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Inland Revenue's hectoring tactics put unfair burden on firms

Inland Revenue's hectoring tactics put unfair burden on firms

Sir: Hector the Inspector, the Inland Revenue's warm and lovable cartoon tax man, has been laid to rest for some time now. I wish to report that his alter ego, Hector the Collector, has been reborn and his antics are far less amusing for those of us charged with managing the finances of small and medium-sized enterprises in the UK.

A recent Friday lunchtime call from the local tax collector informed me that a substantial amount of interest was due and unpaid in respect of corporation tax. Further, this amount must be paid by the following Friday. A series of questions then followed designed to elicit information about our ability to pay and to find out which assets were at the company offices. The implication of the latter being that a bailiff would call round the following Friday should the amounts due remain outstanding.

The collector then announced that we were unlikely to be aware of the amount owing. He was right! No demand or statement had been issued for this sum. A statement was duly requested and supplied and consisted of two pages of unintelligible print-outs which showed that the money had arisen from the failure of the company to predict correctly the exact amount of quarterly profit it would make for the year ahead (the quarterly payment regime). If we had such perfect foresight we would be managing fortunes not finances!

The Government has steadily shifted the burden of tax compliance to tax payers over the past few years and accompanies it with ever more labyrinthine rules (which even professional advisers find confusing) with which we are all expected to comply instantly. This we live with. What is unacceptable is for threats to be used to collect tax revenue where the liability can only be determined by the Inland Revenue and where the taxpayer not only has not been informed of the amount owing but is given less than four working days to agree the calculation and make the payment.

We are a UK business which pays substantial amounts of tax and spends a considerable effort ensuring compliance across the entire range of government levies. These hectoring tactics are objectionable and unjustified and should not be allowed to pass unchallenged.

Finance Manager, Morston Assets Ltd, Holt, Norfolk

Injustice highlighted by Batman protest

Sir: What can you do, as a divorced parent, if contact with your children is taken away or reduced? If you are female and not an unfit mother you will almost certainly win primary custodial rights if you go to court. If you are male there is nothing within the law you can do.

Fathers4Justice are taking the action they have, such as the "Batman" protest at Buckingham Palace, because the law and the courts are failing some fathers. I agree that not all fathers want access and not all pay maintenance as they should. But those of us who want reasonable contact and do everything we should are being let down by the current system.

Three years ago my ex-wife decided to take my children to live in Guernsey, for her own personal reasons. The result is I now see my children six or seven times a year as opposed to about 100 times per year before; my (current) wife and I had moved to within a mile of my ex-wife for easy access.

My ex actually pointed out at the time that I should be grateful that she was not going to Australia. I could have had her arrested for abduction, but my lawyer pointed out that the courts would look very poorly on the fact that I had instigated the mother of my children being arrested. So there is nothing I can do: I have to accept seeing my children six or seven times a year, and if my ex decides to emigrate to Australia next, then I will have to make do with seeing them once a year, if that.

Fathers are being discriminated against based purely on the basis of our sex.

South Yorkshire

Sir: The militant fathers' group F4J has staged a further high-profile protest. We do not condone these actions. Breaking the law is never going to provide a solution and will alienate many of the very people that we need to persuade.

That said, we do understand the emotions behind these protests. The Government continues to fail children, parents and families and shows little understanding of the grave problems created by custodial parents who use the family justice system's failings to exclude perfectly fit non-custodial parents from their children's lives. Quite the reverse, the system encourages such parents in their amoral behaviour.

This sort of irritating protest is but one small symptom of the Government's hopeless approach to this issue. There are many others that are far graver. It is vital to get on with effective reforms.

Equal Parenting Council
London SW7

Sir: According to your leading article of 14 September, Fathers4Justice have an "important cause" but should "end this childish attention-seeking". Well maybe they would if the press mentioned their important cause on occasions other than when their childish attention-seeking was being reported.

Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Impoverished players

Sir: In writing about the low pay endured by many of Britain's orchestral musicians, Louise Jury ("Five variations on a theme of impoverished musicians", 10 September) attributes the cause to influences that are largely external: Arts Council funding and "the growing disparity between amounts earned by orchestral players and those in other professions".

Most of the problem actually comes from a vicious circle created by pressure on orchestras to put on concerts at ever-diminishing cost, a pressure imposed by promoters, and the growing trend of musicians to accept ridiculously low fees for fear of having no work at all.

The solution is for musicians, orchestras and the bodies that represent each of them to develop a culture of best practice rooted in broader commercial awareness. Good music and good business go hand in hand.

St George's Chamber Orchestra
London SE20

Sir: I am writing in response to Philip Nicholas, the bassoon player from Manchester who has reluctantly left the music profession because of low pay and no prospects (letter, 13 September).

He might be interested to know that at the open day of the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester a year ago, an appeal was being made for bassoonists (and viola players and harpists), because there was a "shortage". Where does the shortage lie? With top-up fees looming, can the music colleges really justify encouraging such large numbers of young people to pay for their own training and buy expensive instruments, to enter a profession with so few prospects?


