As a retired HMRC fraud and avoidance investigator, I wonder whether the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, realises that it takes about four years to train a tax inspector and about the same time to get from the start of an avoidance enquiry to a tax tribunal ("Crackdown: 2,200 new tax inspectors to target the rich", 18 September). Even if the training could be streamlined to two years, the policy will not pay dividends for six years – if HMRC wins its cases. And this is far from certain as leading firms' resources far outweigh those within HMRC.
In the meantime, the pay bill for the extra 2,000 investigators will be in the order of £400m, plus overheads, training costs, and the extra staff and solicitors needed to prepare cases.
There are some very talented investigators in HMRC, but even the best will take years to get to the facts in the face of an opposition inclined to admit only what is legally required and to challenge the enquiry all the way.
If the Government wants to produce revenue sooner rather than later, without substantial investment, it should introduce a general anti-avoidance provision. Contrary to what Digby Jones and others suggest, such a provision would not affect day-to-day transactions between unconnected parties, but would affect those who had paid to enter a bespoke scheme that generally has no economic benefit other than the avoidance of tax and that usually involves money traversing several accounts in a few minutes.
Rather than putting a plaster over seeping revenue in several years' time, we need to apply a general anti-avoidance tourniquet now.
So, Danny Alexander thinks Labour lacks economic credibility ("Chief secretary scorns coalition deal with Labour...", 18 September). Before the election, Alexander campaigned against cutting the deficit too far and too fast. Yet, the policies he now pursues – public sector cuts, higher taxes and stagnant wages – have choked off the recovery, increased unemployment, destroyed consumer and business confidence, and brought about the biggest reduction in living standards in a generation. On top of that, there is higher inflation and the probability that the Government will have to borrow even more to pay for its failures.
If anyone lacks economic credibility, it is this inexperienced, former national park press officer who, by aping the arrogant complacency of Cameron and Osborne, has driven yet another nail in the Lib Dems' coffin.
East Horsley, Surrey
After recent extreme cuts in funding, charities are ill-equipped to shoulder extra demands, so the Government's decision to refer starving people to a charity strikes us as deeply incongruous ("Jobcentres to send poor and hungry to food banks", 18 September).
A large number of people living in the UK today are unable to afford to feed themselves adequately; over 50 per cent of those approaching our charity have had to miss meals.
So many charities are already struggling to deal with the demand on their depleted resources as a result of falling salaries, increasing redundancies, rising inflation and the soaring price of food and fuel. We cannot see the logic in cutting funding while expecting the charitable sector, already groaning under the weight of widespread and desperate need, to pick up the slack.
Elizabeth Finn Care
Janet Street-Porter says, "Women loathe the summer holidays" ("It's jobs for the boys, and cheese and wine for the girls", 18 September). I like the holidays because I like my children. But I would really have appreciated just a modest income so I could feel I was doing a worthwhile job staying at home with them instead of feeling a failure for not being in the boardroom.
Disappointing but not surprising to see the report on Ireland's excellent win over Australia focus on England and their "clear path" to the rugby World Cup final. While relevant, was this worthy of the headline and first paragraph too?
J D Vallely
While I was pleased Matthew Bell noted my "marvellous broadside" on Gardeners' Question Time, he suggested my action was impelled by sour grapes because I was "dropped... in 1994" (Diary, 18 September). In fact I resigned from GQT, giving as my reason the deep concerns I had about the inappropriate direction the new producers planned to take the programme for which I had the greatest affection. In the years since, I have been proved unerringly correct.
Professor Stefan Buczacki
Corrections and clarifications
In our article "The scone of destiny" (11 September 2011), we incorrectly stated that Tilly Mint Bakery, Truro, had closed. It has not closed and continues in business as usual. We apologise for this error.
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