Saturday 31 July 2010

OTS to Tackle IR35 - Tax stuff that is...

I see that the first task of the new Office of Tax Simplification (OTS) is to conduct the review into small business tax, specifically including alternative approaches to IR35. An initial report to the Chancellor should be produced in time for the 2011 Budget.

The Government has already indicated that reviewing IR35 legislation is a priority and that it will seek to replace it with simpler measures that prevent tax avoidance but do not place undue administrative burdens or uncertainty on the self-employed, or restrict labour market flexibility.

Welcoming the inclusion of IR35 in the review, Colin Ben-Nathan, Chairman of the CIOT’s Employment Taxes Sub-Committee, said:
“In a modern, flexible labour market, workers and engagers should be free to form the contractual relationships they choose, without having their arrangements second-guessed because the tax consequences of their choice differ from those of another possible arrangement.
“Rather than the tax system being used as an override to determine a worker’s status as an employee, we think their status should be based on their legal position in employment law and that the tax and NICs liability should flow from this.”

I hope that they really do get on to this. It has been a pain for many a small business trying to expand.

Tuesday 27 July 2010

Ask Alvin joins Race Online 2012

Ask Alvin joins Race Online 2012 in bid to get everyone online by the London Olympics

Race Online 2012 is the landmark challenge led by the UK’s Digital Champion Martha Lane Fox which aims to get the UK 100% internet enabled by the London Olympics. 

More than 10 million adults across the UK have never used the internet, and worryingly 4 million of this group are also socially excluded.  All of them are missing out on the opportunities and cost efficiencies that the web has to offer. 

Of the 4 million adults offline who are socially and digitally excluded:

·         39% are over 65 years old
·         38% are unemployed
·         19% are in families with children

Independent Champion for Digital Inclusion, Martha Lane Fox said “When the UK is near 100% online the benefits to society and the economy will be significant and mark a step change for the country as a whole. Race Online 2012 aims to show there is both a moral and economic imperative for the wider business community to take the issue of digital inclusion much more seriously.”

Iain Duncan Smith, secretary of state for work and pensions, said: "Digital literacy is a great enabler of social mobility. It is a way for those who have had bad experiences of institutions to re-engage in learning, and it can break down feelings of social isolation. It is a powerful weapon in the fight against poverty." 

As an official Race Online 2012 partner, Ask Alvin  joins  BT, Google, Comet, McDonald’s, Microsoft, Skype, Moneysupermarket, Sky and Talk Talk whose remarkable vision and support has already resulted in a commitment to get a staggering 600,000 new users online.

The macro-economic environment makes the Race Online 2012 challenge an issue of urgency for all business, no matter what the size. Getting the UK near 100% online will create significant efficiency savings, attract investment, open opportunities and improve work force skills.

Why not become an official Race Online 2012 partner and be a part of this incredible cross-sector movement which will put an end to the digital divide forever?

Race Online 2012 wants any organisation of any size to get involved and help tackle the issue.  From encouraging business partners to sign up, to teaching friends and family to get online, or by donating old IT equipment locally - there are opportunities for all businesses to make a difference. It’s simple to sign up and it only takes five minutes to register

All Race Online 2012 partners are automatically entitled to access the Race Online 2012 partner toolkits which include a Race Online 2012 certificate, online media and communication materials to help promote their initiatives and spread the word, plus access to the Race Online 2012 news feed offering 24/7 digital inclusion news updates.

Please click on this link to become an official Race Online 2012 partner, where you can explain what your organisation is doing or can do to help make the UK one of the first countries in the world to establish a fully online, internet enabled society.

Further Information
·         To find out more about becoming a Race Online 2012 Partner visit
·         For people who are already online and know someone who is not visit
·         To find out more about getting online call 0800 77 1234 to find your nearest UK online centre where friendly staff are waiting to help you get started.

Thursday 22 July 2010

Cashless spending

Music festivals goers instead of using money could be forced to pay electronically for everything. Payments could be made via a wristband, which would also act as the event ticket, and be pre-loaded with money. The systems would use radio frequency identification (RFID) - which would see a microchip being embedded into something like a wristband or ticket.

