can be sure that you will get a good price for what you are selling and will not pay too much for what you want. And producers quickly get to know what people want to buy, and the right goods become available to those who want them.

It is a much better system than having bureaucrats in offices decide what people want. Usually, they haven't a clue, and then they have to force people to produce what is not wanted, and you end up with Gulags, concentration camps, secret police, corruption and all the other apparatus of a totalitarian state.

Post-1945 economists especially, recognised this and became advocates of the free market, in preference to the directed economics that was favoured in both communist and social democratic countries.

But the concept is flawed. Free markets assume prior equities, and when not everyone has equal access to land, those who do are in a privileged position, since the two sides to many transactions are not entering into the deal on equal terms. For instance, if the choice is "work or starve", employers can drive down wages.

Taking the notion of markets beyond where it is appropriate has also had strange results. Economists like to borrow concepts from other disciplines, especially the physical sciences. One such, promoted by the late Milton Friedman, amongst others, was that markets are a "signalling system", informing entrepreneurs where to direct their energies. It is a nice idea and a good way of describing what is happening in the Barcelona market in the picture. Unfortunately it has come to dominate economic policy almost world wide. This is the model on which reforms of services like the NHS and the railways have been predicated. After nearly 25 years of this kind of thing, it is obvious that it is not working.

First, it assumes perfect knowledge and intelligence on the part of the entrepreneurs - again, it works if you are keeping a few chickens and selling the eggs. But in complex enterprises, people tend to get things wrong. The main way to stop this from happening is to have a means of allowing a variety of inputs. Where the provision of services falls into monopolies or oligopolies, there is no room for proper questioning, and they all follow each other over the cliff together.

As for the economic signals that come from the market - these have no intrinsic meaning, as they are shaped by market circumstances some of which are natural and changing, others of which are cultural and others of which are an artificial construction, such as the fiscal and legal framework in which transactions take place. There is nothing "natural" about them, so that following market signals is not automatically going to produce the optimum outputs.

One consequence is that it is not possible to argue that any tax modifies the economic signals more than any other does - they are all modifiers. What matters is whether they modify in the direction of causing people to things that are desirable or whether they discourage desirable activity. This is an important function of government and one they are not getting right.

Local Income Tax

A lot of people argue that Council Tax should be replaced by a tax based on ability to pay. By this, they mean some form of Local Income Tax. There are pensioners who have even chosen to go to prison rather than pay their Council Tax.

Local Income Tax is advocated by some people in the Liberal Democrat and Green parties, as well as by pressure groups such as "Is it Fair?", which is supporting the "can't pay - won't pay" OAPs.

Anyone who thinks Local Income Tax is a good idea should take a look at the latest report on the subject.
A Fairer Way: Report by the Local Government Finance Review Committee for Scotland - Section 10: A Local Income Tax

"It would not be appropriate to introduce a local income tax. There are five reasons for this.

"First, we have already stated our view that a tax on property as a proxy for wealth should feature as part of the overall basket of taxes in the UK.

"The second reason is that income tax already provides a substantial proportion of UK tax receipts. HMRC estimates that income tax generated 32.8% of its tax receipts in 2005-06. On the assumption that public expenditure is funded in proportion to the yield from the various UK taxes, UK income tax already makes a significant contribution to the Scottish Budget and, in turn, the Scottish Executive's financial support for local government.

"Third, the yield of a local income tax would be unpredictable, because of uncertainty and fluidity in both the number of taxpayers in any local authority area and the level of their taxable income. This would have implications for local authority budgeting processes and for the equalisation of councils' tax bases. The difficulties of unpredictable yield would be more acute for those local authorities with small populations and consequently small tax base.

"Fourth, a local income tax could increase the overall tax burden upon households who are already paying income tax. The burden could fall most heavily upon families with more than one working adult.

"An increase in income tax on earned income would be a disincentive to work. This disincentive may increase as the population of working age shrinks.

"Finally, we doubt the feasibility of introducing a local income tax and, in particular, we are concerned about the additional administrative burdens it might place on taxpayers, employers, local and central government. The practical problems of applying a local income tax to all categories of income are immense in the context of a UK tax system designed to maximise tax deduction at source and to minimise the need for year-end adjustments and universal tax returns.

"We recommend that a local income tax should not be introduced, either as a replacement for council tax or as a supplementary tax."

måndag 8 januari 2007

New trains for the London Underground

Artist's impressions of the next generation of trains for London Underground have been released by Metronet. The quality of these computer-generated images is amazing. The trains will be built by the international company Bombardier.

