Tackling tax demons: Trick and treat at the heart of the City Establishment

On Halloween eve an unique invitation only conference took place in the historic  and just slightly spooky Livery Hall in the City’s historic Guildhall.

For six hours the Westminster Establishment politely occupied the bastion of  the City Establishment to discuss a subject that perhaps capitalism would like to go away – global tax evasion and tax avoidance.

Margaret Hodge;

Margaret Hodge;

Margaret Hodge, chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee and scourge of tax avoiders Google, Amazon and Starbucks, brought together business chiefs, politicians, tax accountants, civil servants, charities, trade unionists and the odd pesky journo like me from Britain and across the world.

The event was unique because on a grand scale it put people in the same room who would verbally be at each other’s throats and tried to find some common ground to tackle a world-wide scourge.The scourge that is making the elite ever richer and leaving the poor, and increasingly the middle classes,left behind as well as exploiting developing countries.

The result was interesting – both for unpredictable quotes and for disclosure of what is really happening to try to tackle this.

One of the  most memorable quotes came from Justin King, the thoughtful former CEO of Sainsbury’s, who admitted that “If business becomes more unpopular than politicians then we really do have a problem”. He also warned no doubt with declining Tesco in mind – that business rates and corporation tax were both on the way out – as business needed less real estate to function and countries vie with each other to reduce corporation tax.

Another memorable moment was Will Morris, chair of the CBI Tax Committee, backing the Public and Commercial Services Union case that George Osborne was wrong to axe a third of HMRC staff. What next Mark Serwotka , the general secretary, sharing a platform with the CBI?

Or for Prem Sikka, professor of accounting at Essex University, who pointed out, after accountants defended their role, that not one accountant had ever been disciplined by their venerable professional body, dating from the 1880s, for producing an illegal tax avoidance scheme.

The other striking feature of the conference in the  male dominated City was the role played by powerful women on both sides of the argument.

For me the most striking was the speech given by Grace Perez-Navarro, Deputy Director of the OECD Centre for Tax Policy and Administration. She revealed that the OECD were not just talking about it but had secured some 90 plus agreements with tax authorities like the Cayman Islands, Gibraltar among many others to exchange information but not to make it public yet. She is also a firm advocate of forcing companies needing to release country-by-country reporting of profits generated by multinationals.

“Our efforts to increase transparency, combat offshore evasion and counter tax avoidance by multinational enterprises are having an impact on the ground and helping countries to make sure that all taxpayers pay their fair share,” she said.

But there were also outstanding contributions by Irene Ovonji-Odida, ActionAid chair, on what needed to happen in Africa and on the pro business side by Heather Self, of  lawyers Pinsent Mason, the capitalist’s best legal friend and from the floor by Maya Forstator, an independent researcher who has challenged the claims by some of the world’s leading charities like Christian Aid and Action Aid on the effects of multi nationals taking money away from developing countries.

We also learnt some curious irrelevant information  about the cars some of the speakers drive. Richard Murphy, the Tax Justice accountant used the analogy that he drove an 11 year old car to show how out of date international taxation law is only to be trumped by Grace Perez-Navarro who drives around in a 22 year old motor.

There were no instant changes arising from this conference. More important was the fact than in an age of increasing inequality – the issue of tax is certain to remain  high on the agenda and there are active people wanting to deal with issue to make things happen.

Meanwhile as Margaret Hodge wound up the conference with a  damning speech on what more needed to be done, in another part of the Guildhall, another Parliamentary select committee chair, Keith Vaz, was undermining another powerful woman, Fiona Woolf, the current Lord Mayor of London, who has been appointed by Theresa May, the home secretary, to head the child sexual abuse inquiry

The home affairs committee chairman released seven drafts of her letter outlining her links with Leon Brittan,who is likely to be investigated over the disappearance of crucial home office documents,on the issue.showing how she kept changing her story. Today people think she will be under enormous pressure to quit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Archbishop admits it: sexual abuse rampant in Britain

Today my colleague Tim Wood reveals the full details of a recent private letter from Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, to Marilyn Hawes,the Hertfordshire mother of three boys sexually abused at a Church of England school more than a decade ago.

The contents will confirm what everybody connected with following the child sexual abuse scandal as it has been developing, knows – that child sexual abuse has been rampant, as he puts it, across institutions in Britain.

As Tim discloses in his article on the Exaro website and in the Sunday Times the Archbishop – who is known to see this as a major problem in society – does not mince his words.

“It is now clear that in a huge number of institutions and localities, the abuse of children and vulnerable adults has been rampant. That is not in any way mitigation or excuse for the church, but is why I have been, with Paul Butler,( The Bishop of Durham) pushing for the public inquiry that the government has promised.”

“It is also clear that there is a very significant legacy of unacknowledged cases in the Church of England. We are taking all necessary steps to face these.”

The mother’s tale is very familiar to many – first denial, then being shunned, and  then receiving a brush off at the top of the Church of England until now. At least the perpetrator in  this case, a music teacher, was caught and jailed.

The tragedy of this case comes as Theresa May, the home secretary, has reluctantly finally agreed to set up an overarching child sex abuse inquiry into historic and current abuse.

