Government planning to repeal animal welfare codes

From The Guardian:
Conservative ministers are planning to repeal an array of official guidance on animal welfare standards, starting with a move to put the code on chicken-farming into the hands of the poultry industry.

Liz Truss, the environment secretary, is overseeing moves to scrap the statutory codes on farm animal welfare and move to an “industry-led” guidance as part of her department’s deregulatory agenda.

In a change that has caused concern with the RSPCA, Compassion in World Farming, and opposition parties, the government has already quietly tabled a draft order to scrap the official code on farming chickens for meat and breeding.

It is planning to revoke the code on 27 April – the day that new guidelines will be made public by the British Poultry Council, which will in future be in charge of writing and keeping the new regulatory code.

The industry body counts chicken hatchers and breeders as well as meat-processing giants such as Faccenda and 2Sisters among its member companies.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs confirmed it will now begin working with other livestock sectors in a staged timetable of reform. Other sectors that could get control of their own guidance include the cattle, sheep and pig farming industries.

A Defra spokeswoman said that overarching animal welfare legislation that sets out criminal offences will remain in place alongside the new industry code. “No changes are being made to farm animal welfare legislation or the strict enforcement and penalties that apply,” she said.

“Instead, the British Poultry Council has produced new non-statutory guidance on how to comply with the legislation. The industry-led guidance can also be used as evidence in court to prove criminal liability and will ensure farmers have the most up-to-date and practical information.”

However, charities are worried that the move regarding poultry could weaken animal welfare standards in farms and lead to fewer prosecutions for animal cruelty.

Legislation that makes it a criminal offence to mistreat animals is not being changed but the statutory codes have until now been used to give magistrates guidance on where those being prosecuted have fallen short compared with good practice.

Peter Stevenson, chief policy adviser at Compassion in World Farming, said the charity was deeply concerned about the scope for animal welfare standards to be weakened.

“I find it very hard to believe when one goes from a government code to an industry code it is going to be as tough. For example, the government code on pigs is quite tough. It says tail docking should only be used as a last resort. Would the pig industry would keep such tough wording? I think inevitably one will see a dilution of the codes.

“I don’t think this is isolated but part and parcel of a wider approach. The job of a government department is to hold the balance between competing interests. It is not to come down on one side and say animal welfare, dietary health and the environment have to be subservient to the needs of industry. It is both damaging in itself, and illustrative and symptomatic of this wider problem that we are getting.”

In responses to the government’s consultation, released under Freedom of Information laws, concerns were also raised that in the future the code on chickens could move to recommend the common industry practice of catching birds with just one leg, rather than the government code’s current advice on catching with two legs.

The RSPCA said it has been voicing concerns for the past three years about the “downgrading” of the guidelines from statutory codes to industry-led guidance and criticised the lack of transparency around the process.

“We are concerned that this change to guidance could impact on the legal weighting these documents have in providing magistrates with legal guidance when considering negligence during animal welfare prosecutions,” a spokeswoman said.

“We also have concerns that the new guidance documents may not contain the same level of welfare information as the existing codes and may only serve to help ensure animal keepers are compliant with minimum legal requirements.”

The British Poultry Council said that the body had worked very closely with the government to ensure there was no weakening of standards. It said many of the codes are outdated and Defra did not have the resources to view all of them, but the new chicken guidance has been reviewed “using a significant amount of resource from the industry” and based on scientific evidence.

John Reed, chairman of the British Poultry Council, said: “We were determined to ensure that we protected the integrity of the code. It was critical for the BPC to achieve the endorsement from Defra to ensure its credibility and acceptance by charities, retailers and the industry itself. A robust review procedure will be put in place to ensure that the requirements in the code are kept up to date with any new legislation and research.”

Labour said the plans were “endangering Britain’s proud tradition as a country that stands up for animal welfare”.

Kerry McCarthy, the shadow environment secretary, said: “Abandoning codes of practice for farm animal welfare is not in the best interests of the animals and will not produce higher quality food.”

The move to deregulate animal welfare comes after the Guardian exposed poor hygiene standards in some of the poultry industry last year.