People in London are already used to cashless transactions, with the Oyster card. A bit like supermarket loyalty cards these things can be used to tell what you have been up to, and what you might do next.
Iin a BBC article Barclaycard's Mr Mathieson said that information gathered from transactions could be valuable for future marketing. "For example if the system knows what time you went and bought a beer and at which bar, it can make a guess which band you were about to see," he said."Then the organizers could send you information about upcoming tours. The opportunities are exciting."

A recent article on TNW said that future generation iPhones will almost certainly contain Near Field Communications (NFC) technology, which will enable the phone to communicate with RFID tags or other NFC capable devices.

So far the average person has not had any way to interact with RFID tags, so they’ve mainly stayed in shipping and logistics and haven’t made it a noticeable impact on people’s lives. If we were to get NFC-enabled phones we would be able to. Some phone makers such as Nokia have already embarked on this.

TNW has the scenario where you walk out the door with your iPhone in your pocket.  You stop for a cup of coffee at the corner and just as you’re about to walk in, you iPhone pushes a notification to you. The notification tells you that you’ve just become the top visiting customer at that location (yes, it will check you in automatically) and asks you if you would like to share that info with your friends. If you hit yes, it sends you to an input screen and you share on Twitter, Facebook, wherever.

I did some speculation about the use of RFID tags in my book Cold Suspenders. Hint – Tig Tags. I also speculated about how a mobile phone can be located. With GPS systems in phones this has become even easier. Build in RFID to all the other applications on your phone, and allow something like Facebook access, and who knows what people could tell about you?

There has been a lot of discussion about Facebook privacy, but does anyone really know who is tracking what we do? Who would have guessed that the original mission was just to create a facebook for Harvard University? A BBC article tells us that there are now people who make their living advising companies on how to use Facebook and other social networking sites. Companies can use the site for advertising and marketing "based on the extremely exact demographic data volunteered by the individual".

This is a bit of a ramble on, but I wonder just how many people know what details they are already giving away, and just what might be coming?
Bracknell based company Webroot give some hints about protecting yourself in the following linked article.

Tuesday 13 July 2010

Statutory duties and budgets

The Government has published details of the £1.166bn Local Government contribution to the £6.2bn cross government savings in 2010/11 needed to tackle the UK's record deficit in order to restore confidence in the economy and support the recovery.

In the light of the recent announcements of in year cuts to council spending, I tried to re-visit what it is that a council must do. What a good council should do, and what could be left out, if residents don’t want it.
The Council’s constitution gives some clues, but it is not all obvious. The fact that there are some Statutory Committees gives more clues.
Says that Unitary Authorities look after:
housing, waste management, waste collection, council tax collection, education, libraries, social services, transport, planning, consumer protection, licensing, cemeteries and crematoria

The Answer is not simple, and the best I can come up with is at the Conservative Home blog.
I hope here to paraphase what Glyn Gaskarth wrote there.

Councils are legally obliged to fulfil their statutory duties.
But what are the statutory duties they are required to fulfil?
New ones are added each year.
Old ones are rarely repealed.

There should be fewer legal obligations for councils.
We should know what they are.
Any new ones should be costed and funded.
A mistake in a council’s legal responsibility could result in wasting money by performing ‘duties’ they are not legally required to, or left open to penalties if they fail to perform duties that they must.

There are issues of translation of council documents. When Government
Quango’s charged with overseeing compliance seem to differ with Government Ministers on the scale of what local authorities are legally required to do. Nobody is completely sure.

Central Government dictates what local authorities must do.
If a Government is serious about giving local authorities more autonomy it needs to understand what they are currently legally required to do. It needs to audit all the statutory responsibilities of local authorities. All these statutory duties need to be listed in one place accessible to the citizen.
A simple search of “Statutory Duty” on the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) site yields 1,000 individual results. This is highly unscientific. However, we can draw three basic conclusions from this fact.
Firstly, there appear to be many statutory duties.
Secondly, we are unsure how many.
Thirdly that DCLG, the department responsible for managing local authority’s compliance does not appear to include a list of local authorities’ statutory duties on their website (none could be found in this search).
A simple list would give greater clarity and flexibility to local authorities.
They would be certain of what they had to do.
Perhaps residents could then be able to vote for a local authority that pledged to tax less because it was required to do less?
Councillors would act when they wanted to because they believed it necessary to act, not simply to comply with the will of Central Government.

The questions are:
What sort of things should your council be obliged to do?
How much do you want to pay for those things?