Unfortunately just as something good was about to happen – after heroic efforts by MPs of almost all parties – the inquiry has now become mired in a row over the appointment of its chair, Fiona Woolf, the Mayor of the City of London. Her links with Leon Brittan, who is likely to be one of the witnesses because of documents detailing VIP abuse disappearing in the past and under his watch as home secretary in the 1980s, appear not to have been properly investigated.

Normally people could celebrate the government tasking some action to find out what has been a hidden scandal in this country for decades. But they can’t until this mess over the inquiry is sorted out.

 

 

 

Is the Church of England getting the message on child sex abuse survivors?

Justin Welby: Is the church getting the message?

Justin Welby: Is the church getting the message?

Whisper it not too loudly but is the Church of England finally getting the message that it needs to fundamentally change its attitude to child sex abuse survivors?

Nearly two years ago the then new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby,issued warm words and an apology for all the harm the church had done to people by its priests. He was also pressing before the government finally agreed for an overarching inquiry into child sexual abuse.

Now there are going to be new laws to ensure that training of everyone from a vicar to a bishop in safeguarding, the scrapping of time limits in bringing child sex abuse cases and looking at the funding of help for survivors.

As I report on the Exaro website

The CoE is also to change canon law to make bishops accountable for the safeguarding of children in their diocese for the first time since it broke away from the Roman Catholic church during the reign of King Henry VIII. The changes mark what one expert called a wholesale “re-writing” of the CoE’s policy towards safeguarding children in the wake of scandals over paedophile priests.

One spokesman from the Church said :“These measures are part of wider approach by the church based on what the survivors of sexual abuse want us to do. The whole impetus is on tackling the problem from the survivor’s point of view.”

All this is good progress in the right direction. But much will depend how it is enacted. Often directives from the top are not implemented by people on the ground. People must make sure that they are or otherwise it will not work and we could do without more public relations exercises.

The Church of England’s approach is not being replicated by the Roman Catholics as the recent stories about the Salesian Order revealed- with the appalling Salesian response to further examples of historic child sex abuse exposed by the police after Graham Wilmer, a survivor and now a member of the independent panel into child sexual abuse revealed them in his new book The Devil’s Advocate.

The next few months will be  telling for the Church and the independent inquiry.

 

Ever play bingo, go to the pub,do shopping: no patient transport for you

Campaigners for better patient transport at transportforall assembly in London on October 7 pic credit: Christa Holka

Campaigners for better patient transport at transportforall assembly in London on October 7 pic credit: Christa Holka

A damning report, Sick of Waiting  by the transportforall, the excellent body campaigning for disabled people to have proper access to transport across the capital, reveals what everybody thought but nobody knew: disabled people have a lousy patient transport service in London.

As I report in this week’s Tribune magazine a survey of 200 disabled patients found that 37 per cent had missed an appointment due to failures by patient transport and almost half had arrived late for appointments over the past two years. Nearly all of this, as the report shows, was provided by newly privatised services.

A staggering 90 per cent had never been told that they could be eligible for financial help to get to hospital under the Healthcare Travel Costs Scheme while more than half were never told about patient transport when they booked an appointment.

But the health trust that really took the biscuit was Hillingdon Hospital Trust.Not only did they provide one of the worst personal examples of being ultra unhelpful – but they revealed that they had a questionnaire to weed out those they did not want to provide patient transport.

The personal case involved Robin who had previously been taken to hospital by a brother and Hillingdon expected this to continue. But the brother had moved to Spain. And guess what, Hillingdon expected him to come back and take her ( no doubt quoting cheap flights by easyjet – I made that latter point up!)

But the most extraordinary example was the disclosure through a freedom of information request was a questionnaire used by Hillingdon to assess whether people should get patient transport in the first place.

This included the questions ” Do you go shopping?” and “do you ever (my emphasis) go to the pub/cinema/ bingo? “

I put this to the press office of Hillingdon and they replied: “The Trust does not discriminate against any of its patients. On occasion – for example where someone is very clearly able-bodied – the hospital’s transport team will ask people how they usually get around.

“This is to see if they are capable of getting to and from hospital without using patient transport as we want to ensure this valuable resource is available for those that really need it. This is in line with guidance from the Department of Health.”

I then sent back their own response to the FOI which listed the questionnaire they gave to ALL patients requiring transport. And the press office admitted they didn’t even know about it when they replied disclaiming the story.

They promised the transport manager would respond. And then they found he had taken leave of absence. So might I if a pesky journo was asking embarrassing questions about a dodgy practice.

Perhaps Hillingdon is overrun with bingo playing, binge drinking, shopaholics all demanding hospital appointments, but I very much doubt it.

Of course not all trusts were as bad as Hillingdon. The report praised Guys and St Thomas’s NHS Foundation Trust for its excellently managed patient transport service and the Royal Marsden came out well.

But far too many didn’t and some of the stories of the way disabled people were treated were callous and heart breaking.

Transportforall is laying down a new patients charter, demanding minimum standards, minimum waiting times and real transparency about the services provided by the private  and public sectors. Nor is this confined to London. The report cites problems in Kent, Manchester,Dorset, Devon, Cornwall, Coventry, Somerset, Lincolnshire, Derbyshire, Leeds and Suffolk..