McCarthy added: “In the wake of food scandals from horsemeat to campylobacter, scrapping government standards risks undermining public confidence in the food we buy.”

Kate Parminter, a Lib Dem peer, will now table a regret motion in the House of Lords next month, saying she was “very, very concerned” that the process for scrapping the animal welfare codes was “not clear, not transparent and not all parties have been included”.

Government sources said that the UK has some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world and in Europe has pushed for higher standards, including ban on sow stalls, battery cages for laying hens and veal crates.

Posted in Politics, Society | Leave a comment

“March Against Fear” in Brussels cancelled at request of government, citing “security concerns”

Organisers of a “March Against Fear” planned for tomorrow to mark the Brussels terror attacks said they had cancelled the event after the authorities asked them to do so because of security fears.
“We understand this request. The security of our citizens is an absolute priority. We join the authorities in proposing a delay and ask people not to come this Sunday,” the organisers said in a statement.
The authorities earlier asked for the march to be put off, perhaps for several weeks, to allow the police to concentrate their resources on the investigation into the attacks which left 31 dead and 300 wounded.
“We invite the citizens tomorrow to not have this manifestation,” Interior Minister Jan Jambon said, speaking in English.
In an earlier statement, the organisers said the march planned for tomorrow was meant to show that Brussels and the country at large refused to be intimidated by terrorism and that everyone stood together.
“This week, we, Belgian citizens have been attacked, in how we live, our customs, our rights, our liberty,” they said.
The first reaction in such events is to withdraw but on reflection, fear must give way to hope and the defence of our values.
Belgium earlier charged a suspect thought to be the fugitive third Brussels airport bomber with terrorist murder.
The airport suspect officially identified as Faycal C and named by local media as freelance journalist Faycal Cheffou who was arrested on Thursday night and investigators believe he could be the man pictured in airport surveillance footage alongside two other suicide bombers.
The third bomber, wearing a distinctive dark hat and white jacket, has been the subject of a massive manhunt after his device failed to go off in the attack at Zaventem airport.

Posted in Politics, Society | Leave a comment

Government announces renewed plans to privatise Land Registry

From The Guardian:

The Land Registry is being put for up for sale less than two years after the Liberal Democrats blocked previous plans for a £1bn-plus privatisation.

Sajid Javid, the business secretary, faced immediate criticism for announcing the selloff of the 150-year-old agency – which maintains records on the ownership of land and property across England and Wales – just as the Easter break was about to begin.

Union leaders criticised what they called the “cynical” timing. Mark Serwotka,general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union, said: “Homebuyers and owners rely on the Land Registry to provide an impartial professional service and it must remain under public control, free from any profit motive and conflict of interest.

“It is utterly disgraceful that the government waited until the end of the day before MPs break for Easter to publish its consultation, but is a sure sign ministers know the strength and breadth of opposition they will face.”

The Land Registry employs more than 4,500 civil servants and plays an important role in the property market, holding 24m titles for the ownership of properties across England and Wales.

George Osborne is keen to press ahead with selling off £20bn-worth of public assets, including stakes in the bailed-out banks, by the end of this parliament, in what is expected to be the biggest wave of privatisations since Margaret Thatcher was in Downing Street.

Javid said he was “committed to enabling Land Registry to meet government objectives in the best way possible”. He added: “Creating an organisation that can focus on delivering modernised services and bringing in ‘best in class’ knowledge and external investment is a key part of this.

“High quality Land Registry services and confidence in the property market will remain a priority for government throughout this process.”

Labour promised to fight this latest privatisation, which shadow business secretary Angela Eagle described as “unnecessary, un-evidenced and unwanted”.

She added: “This short-term privatisation will have long-term consequences; it could undermine confidence in Land Registry data, jeopardise the service to homebuyers, and erode conditions for their staff. The government are privatising the profits of the Land Registry – which made a surplus of £100m in 2012/13 – while retaining the risk.”

Business secretary Sajid Javid outlined the proposals just before parliament’s Easter recess. Photograph: Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images
In a consultation document, the government set out several models for the new agency, with its preferred option being privatisation with a contract to the government. This could be in place by 2017. Other options include a mutual joint venture between government and a private firm and privatisation with a new regulator in place.