The front ends look highly styled and a long way from the the functional elegance of the Frank Pick era. The surface line stock front ends especially look like shower cabinets for the flashy-end of the market. Is this really how Transport for London wants to present itself?

More importantly, is it the most practical solution?
The function of the cab assembly is
(1) to protect the driver against possible collision damage
(2) allow the driver a good view of the signals and CCTV monitors,
whilst protecting against thermal gain from the sun, missiles and
other flying objects.
(3) provide a surface for the mounting of information eg marker lights
and route indication displays.

What is shown does not spell out this function particularly clearly, rather it seems to have been designed for forecourt appeal. But then I am a mid-twentieth century functionalist fogey, so I am probably missing the point.

However, there is are issues regarding large curved windscreens. Since the 1960s, LUL tube trains have long had curved windscreens, but it is easier and less expensive to make toughened glass flat and it is also easier to source replacements over the lifetime of the vehicles if the glass is flat and not handed (ie you do not need left hand and right hand versions).

And of course less spares then have to be held in store, so there is another saving. It was the fate of a lot of BR stock to have curved wndscreens replaced by flat. There is also the advantage that flat glass does not cause optical distortion. Also, large windows tend to cook the driver, as was found with Networkers which had to have an upgrade to the cab ventilation system.

The surface line stock has lower bodyside curvature. In this it differs from previous LUL stock which has vertical sides from solebar to the bottom of the window. A BR gauging engineer once told me that there is no reason for having lower bodyside curvature from 925 mm above rail level (the height of a station platform), other than as a styling feature.

Presumably the same applies to LUL routes - actually the A60/A62 Metropolitan Line stock is 9ft 6in wide all the way down to the floor (wider than BR stock).

New Electrostar stock on Southern and elsewhere demonstrated the problem caused by the pronounced lower bodyside curvature which reduces the width at floor level. This appears to be nothing more than a styling feature. The problem is aggravated by the presence of skirting level ducts. This means that passengers occupying the transverse seats next to the windows only have space to put one foot on the floor unless they sit in a twisted position!

A single type of stock for all surface lines is proposed. But although a single bodyshell design is probably practicable and desirable, how can one seating configuration will be suitable for both Circle Line and Uxbridge/Amersham line services? There also appears to be too much space between handholds - it is essential to of plenty of things to hold on to, and I wonder if the need to provide circulation space for wheelchairs is not creating a hazard for other passengers, especially the elderly.

Either you will end up with too many people having to stand for a long journey, or not enough circulation/standing space in the central area.

The new trains will be air conditioned. Nice, and these days it is at last reliable. but I hope someone has calculated the heat emission from air conditioning and is satisfied that it can be dispersed.

A land tax is 200 years overdue

It is encouraging to see someone speaking for land value taxation, (today's Guardian page 24 - "A land tax is 200 years overdue") but it is essential to be clear about the sort of land value taxation that is being proposed.

Ill-conceived land taxes such those related to the sale or development of land have done immense harm, proved harmful and often unworkable and in many cases, have been scrapped. This fate awaits the government's suggested Planning Gain Supplement.

Properly speaking, a land value tax should fall on the whole rental value of land, assuming that it is at its optimum permitted use. As each site is valued in turn, the buildings and other improvements on that site are ignored and their value excluded. Thus the assessment is the rental value of the site.

It is not, therefore, a tax on the selling price of land; it is not a tax just on some arbitarily selected increase in value; it is not a
mere property tax; and it is not an additional tax, but a replacement source of revenue.


söndag 7 januari 2007

torsdag 4 januari 2007

Planning charge cockup in the making

Following several rounds of consultation, the Treasury has come up with its proposals for collecting the increase in land value arising from planning permission in a document called Valuing Planning Gain.

The idea is to charge a levy on the increase in the value of sites that occurs when planning consent is given. This is meant to be used to pay for infrastructure.

The proposal is a re-run of similar legislation which was introduced in 1947 repealed in 1951, introduced again in 1967, repealed in 1970, introduced again in 1975/6 and repealed in 1980.

It was complex and yielded little revenue. It also caused a shortage of land as owners of potential development sites kept them off the market, pending repeal of the legislation. The proposal has been opposed from various positions within both the develoment industry and amongst professionals. Almost nobody is in favour. The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) has condemned the proposal in a press release.

Nothing could demonstrate the complexity and difficulties involved in the proposal Planning Gain Supplement better than the government's own consultation paper. Indeed, the civil servants responsible deserve to be congratulated on showing this, more effectively, indeed, than any opponents of the idea could have done. Two valuations are required - before and after the planning consent has been given. But "before" values inevitably already have included in them the "hope value" in expectation of the planning consent, so that the real increases in value resulting from the change in use will not be captured.

