Letters: Council tax cries out for reform

These letters appear in the 11 September issue of Independent

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Rosie Millard is rightly concerned about the electoral implications of the proposed “mansion tax” in London and the South-east (8 September). It would create an arbitrary threshold at which yet another tax, just like that on inheritances, is suddenly imposed at a high rate.

Instead, we need a complete revamp of the existing system of council tax, under which the owner of a £100m mansion in London currently pays only twice as much as the tenant of a flat in Middlesbrough.

Rather than clumsy “bands”, why not follow Sweden, which has a flat-rate annual tax of around 0.7% of each property’s value? Soaring property prices work against tenants and favour owners. This suggests that council tax should be paid by landlords.

It is contradictory for homes to be subjected to council tax by local authorities, while central government exempts principal private residences from unlimited amounts of capital gains tax. Why does the government use such reliefs to encourage people to put their money into ever-more lavish homes when they would surely be much better encouraged to invest in initiatives which create jobs and enhance the environment?

Aidan Harrison 

Rothbury, Northumberland

 

I find it difficult to believe that the taxpayers of London are quite as selfish as Rosie Millard asserts. Surely those who, through no effort or skill of their own, have accumulated property worth 10 times the average UK house price would have no objection to making more contribution to the exchequer than the current absurdly generous council tax allows? In a time when homelessness is widespread, surely exceptionally fortunate Londoners are more public-spirited than that?

Michael Godwin

Bath

 

The real case against the so-called mansion tax is that any change in the taxation of private houses should be to update the council tax.

At present council tax is levied on houses being placed in one of a number of bands but the highest is £350,000 and over. The bands were calculated in 1991. This is equivalent to about £850,000 today. So the owner of a house valued at £900,000 pays the same tax as a Russian billionaire owning a mega-mansion costing £60m or more.        

Not even the most bare-faced plutocrat can claim this is fair. What is obviously needed is to introduce more bands above the present top one. The popular myth that this will automatically lead to higher council tax for everybody needs to be exploded.

Because governments of all parties tend to put a cap on local authorities’ spending, they would not be able to increase it. The income would however be differently raised. A larger share would come from more put into the new band (which would need only a revaluation of those now in band H – less than 3.5 per cent of the country’s 28m houses).

In fact everybody now in bands A to G would enjoy a reduction in their council-tax bill – surely an attraction to the politicians?

Harvey Cole

Winchester, Hampshire

 

Scots vote may be a boon for democracy

This referendum has been the greatest driver for many years in getting citizens actively involved in the political process and enabling them to express what kind of values they want politics to represent. It has also revealed the strength of feeling of many in England, too, that their interests are disregarded  in Westminster.

When the dust settles, there may well be a greater debate about how we can make Westminster more accountable to, and representative of, the wider population. For the first time in many years the political establishment may be sufficiently shaken out of its self-serving torpor to actually look beyond the Westminster bubble and listen to the voices they’ve been able to ignore for so long. We may all gain yet, regardless of what happens on 18 September.

Steve Porter

Reading

 

By the time the consequences of destroying one of the oldest and most successful political unions become clear I suspect Alex Salmond will be long gone to the lucrative lecture circuit.

Having bet the future of the UK on the voting whims of some thrawn Celts, David Cameron will also be gone, as will Ed Miliband for losing control of Scottish Labour supporters. Their successors, put in place by a now furious English electorate, will be in no mood to do us any favours and we are likely to end up in the enervating embrace of the IMF.

Too late we will realise we have voted for an impoverished statelet facing public-service cuts, endemic unemployment, raised taxes and the flight of both youth and capital.

Dr John Cameron

St Andrews

 

Yes, the Scots will go, and beyond doubt, the major responsibility lies with the governing elite. The Scots are inclined to be socialist in attitude, closer to the egalitarian and republican outlook characteristic of Europe than to the hideously class-riven society that exists south of the border. 

Like the rest of us, they have suffered from the unrestrained capitalism of the past 30 years which has left ordinary people paying ever-increasing bills to private companies for the ordinary services of life.

By voting Yes they will free themselves of the cabal of public-school spivs that governs these islands. God help the rest of us.

Keith Purbrick

Canterbury, Kent

 

It now looks as though neither side can win a convincing victory in the Scottish independence referendum. What this illustrates is the gross inadequacy of our form of democracy. It is quite understandable that the Scottish electorate feels unrepresented by the “Coalition” – in fact essentially Tory – Government, because so do millions of the rest of us. It is surely time to end the system by which a party with a third of the popular vote feels empowered to inflict its nutty agenda on the rest of us, for example in education, the NHS and the bedroom tax.

The Scots are in a unique position to deliver bloody noses to these vain, strutting peacocks. There can be little doubt that the loss of Scotland to the UK would be remembered as the only lasting legacy of the “Coalition”.

Gavin P Vinson

London N10

 

We need each other within the UK and are stronger for it – on defence, trade and multinational organisations. Divided we would lose our voice on the UN Security Council – perhaps to India, Brazil or South Africa – and Nato could no longer rely upon a common UK foreign-policy position.

Meanwhile, across Europe independence movements and Russian geopolitical strategists take heart at the success of the Yes campaign. As Russia sows the seeds of division and chaos by encouraging separatist groups, it knows Britain will be weaker if divided from within.  

The idea of a divorce between countries with a shared history of culture, language and religion sends shivers down the spines of those who champion harmony across Europe. Alarm bells are ringing at the prospect of Scottish independence heralding the atomisation of Europe.

The future is uncertain and potentially dangerous so the question of whether we face it together or apart extends beyond the shores of Britain to a Europe whose security has been built upon unity.

Geraint Davies MP (Swansea West) & Member of the Council for Europe

London SW1

 

The sight of all three Westminster party leaders arriving in Scotland in a blind panic is reminiscent of a group of leaders from a totalitarian state attempting to stop one of its outlying regions from breaking away.

Surely if the Scottish economy were such a liability they would be happy to see it go? Why, then, do they constantly talk it down and suggest that an independent Scotland would be bound to fail?

Dr Dominic Horne

University of Worcester

 

If the Yes vote wins, will it be written, correctly, that Scotland was lost on the playing fields of Eton.

Malcolm Calvert

Anglesey, North Wales

 

University educated, but unemployable

The OECD’s report on numeracy and literacy levels in the UK reveals a worrying gap between skills and qualifications (report, 10 September). To counteract this, school-leavers need to think carefully about whether the degrees they are about to start will enable them to get the skills businesses actually need.

Employers tell us that apprentices are often better placed to meet the needs of business than those with other qualifications. Young people who enter into apprenticeship programmes benefit by gaining technical qualifications while learning the skills necessary to succeed at work. However, they are often unaware that these options exist.

Recent YouGov research reveals that nearly two-thirds of 18-24-year-olds have not had advice at secondary school or college on paid apprenticeships.

Jackie Bedford, Chief Executive, Step Ahead

London EC1

 

I was interested to see your article (10 September) headed “University education boom fails to improve numeracy and literacy”. This would seem to be borne out by your health briefing, two pages earlier: “2bn: number of Britons who will suffer from Alzheimer’s by 2050”.

Roger Smith

Ipswich

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