Monday, 28 November 2011

It's complicated

It was quite a shock to see good-egg Stuart Mayhew of North Leicester Motorcycles staring back at me from the Sunday Times yesterday - yet another bod caught up in the mire of running a business when some busybody told him to buy a performing licence because the public could hear the workshop radio. Same legislation prevents me listening to music on show stands and I know someone who was told he needed one because he worked from home and the phoning-in jobsworth could hear the radio on in the background. You guess it - they worked for the Government.

So you can probably guess I don't have much sympathy for Wednesday's strike, and was a fan of Margaret Thatcher, not least because I hated school milk. Mrs T got rid of that as education secretary, because she didn't see why school's should subsidise feckless parents who couldn't be bothered to give their kids a decent breakfast. In fact I only lost sympathy with the-lady-who-wasn't-for turning when she waged war on the Argentineans, which was when my rather more jingoistic friends took up her cause. And she shouldn't have sold off our gas and water to the French...

Those were tough times, taking piecemeal jobs to complete my HND business studies course (which I paid for) but I understood we had to reign in pressure groups (yes, including unions) who were rightly only interested in their own members' interests, even if their actions were sending my family's modest business dangerously close to the rocks. Problem is, then as now, few people look beyond the trees for the woods, let alone years down the line. Where were all the protests and strikes a decade ago when it was clear most people's lifestyle was simply down to borrowing by consumers and governments alike? Why did no-one point out you can't have increasing pensions in a world of falling investment returns and rising life expectancy? Because if you borrowed the money to pay for it, the problem goes away...for now. And hopefully for a future generation to worry about (and btw - youth unemployment's been rising steadily since 2002, so why all the fuss now?) But guess what? The can wasn't kicked far enough down the road and we have to clear up our own mess. Seems fair to me...

Tax the bankers? They'll move, and already some of us have realised the EU's plans to do just that will kick the UK economy where it hurts. Stop folk like Philip Green hiding his profits offshore? Great idea, but the UK already has the most complex tax system in the world, and we're too dim to cope with change. An example - our chancellor wanted to simplify employee taxation by combining income, employers and NI taxes. Anyone who's had employees will tell you how frustrating it is to calculate these deductions only to send a single cheque to the tax office. In fact the only reason you bother with all the paperwork is you know you'll be hung out to dry if you have a inspection team land on your doorstep and make your life a misery for a week before fining you. So simple idea - add the three taxes (currently about 45% at the margin for a typical full timer) and abolish the departments that administer and enforce the various schemes. You'd save a fortune, as would the grateful employers who'd be spared the paperwork. Didn't happen though, because various factions would have delighted in "Basic income tax rises to 45%" headlines, without mentioning nobody's going to pay more tax and the exchequer would save a fortune.

So while the government tries to work out how to tax those who should pay (like Boots, who are based in Switzerland...) we can make a difference. Don't do business with anyone who's using clever accounting to avoid paying their share, and make it your business to find the facts rather than the media's take on them. Ordinary people refusing to buy South African goods helped bring down apartheid, and the Israelis take more notice of you not buying their fruit than any whining government minister. Make your choices wisely, and accept that any boost to the economy by government is worthless if the rewards get blown on imported plasma TVs and foreign holidays.

But not Italian motorcycles, obviously...

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