Previous plans to privatise the organisation met with concern among some in the property industry, with fears that charges could increase and the public could lose free access to some data.

Henry Pryor, a buying agent and property commentator, said he was concerned about how a privatised Land Registry would monetise the records it held. “Who will ensure that your private details won’t be sold on to a third party looking to sell you stone cladding or to pave your driveway?” he said. “Do we really want to rely on the private sector to guard the details of what for most people is their most valuable asset?”

Andrew Lloyd, managing director of Search Acumen, which uses the Land Registry to verify property ownership for law firms handling purchases, said the process of consultation had to be transparent. “The threat to the register’s integrity when in private hands has been a major source of concern for many in the conveyancing industry, and the consultation is likely to prompt a heated debate,” he said.

Lloyd said the registry had “made huge strides” in commercialising its activities and opening up data on land and property ownership. “Looming privatisation may cast a shadow over these recent developments and the long term plans that Land Registry has already set in motion,” he added.

The consultation document said that in recent years Land Registry’s income had exceeded its expenditure as a result of the housing market recovery. In 2014/15 total costs were £260.5m, while revenue hit £297.1m.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said Land Registry would continue to support the property market. “A sale of Land Registry could allow government to pay down debt, or enable other investment for the benefit of taxpayers,” the department said in a statement.

“It is expected that a move into the private sector would also allow Land Registry to become even more efficient. At the same time it could continue with an appropriate level of service to support the property market.”

Posted in Politics | Leave a comment

Disability protesters occupy commons lobby, BBC told to stop filming

From The Guardian:

Dozens of people protesting against disability benefit cuts have occupied the central lobby in parliament, chanting “Cameron killer” and “no more deaths from benefit cuts”.

Black Rod, the official with responsibility for the parliamentary estates and security, ordered reporters not to take or tweet photos of the protests. Under parliamentary rules, only authorised photography is allowed.

The BBC’s Norman Smith, who has permission to broadcast from the central lobby, was ordered by the authorities to stop filming mid-broadcast.

The protesters from WinVisible, Disabled People Against the Cuts and other groups said they were lobbying MPs to scrap cuts to the employment and support allowance and to ensure the proposed budget changes to the personal independence payment would not be introduced.

Holding a banner reading “Is this really how to treat disabled people?”, they shouted slogans at passing MPs, while a line of police blocked the entrance to the House of Commons chamber.

The Green MP, Caroline Lucas, disobeyed the rules to tweet pictures of the protest, including a selfie with one of the organisers.

“Congrats to disability campaigners for protest currently taking place in central lobby – their voices must be heard,” she wrote.

Claire Glasman, of WinVisible, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, said: “We are lobbying MPs to make sure the budget cuts to PIP do not go ahead and ask them to reverse the cuts to other ones. People are suicidal.”

Paula Peters, of Disabled People Against the Cuts, said the group wanted “an apology from George Osborne for the deaths of disabled people” and accused the government of having “blood on its hands”.

“We want our full rights restored, we can’t take any more,” she said.

The protest ended peacefully just after 1pm, with the campaigners singing “Osborne out” and “we’ll be back”, accompanied by someone on a harmonica.

The protesters occupied the lobby during prime minister’s questions, at which the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, pressed David Cameron to apologise for having worried disabled people, and urged him to reverse the ESA cuts.

Corbyn quoted Iain Duncan Smith, who resigned as work and pensions secretary, claiming the PIP cuts were a political decision.

“If it’s all so fine and dandy, then the question has to be asked – why did Mr Duncan Smith feel it necessary to resign as work and pensions secretary, complaining that the cuts being announced were to fit our three fiscal targets?” the Labour leader asked. “He said they were distinctly political rather than in the national economic interest.

“In the initial announcement he proposed cuts in PIPs, then changed his mind, isn’t Mr Duncan Smith right when he says this was a political decision rather than one made in the interests of people in this country?”

Cameron said the government had reversed a wrong decision.