Road Safety

There has been talk in the press recently about road safety, and last month the BBC reported that the number of people killed on British roads last year reached a record low.
I took an interest in this, given that I was involved in a study of accidents in the Bracknell Forest Council area.  More about that later…

A bit over a year ago, the Guardian reported that “Road safety, cycling and bus priority schemes across England are under threat amid fears that the government is preparing to cut its £2.1bn local transport budget.”
This month the BBC reported that half of all fatal road crashes occur on one-tenth of Britain's roads. This article also reported that improved junctions and markings, along with resurfacing with high friction, anti-skid treatments, drastically reduced the number of serious accidents.

Just lately the LGA is suggesting that along with Housing, education, major transport projects and social cohesion programmes, road safety may have reduced funding.
It is probably just as well that Bracknell Forest has invested heavily in road safety in the past. Various schemes were implemented throughout the borough to bring down the number of accidents.
In the Working Group report that I contributed to, it is noted that “Further reductions in casualties are increasingly difficult to achieve, and it has to be recognised that there is an irreducible minimum number of casualties which no amount of investment could remedy.”

The Working Group noted that BFC had committed itself to further reduction over and above the targets set by Government. The working group concluded that the Council’s annual targets should not set a step reduction in any one year, but instead be based on a straight-line reduction to the ‘stretched’ targets.  (item 12)

Let us hope that there will not be a too drastic reduction in road safety spending. It seems that on-going education is needed in this area, even though the Council has already used many means to engineer-in road safety to our streets and roads

Friday 2 July 2010

Garden Grabbing

I noted that the Bracknell Standard picked up on my query to the planning officers about the issue of “Garden Grabbing”. One of the objectors to a recent application had cited the change in policy in this area by the new government.

The big headache with planning issues is that we are very much bound by law, the weight given to various government planning edicts, and policies contained in local plans. The local plans themselves although called local, are often constrained by Government policy.

I asked the question to clarify the position that we are now in. It appears that we are now in a much better position to write rules that will prevent future high density development in back gardens. The change in the regulations already gives us more room to manoeuvre.

The previous governments planning rules created a shortage of homes with parking and gardens. Whitehall regulations were pricing a whole generation of low and middle income earners out of buying a family home. As they pledged, the new government are now changing planning rules to encourage more new homes with bedrooms and gardens for families – in place of dense blocks of flats.

A letter that was recently sent to Planning Officers if available at

I am writing to confirm that the Government has amended Planning Policy Statement 3: Housing (PPS3) with the following changes:
 • private residential gardens are now excluded from the definition of previously developed land in Annex B
 • the national indicative minimum density of 30 dwellings per hectare is deleted from paragraph 47
 Together these changes emphasise that it is for local authorities and communities to take the decisions that are best for them, and decide for themselves the best locations and types of development in their areas.

In 2000, John Prescott introduced new national planning regulations for housing – which forced all new housing developments to pack in 12-18 new dwellings per acre. The flawed rules also classed gardens as ‘Brownfield’ land. As a result, blocks of flats were increasingly being crammed in the place of existing homes with gardens. This is also known as ‘garden grabbing’. Reports suggest that the price of a family house has risen at eight times the rate of a new flat since 2000, and there has been fall in the number of detached and semi-detached homes being built. There is now a relative over-supply of flats in many areas.

In recent years, it has become increasingly difficult for families across Bracknell Forest on modest incomes to buy a home suitable for children to grow up. But house prices don’t change in isolation from government policy. Labour’s national planning rules, laid down on high from Whitehall, have in many areas created a surplus of pokey flats and a shortage of family homes with parking spaces and gardens.

Recent government figures suggest the proportion of houses built on previously residential land, such as gardens, increased from one in 10 in 1997 to one in four in 2008.

Dr Simon Thornton Wood, director of science and learning at the Royal Horticultural Society, said gardens had medical as well as environmental benefits.
"Gardens, like parks, are the green lungs of cities, improving air quality, controlling air temperature and flood risk, and providing a haven for wildlife.
"Beyond these very practical benefits of gardens we know that gardening is great for physical and mental health.
"That's why we would like planning measures to go further than protecting existing gardens, to guarantee high-quality green space and gardening opportunities in all new building developments, wherever they are."

Now that the new government have scrapped the rigid density rules, let’s hope that it will now let the market build the homes that people want and need.