The proposal is a recipe for bureaucracy and expensive disputes between the authorities and the owners of development land, and their highly paid professional advsors. And for what?

There is a simple and straightforward tax reform which collects development value as a matter of course, land value taxation.

Unfortunately, the government has allowed itself to be blinded by the fog of fear, uncertainty and doubt which are used by those with a vested interest in opposing land value taxation, and so we are being offered this pig's ear of a piece of legislation, which is identical in concept to that which has failed three times before.

The worrying thing is that this has been the subject of "consultation", demonstrating yet again the consultation in Britain is a sham. But why does the British government act so persistently against the interests of the people it is pretending to serve, in this case ingoring the broadly-based opposition?

There is a conference being organised by the RTPI next month.

Is Council Tax Fair?

I recently received an email with a link to a story about some pensioners who had gone to prison rather than pay their Council Tax. The story was being publicised by a group called Is it Fair

I found this story very sad. The Council Tax is iniquitous, but part of the iniquitousness is that (a) so much of the money is wasted and (b) pensions have not kept up with rising wages. But "Is it Fair" advocates replacing Council Tax by increases in Income Tax and VAT, which would make matters even worse.

Studies of the subject have repeately shown that VAT and Income Tax cannot, for perfectly practical reasons, be replaced by any form of local VAT and Income Tax, not least because of the widespread avoidance and evasion of these taxes that already takes place which would be even worse if they were local taxes. The thing would also be an administrative nightmare.

Replacing CT, the only truly local tax, by national taxes, would only complete the process which has turned local councils into agencies of central government, which are already centrally financed to the tune of 80%. And replacing Council Tax by VAT/Income Tax would lead to increases of house prices by around £15,000 a property.

Why is this organisation, which is supported by pensioners, missing the most obvious point, that pensioners have been the victim of systematic swindles by successive governments, first through the de-coupling of wages and pensions, next through the fiddling of price indexation to exclude taxes, and third, through the tax changes relating to share dividends, which have hit occupational and private pensions. Which really is enough to be getting on with. It is these problems that should be addressed, and then we need to be trying to achieve a satisfactory tax system.

Income tax/VAT give rise to a multiplicity of problems and the less revenue that is raised from these channels, the better. Both systems are full of loopholes that the better off can exploit eg tax havens, whilst the poor just duck out through fiddling if they can, eg through the cash economy. And so to that extent alone, by promoting disrespect for the law, they are morally corrupting.

Moreover, they are based on illusion. People believe they pay income tax and VAT but the burden really falls on those who employ them, as people regard as "wages" that which they can actually purchase as a result of their work, not some abstract "Gross Pay" figure. The reality is the tax is not paid by employees but by employers.

To put some figures on this. A nominal wage of £25000 costs an employer £27560, and provides an employee with a real wage - the net value of what people can actually buy with their money - of £13800.

This is a huge incentive to get rid of labour, so jobs don't get done, or they get done by machines, often less well, or the work gets sent off to be done in places like Thailand or India - call centres, for example. All of which helps to maintain our army of unemployed and hidden unemployed, nominally on incapacity beneft.

It also means that almost half of all government expenditure, for example, on the NHS, is actually tax which employees never see but is collected straight back, but not before a lot of time and money has been wasted in administration.

There is no excuse for taxing people's labour. It is effectively imposing a punishment for successfully engaging in legal economic activity. It is unnecessary, complicated, discourages people from working and is a major cause of the problems resulting from having 85% of the population living in one-third of the land area of the country.

It is really necessary to look at the whole picture. Like a lot of people of my age, I am myself sitting on a huge pile of land value, as the value of my house, in reality the value of the site it stands on, has increased in value since I bought it in 1983, by far more than I have ever earned or could ever have earned in my life time. This is obscene.

Meanwhile, all around me I see public services in a state of near-collapse, partly due to mismanagement, partly due to understaffing. I see some of the filthiest streets in Western Europe, the worst schools, the worst-behaved young people, the worst hospitals, the most expensive dentistry, a incompetent central and local governments that waste money hand-over-fist, large tracts of the area round where I live turned into a wasteland occupied by an underclass which has been unemployed for three generations, drug taking, drug dealing, drunkenness and disorder, rotten and over-priced public transport, congested and dangerous roads, young people priced out of decent housing, and having to travel several hours a day to get to work, schools that despite massaged success figures, have turned out generations of children whose level of illiteracy and innumeracy makes them unemployable. It is not a pretty sight, and you do not have to go far to see that things can be better.

There is a connection between the two, and the tax system is an important part of the cause.

There has been a lot of work done on this subject, especially abroad.


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