“I believe that, after seven or eight years of economic growth, it is right to be targeting a surplus because a responsible government puts aside money for a rainy day,” he said.

“I don’t want to be part of a government that doesn’t have the courage to pay off our debts and leave them instead to our children and grandchildren and that is the truth.

“What is dressed up as compassion from Labour just means putting off difficult decisions and asking our children to pay the debts we weren’t prepared to pay ourselves.”

Posted in Politics | Leave a comment

Sports Direct boss refuses to attend select committee over working conditions

From BBC News:
Sports Direct’s Mike Ashley has branded MPs “a joke” and confirmed he will not give evidence in Parliament about how his workers are treated.
Mr Ashley responded after being summoned to appear in Parliament and warned he could be held in contempt.
He also urged MPs to attend his firm’s Derbyshire headquarters – an invitation they declined.
The Commons business committee said it was “disappointed” about Mr Ashley’s refusal to attend.
“It is telling that he chose to give his response to the media rather than to the committee directly,” said Iain Wright MP, chair of the Business, Skills and Innovation Committee.
However, Mr Ashley told Sky News he felt MPs were “showboating”.
Mr Ashley – who also owns Newcastle United Football Club – had been asked to attend Westminster on 7 June on the back of a BBC investigation into Sports Direct’s warehouse working practices.
He had until Monday to respond to a letter from Mr Wright, the Hartlepool MP.
In his response, on 10 March, Mr Ashley asked the committee to come to the Sports Direct premises.”
Mr Ashley said he will not “stand idle” while Sports Direct is “subjected to public vilification”.
“The current intention is not to go, because [MPs] ought to see it for themselves,” he told Sky News.
“In my opinion, they’re just showboating. In my opinion, they’re actually a joke.
“They don’t care about the people, they care about the business of politics.”
Mr Ashley had invited the committee to come to the Sports Direct premises in Shirebrook, Derbyshire
Mr Wright told the BBC the matter will be discussed at the next committee meeting on Tuesday.
“I’m very disappointed that Mr Ashley has refused to accept the committee’s request to come and give evidence in Parliament, like every other witness for every other select committee voluntarily does,” he added.
The committee will now need to raise a complaint of contempt, and the House of Commons would then decide whether a contempt has been committed.

Posted in Politics, Society | Leave a comment

Big Issue seller marries woman he met when asking for change

Photo: Judith Parkyn

From The Guardian:
A romance began when a homeless man gave a passerby 50p for her electricity meter – now the couple have pledged to spend the rest of their lives together.

Jack Richardson met Toni Osborne two and a half years ago. She said she did not have any spare change and explained her own parlous situation, and Richardson gave her money for electricity so she would not have to spend Christmas in the dark.

Over the next year Osborne regularly walked past Richardson and they became friends. When the squat he was living in was boarded up, Osborne put him up.

Their friendship developed into love and Richardson, 37, now a Big Issue seller, proposed to her on the spot where he had given her the 50p. The pair married at St Paul’s church in Clifton, Bristol. Friends and well-wishers donated the wedding rings, as well as clothes, wine and a cake.

Richardson said: “I’m 10 miles high. I’m the proudest man on the planet. I’ve been humbled by people’s generosity. I wanted to give my beloved the wedding she deserved and I just wasn’t able to. Because of the kindness of everybody it’s made it real. I feel like I’m living in a fairytale.”

Osborne, 47, said she was “fit to burst”. She said: “I love how it’s touched people’s hearts. We’ve had people say: ‘I never thought I’d fall in love but I heard your story and now it gives me hope for the future.’”

They cannot afford a honeymoon but guests have donated money so Richardson can take time off selling the Big Issue to be with his wife. He said: “I was in a really bad place when I met Toni. I was having to beg every day just to get enough money for a night in a bed and breakfast.

“It was coming up to Christmas 2013 and I wandered up to this woman to ask her for money and she just burst into tears. She had bought everything ready for Christmas and thought she had saved enough money for the meter, but when she put it in it wasn’t enough.

“She was a couple of pennies away from spending Christmas in the dark. Even though I was begging, I gave her the 50p to put her lights back on.

