Letters: Do the sums and puncture the housing bubble

These letters appear in the Saturday 22nd February edition of the Independent

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Suppose you are wealthy and have £3m to stash away; you have several choices. You could buy gold, which will cost you around  1 per cent to store and insure – £30,000 a year; or you could buy property in New York State which will cost you around 1.5 per cent in taxes – £45,000 a year.  Or you could try a London property, costing you around £2,000 a year in band H council tax, £1,000 a year if you are clever enough to keep it empty. Which would you choose?

The answer is obvious:  simply charge taxes the way that most other countries do, as a percentage of value. This would send most of the parasites rushing out of the country and would push down London prices drastically. 

Most of us would see our council tax remain the same, or go down, and councils would have enough money to take care of the local community.

The rather silly “mansion tax” would be complicated and full of loopholes, collect less and benefit central government rather than the locality in which the property is located.

John Day, Port Solent, Hampshire

 

Ed Miliband’s declaration of war on housing shortages is his latest in a series of welcome moves to win the young vote. Housing is arguably the biggest issue for today’s young. There are not enough homes out there, particularly in urban areas and London in particular. Prices are too high, first-time mortgages impossible and rents (the only other option) unaffordable. At the same time, young people are feeling the fall in real wages far more than other demographics.

As Miliband identifies, this is bad news all round for the UK. If young people can’t get a foothold in the cities, businesses are denied access to their life-blood.

Miliband has identified an area where he can make a play for an electorate still very much up for grabs ahead of the 2015 election. The Conservatives continue to prioritise their 45-65 year-old sweet spot, while the Lib Dems have failed to recover from reversing their promises on tuition fees. Despite Labour, and Ed Miliband especially, spending much of the last few years struggling for an identity, they may just have stumbled across one by standing for the interests of the young.

George Baggaley, Director, @NextGenParty, London SW12

 

How outsourcing cripples  government

Andreas Whittam Smith (21 February) is so right to call for an end to outsourcing.When the practice started, government was naturally seen to be the “intelligent customer” for the services provided. Four decades later, an unintended consequence of privatisation and outsourcing has been a catastrophic loss to government of institutional memory and intelligence. 

The need for public interest institutions to fill the gap is now blindingly clear.

Bill Bordass, London NW1

 

The invented ‘crime’ of blasphemy

The various Muslim signatories, including Sadiq Khan, (report, 20 February) rightly condemn the imposition of the death penalty upon Mohammed Asghar on trumped-up charges of blasphemy. They conveniently focus on the execrable human rights perspectives of this appalling case but ignore its underlying theological dimensions.

What the Pakistani clerics and their Wahhabi-Deobandi paymasters must be told in no uncertain terms is that nowhere in the Holy Qur’an is there any scriptural foundation for blasphemy. The “crime” of blasphemy is an invented doctrine originating from a toxic fusion of questionable hadith (prophetic sayings of Muhammad) and perverse ecclesiastical opinion (ijmah). Neither of these secondary and often suspect sources can override the primacy of Islam’s divine text, which repeatedly says that Almighty God is exclusively responsible for everyone’s spiritual destiny. And not some over-zealous Pakistani court.

Therefore, leading British Muslims should be less pusillanimous and more proactive in exposing the twisted theology of a corrupt Pakistani religious fraternity, instead of only denouncing the ultimate legal sanction that now faces this poor elderly British citizen. It would be better and more effective to wage a combined human rights and theological campaign to secure the release of Mohammed Asghar, rather than just appealing to the good conscience of the Pakistani authorities to defer the death sentence.

Dr T Hargey, Imam and Director, Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford

 

The joke about  German cheese

I was very pleased to see an article extolling Germany as a tourist destination and how to get there by train (The Traveller, 15 February). I have been visiting this beautiful and friendly country for over 40 years and it saddens me that so few people form the UK take the trouble to find out what Germany is really like.

In mentioning various delicacies I really think you should have mentioned Handkäs mit Musik in Frankfurt. This consist of a very low-fat cheese, the portions of which are moulded by hand during manufacture. It is served with bread and a sauce made from chopped raw onion.

It is, of course, best accompanied by Ebbelwoi, which is the dialect name for apple wine. The combined effect of this and the raw onions on the digestive system manifests itself a few hours later. Hence the Musik. Who says the Germans haven’t got a sense of humour?

Donald Payne, Tipton, West Midlands

 

Misleading  ‘fair tax’ badge

The so-called “Fair Tax Mark” has no basis in fairness whatsoever (Ben Chu, Outlook, 20 February). If it is used in marketing literature by companies that happen to be marked as compliant, it will mislead some investors and consumers into believing that these companies are somehow better than those which prefer not to waste time on such subjective and unscientific badges.

It is for politicians to enact tax laws which provide the appropriate balance between collecting taxes to meet essential public expenditures and ensuring that the country is sufficiently attractive to entrepreneurs and global investors.

There are many wholly acceptable reasons why some companies, and, yes, even multinational companies, pay less tax than a cursory glance at their accounting profits might suggest. The reasons are more often than not complex, and are always incapable of being reduced into a mark out of 20.

I’m afraid I have to disagree with your columnist; this “mark” is certainly not “pro-business”.

Stephen Herring, Head of Taxation, Institute of Directors, London SW1

 

Give councils power over their money

In his column on 12 February Oliver Wright discusses devolution of power outside London, looking back to the powers of Joseph Chamberlain in Birmingham. He identifies the problem as the calibre of locally elected officials. 

But who would want the role when council income is tightly restricted by Whitehall and central government will try to micromanage the frequency of refuse collection? Elected mayors and police and crime commissioners do not devolve power; they are merely a distraction. Years of experience have taught me that proposals to increase devolution more often have the opposite effect. 

Devolution will not happen until finance is devolved and government grant is less than local tax income. Until then we will get over-zealous enforcement of parking regulations and other ways of increasing local authority income. 

The City of Nottingham has part-financed a tram line extension from a levy on business parking, but that is an exception. It would be interesting to know why it succeeded while schemes elsewhere failed. The city rejected the option of a mayor, so the reasons lay elsewhere.

Vaughan Clarke, Colchester, Essex

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