Cynical slogan

Sir: May I disassociate myself from the "we" Deborah Orr claims "have made the world"("No wonder our children are cracking up", 14 September)? Whilst I agree with everything she says about the difficulties of raising children in the modern world, it was the cynical, the greedy and the ruthless who created most of the problems.

To take one example, who thought it a good idea for an anagram of the "F- word" to be printed across young girls' chests? They knew it would be irresistible to some adolescent minds. It was a clever idea and probably even its creators found it irresistible. But unfortunately, like a lot of advertising, that's all it was - clever.

From a parent's point of view it was cynical and manipulative and I, for one, don't remember having any part in it.


Back to modernity

Sir: Good for Charles Kennedy and "senior MPs" for kicking out the proposal to privatise the Royal Mail ("Kennedy puts veto on Lib Dem proposal to privatise Royal Mail", 14 September).

But what is this nonsense about a split between "right-wing modernisers" and "left-wing mainstream"? What is modern about going back to the situation before the penny post was introduced in 1840? More generally what is modern about going back to the laissez-faire economic liberalism of the 19th century? Or is modernisation just a euphemism for Blairism? Whatever is meant by this back-to-the-future stuff - certainly right-wing, doubtfully modern - most Liberal Democrats will want nothing to do with it.

(Lord Greaves, Lib Dem)
House of Lords

Wasted energy

Sir: The attention given to energy policy in your front page feature on our environmental progress is welcome (14 September). But why do you persist in concentrating exclusively upon how electricity is generated as a measure of green-ness, and ignore energy usage?

Most of us heat and cool our buildings (almost half energy consumption) by burning gas, a fossil fuel. As last year's energy White paper makes clear, the single most important way in which we can combat the threat of climate change is if we all reduce our profligate use of fuels.

Instead we are now using more fuel in our homes and in commercial buildings than a decade ago, even though we know that we could obtain the same "services" using 70 or 60 per cent of current energy consumption levels. Earlier this year the Government actually cut back by 16 per cent its previous aims for energy reductions in our homes by 2010.

Director, Association for the
Conservation of Energy, London N1

Dangers of lamping

Sir: A recent tragedy has shown the dangers of controlling foxes by shooting with rifles at night; usually known as "lamping" ("Boy is killed after being mistaken for fox", 13 September). With the abolition of hunting with hounds this practice is likely to become much more common and there is a strong case for regulation on health and safety grounds and to prevent unnecessary cruelty.

It would seem reasonable to require those engaged in culling foxes in this way to be licensed after passing tests as to their competence, suitability to be entrusted with firearms and agreement to a legally enforceable code of conduct.

Consideration might also be given to foxes being protected during a "close season" when there are young which are dependent on adults. I would expect the RSPCA and others concerned with the humane treatment of wildlife to support such a measure.

Whatever one's views on the abolition of hunting with hounds, it will inevitably result in changes, some of which will have unfortunate consequences.

Bromyard, Herefordshire

Sir: Scientific research undertaken at the time of the year-long national ban on fox hunting, during the foot-and-mouth epidemic in 2000-2001, showed that the ban did not lead to an increase in the fox population (Baker, Harris and Webbon, Nature, Vol. 419, 5/9/02, p 34).

Clearly hunting with hounds is not about controlling dangerous agricultural pests, it's about killing for fun. At the time of the last general election, support for the Bill to ban hunting with hounds was included by many successful candidates in their personal addresses to the voters who elected them. If the unelected House of Lords is allowed to continue to block the hunting Bill then Britain is not a democracy.

Waverton, Cheshire

Misled by Blair

Sir: There must be millions of us who, like Andreas Whittam Smith (Opinion, 13 September), will not vote for a party led by Blair; but equally, can we vote for those Labour MPs who have done nothing to protest about the fact that they were misled into voting for the Iraq war?


Sir: Sudan exposes the hypocrisy of Tony Blair's Iraqi adventure. We are now told that it was right to go against the will of the UN and invade Iraq on humanitarian grounds, and yet our Government's response to the world's "worst humanitarian disaster", as Kofi Annan describes it, is weasel words and glorious inaction. I wonder how different it might be if Sudan had the world's second largest oil reserves and was situated in the strategically important Middle East?

London SW4

Wandering county

Sir: Here in Lincolnshire, we have always suffered uncertainty as to where we belong regionally. Government places us in the east Midlands, the taps provide Anglian water and Royal Mail thinks we're in the North-East. So, while it was very welcome to see Lincoln listed twice in your feature on the 50 best cheese shops (11 September), it was no surprise to find the Cheese Society among the 10 best in the North, and Comestibles, slightly further north geographically, among the five best in the Midlands.

Harmston, Lincolnshire

Church militant

Sir: As a source of useless information your letters page is unrivalled. I am grateful to Rachel Davies (letter, 14 September) for the information that Archbishop Pecham advocated the conquest of Wales because the liberal divorce laws there were the "work of the devil". I and my fellow guides at Canterbury Cathedral never know what to say about his tomb, except that his effigy is the only wooden one. I will pass the information on to them. It should go down well with Welsh visitors.

Sittingbourne, Kent