“We began talking to each other every few weeks as she walked by. At first it was trivial stuff, but then we began sharing a lot and becoming quite close. When I went to stay with her we fell for each other.”

He added: “Every day used to be a struggle. I had considered ending my own life. I couldn’t see any way out of the situation and it just seemed to keep getting harder. I couldn’t see any future. But now I have someone stable who I love and who loves me. I’m able to look to the future.”

Osborne, who is unable to work due to health issues, added: “Jack has always said that I saw through the homeless person and saw the person underneath. I have had people ask me for money before, and when I couldn’t afford to give them any I would get upset.

“But Jack went into his pocket and gave me what I needed. Someone without a roof over his head had enough money to help me. He had dignity. It just really blew me away. I was so thrown, I gave him a hug.

“The next time I bumped into him, he had his Big Issue badge. I kept seeing him, and the more I did, the more I liked him. Before, I was bumbling around on my own. He has changed my outlook on everything completely. It has been one mad love story.”

The couple had initially planned a registry office ceremony until a vicar Richardson met at a soup kitchen offered to do the service free of charge.

Richardson is studying for an Open University degree in psychology and sociology and hopes to help people get off the streets when he graduates. He said: “If we had planned it, it couldn’t have turned out better.”

Posted in Society | Leave a comment

Jeremy Hunt agrees to ACAS talks with junior doctors

From The Guardian:

The government will agree to talks with Acas in an attempt to avoid strike action by thousands of junior doctors, Jeremy Hunt has said.

In a letter to the chairman of the British Medical Association (BMA), the health secretary said “any talks are better than strikes”. He said the proposed walkouts next month posed a serious threat to patient safety.

Last week Hunt said he would not agree to talks involving the mediation service Acas unless BMA officials came back to the negotiating table first. The BMA insisted talks must go through Acas.

In his letter sent on Wednesday, Hunt said he was happy “in the first instance” for his officials and NHS Employers, which negotiates on behalf of the government, to commence talks with the BMA using Acas.

Last week 98% of junior doctors who took part in a BMA ballot voted in favour of strike action in protest at the government’s decision to impose a contract on them that they regard as unfair and unsafe.

Hunt wrote: “Achieving a negotiated solution on the junior doctors’ contract has been my objective from the outset. We have always been willing to talk without preconditions, and we have extended numerous invitations to do so both publicly and privately.

“I am disappointed by the BMA’s continued refusal to take up that offer, particularly given we have already been through one independent process with the DDRB (review body on doctors’ and dentists’ remuneration), and you have not yet even been willing to discuss their recommendations with us. Patient safety has been my absolute priority throughout my tenure as health secretary.

“The extreme strike action planned in December poses a serious threat to that safety. Whilst I believe the right thing to do is to return to the negotiating table directly, it is clear that any talks are better than strikes, so in the first instance I am very happy for my officials and NHS Employers to commence those talks using Acas conciliation services.”

Hunt stressed that it was “vital that we now press ahead with changes to the consultants and junior contracts to help tackle unacceptable variations in weekend mortality rates by improving medical cover at weekends, which is a key part of the solution”.

He said his “strong preference” was to get round the table and agree this with the BMA, and called for the three days of strikes already announced – on 1, 8 and 16 December – to be called off.

“Given we will shortly be commencing with Acas our first negotiations in over a year, I would also urge you to think again about whether extreme strike action in the NHS’s busiest period – which will at best disrupt patient care and at worst cause serious harm to patients – is appropriate or necessary,” he wrote.

“I believe it’s time to work together to improve weekend care – as promised to the British people in our election manifesto – and avoid harming vulnerable patients by postponing your planned action and resolving our differences through talks, not strikes.”

Last week, the BMA said it had contacted Acas for help with talks with Hunt and NHS Employers. Hunt then said the government would be “very, very happy to look at that possibility at a later stage” but insisted the BMA agree to talks first.

More than 37,000 doctors were balloted by the BMA, and 76% took part in the vote. Doctors are poised to take action over three days, providing emergency care only for 24 hours from 8am on 1 December, followed by full walkouts from 8am to 5pm on 8 and 16 December.

There would be mass disruption to the NHS, with hospitals forced to cancel outpatient clinics and non-urgent operations. The new contract is set to be imposed from next summer on doctors working up to consultant level.

Hunt previously tried to avert strikes by offering a fresh deal including an 11% rise in basic pay. This was offset by plans to cut the number of hours on a weekend that junior doctors could claim extra pay for “unsocial” hours.

Currently, 7pm to 7am Monday to Friday and the whole of Saturday and Sunday attract a premium rate of pay. Under the new plans, a higher rate would run from 10pm to 7am Monday to Friday, and from 7pm on Saturday evenings – a concession on the previous 10pm.

Hunt argues that, under the new deal, 1% of doctors would lose pay, and those would be limited to doctors working too many hours already. The BMA has said the increase in basic pay is misleading due to the changes to pay for unsocial hours. It also has other concerns over flexible pay plans for some specialities.

Posted in Health, Politics | Leave a comment

Government proposes cut to state funding of opposition parties

From The Independent:

The Government has moved to make sharp cuts to state funding to Britain’s opposition parties.

So-called “short money”, an annual payment that has been paid to opposition parties since the 1970s, will be cut by 19 per cent subject to parliamentary approval.

Short money is not received by parties in Government and was introduced to allow oppositions to “more effectively fulfil their parliamentary functions”. It is generally used to employ parliamentary staff and meet political office costs.

The cut will affect Labour the most and also take significant chunks of funding from the SNP, Green Party and smaller regional parties.

The cut was not mentioned by George Osborne in his speech to the House of Commons but emerged later when full documentation was released.

“The government has taken a series of steps to reduce the cost of politics, including cutting and freezing ministerial pay, abolishing pensions for councillors in England and legislating to reduce the size of the House of Commons,” the spending review says.

“However, since 2010, there has been no contribution by political parties to tackling the deficit. Subject to confirmation by Parliament, the government proposes to reduce Short Money allocations by 19 per cent, in line with the average savings made from unprotected Whitehall departments over this Spending Review.”

The payments will then be frozen in cash terms for the rest of the Parliament, removing automatic rises with inflation. Grants for policy development will also be cut by the same amount.

The Government says the cost of short money has risen from £6.9 million in 2010-11 to £9.3 million in 2015-16.

The cuts could be particularly damaging for Labour, which has reportedly been shunned by wealthy donors since first electing Ed Miliband and then Jeremy Corbyn.

A dramatic increase in subscription-paying ordinary members since Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader could help make up the difference, however.

The unilateral move by the Government to cut the payments is in contrast to the usual consensus approach taken on matters party funding form.

Labour current receives around £6.2 million a year while the SNP gets £1.2m. Ukip is entitled to around £650,000 but has previously said it would not accept the payments.

The Green Party receives £212,000, the DUP £166,000, and Plaid Cymru £81,000.

Short money is given to all parties that receive more than 150,000 votes or two seats in the previous election.

Posted in Politics | Leave a comment

Child health services in Wiltshire privatised in Virgin Care deal

From Salisbury Journal:

Community child health services will be fully privatised in Wiltshire in April — in a deal worth almost £13million.

Until now, most of the services, which include health visiting, children’s community nursing, and speech and language therapy, have been provided by the NHS, including Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust.

But now private firm Virgin Care has been awarded a five-year, £12.8million deal.

The council said no services would be cut as a result of the changes and there were no plans to lay-off any staff.

And it said any savings would be invested back into the services.

A spokesman said: “By having one provider delivering all of the community child health services throughout the county means that children, their parents and their carers will have access to consistent and equitable levels of services and support regardless of where they live in Wiltshire.”

But GP Dr Helena McKeown raised concerns about the gradual privatisation of the NHS.

She said: “It’s a bit like removing blocks from a Jenga tower.

“We don’t know at what point he whole NHS is going to fall down.”

Dr McKeown said privatising community child health services in particular was not necessarily a bad thing, as long as the new provider communicated with parents and schools effectively.

Labour leader Ricky Rogers said: “The public have nothing to gain by this privatisation. If we look at the history over the the last 20 years, every time we have had privatisation of any public service it has resulted in a poorer service for the public.”

The decision has been taken jointly by the GP-led group that controls the county’s health budget (Wiltshire Clinical Commissioning Group), Wiltshire Council and NHS England.

Debra Elliott, director of commissioning for NHS England said: “A single community child health service will help children and young people in Wiltshire receive the best possible start in life.”

Jayne Carroll, regional director at Virgin Care, said: “We are really excited to be working alongside a great team to provide a truly Wiltshire focussed service that has been shaped by the people who use it and is focussed on delivering outstanding outcomes for children and young people in Wiltshire.”

Similar changes sparked protests in Bristol in August.

Posted in Health, Politics | Leave a comment

Shops in Crickhowell take finances offshore to protest tax avoidance

From The Independent:

When independent traders in a small Welsh town discovered the loopholes used by multinational giants to avoid paying UK tax, they didn’t just get mad.

Now local businesses in Crickhowell are turning the tables on the likes of Google and Starbucks by employing the same accountancy practices used by the world’s biggest companies, to move their entire town “offshore”.

Advised by experts and followed by a BBC crew, family-run shops in the Brecon Beacons town have submitted their own DIY tax plan to HMRC, copying the offshore arrangements used by global brands which pay little or no corporation tax.

The Powys tax rebellion, led by traders including the town’s salmon smokery, local coffee shop, book shop, optician and bakery, could spread nationwide.

Crickhowell residents want to share their tax avoidance plan with other towns, in a bid to force the Treasury into legislation to crack down on loopholes which allowed the likes of Amazon to pay just £11.9m of tax last year on £5.3bn of UK internet sales.

A town dominated by independent businesses, some of which have been passed down three generations, Crickhowell traders recently fought off a high street planning application from a large supermarket chain.

In the BBC2 documentary, The Town that Went Offshore, the residents express their anger at companies including Caffé Nero, which has not paid corporation tax in the UK since 2008, despite recording sales worth £1.2 billion.

The film, presented by Heydon Prowse, co-creator of the BBC Three series The Revolution Will Be Televised, follows the Crickhowell shopkeepers as they travel to the Isle of Man, where Caffé Nero’s parent company is based for tax purposes.

Jo Carthew, who runs Crickhowell’s Black Mountain Smokery, which sells local artisan produce, with her family, said: “We were shocked to discover that the revenue generated by hard-working employees in these British high street chains isn’t declared. We do want to pay our taxes because we all use local schools and hospitals but we want a change of law so everyone pays their fair share.”

“Until now, these complicated offshore tricks have only been open to big companies who can afford the lawyers’ fees. But we’ve put our heads together, and worked out a way to mimic them. It’s jolly clever.”

Mrs Carthew said the traders had a “very good meeting” with HMRC when they submitted their offshore tax plan for approval. “It’s a threat to the Government because if they don’t act this could be rolled out to every town. Everything we have proposed is legal.”

George Osborne has pledged to introduce a “Google tax”, hitting large technology companies which divert their profits overseas. But Heydon Prowse said: “As soon as one loophole is closed, another one opens. The Crickhowell traders are sick and tired of shouldering the burden for the entire system. They don’t get invited to cosy chats with HMRC top brass like the major corporations but they are the backbone of the British economy.”

The Welsh traders also visit Amsterdam, where a sweet heart tax deal struck between Starbucks, which pays no corporation in the UK, and Dutch officials, has now been ruled unlawful state aid by the European Commission.

Steve, a Crickhowell coffee shop owner Steve said: “I have always paid every penny of tax I owe, and I don’t object to that. What I object to is paying my full tax when my big name competitors are doing the damnedest to dodge theirs.” One of the town’s traders discovered that he paid seven times more in corporation tax than Facebook, which paid less than £5,000 in the UK last year.

Made by Renegade Pictures, the documentary will be screened in 2016 as part of BBC Two’s Britain’s Black Economy season, which explores how different levels of society are finding loopholes in the system.

Posted in Money, Politics, Society | Leave a comment