It is time this issue went right up the political agenda. As the report says:” a national solution is needed”.

What about it, Jeremy Hunt and Andy Burnham?

 

 

 

Hacking trial :Charlie Brooks and Kuttner’s Costs Application Rejected : Judge’s statement in full

davidhencke:

Peter Jukes reports here that Mr Justice Saunders has rejected claims totalling £630,000 from the taxpayer for costs by Charlie Brooks and Stuart Kuttner. Both were acquitted in the hacking trial. But the judge says they put themselves under suspicion and he refused their applications. The judge is right in my view. The judge’s ruling is published in full in this blog.

Originally posted on Live Tweeting the hacking trial:

While News UK withdrew, at the last minute, their £10-20 million application for costs for Brooks and other corporately defended clients, the claim by Charlie Brooks and Stuart for their private expenses has also been rejected my Mr Justice Saunders today: his full decision is below. Charlie had claimed half a million for his defence, while Stuart Kuttner £130,000  for his individual costs.

Meanwhile, Private Eye has added more detail to the reason News UK withdrew it’s cost application ten days ago,

View original 8,944 more words

Banned by the British courts: A VIP’s book on how he was sexually abused

In an era when child sexual abuse is literally coming out of the closet, an extraordinary decision has been taken by a British court to ban a book from an eminent performing artist on how he survived abuse as a child.

A judge has upheld an injunction bought by the man’s son to avoid publication on the grounds it would cause psychological damage to his son if the public knew about his father’s early life at school.

I am indebted to the excellent Inforrm blog for this story.You can read the full report by Dan Tench, a lawyer from Olswang, here.

The book was described in court as Inforrm reports as bringing together these terrible experiences “in an artistic and insightful way” and to be in “striking prose” and, it was said, contained “an important message of encouragement to those who have suffered similar abuse to speak about their past”.

But the man had a son by a marriage now dissolved.  That son lived abroad (in a country quaintly termed “Ruritania” in the judgment) with his mother.  The son suffered from a combination of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Asperger’s, Dysgraphia and Dyspraxia.  Two psychologists said that the publication of the book revealing such details of his father would be likely to “exert a catastrophic effect on [his] self-esteem and to cause him enduring psychological harm”.

The injunction was granted by Lady Justice Arden using a bizarre piece of English law. As Dan Tench reports that:

“the publication of the book would be contrary to the tort of intentionally inflicting mental suffering as originally established in Wilkinson v Downton [1897] QB 57.  Amazingly, this ground was sufficient for the boy to secure his injunction.

Wilkinson v Downton is a legal curiosity well-known to legal students.  In it, a man as a practical joke had told a woman that her husband had had a serious accident.  She had responded badly to the information and had suffered nervous shock.  She was entitled to recover compensation for the psychological damage.  It appears to remain good law, albeit rather rarely used.”

To fit the bill Lady Justice Arden decided this should apply if the claim was true rather than false and that because of the internet the boy could read it. As she put it : “the relevant information was disseminated to the world at large, provided there was a risk that it would be received by the boy (he was said to be “computer savvy” and may read it via the Internet). “

Finally the argument was used, among others, that the boy might visit London and be able to see a copy of the book.

Dan Tench concludes “The judgement is perhaps best seen as simply a rogue decision which hopefully will be quickly put out of its misery by the Supreme Court.  But if not, we have a precedent binding on the courts of first instance and the Court of Appeal which will cause all manner of difficulties.”

I would go much further. To my mind to ban a book using case law based on practical jokers to stop someone writing about child sexual abuse is a sick joke in itself. I hope this outrageous ban is lifted as soon as possible.

Update: Today the Telegraph reports that a group of eminent authors including William Boyd and sir Tom Stoppard have objected to the ban.

 

What have the Germans ever given us

De La Warr  Pavilion, Bexhill on Sea, a German architect's contribution to Britain

De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill on Sea, a German architect’s contribution to Britain

The Germans have never had a particularly good press in Britain. They are traditionally presented as the ravaging Hun after we fought two world wars against them in the last century.They can be  stereotyped as brutal, beer swilling technocrats with no sense of humour and always obeying orders.

And no one has forgotten the 1966 World Cup – when England beat Germany 4-2 – though many might be happy to forget the 2010 World Cup when Germany beat England 4-1.

Yet there is another side to all this. The German contribution to Great Britain – what contribution you might ask?

There is an eye-opening exhibition organised by the Migration Museum Project at the German Historical Institute in Bloomsbury Square, London, that tells a different story. You have probably not heard of either, so if you are a passionate supporter of UKIP look away now because this is no story of EU benefit  scroungers rushing to Britain to take our jobs and squander taxpayers’ money.

Rather it is a tale of how German immigrants to Britain have created jobs,iconic buildings, boosted trade between the two countries and made us laugh and cry and fought for women’s rights. I have to declare an interest as you would guess from my name – Hencke – I am from part German descent and my great grandfather came to Britain around 1863 and I am afraid, UKIP supporters,subsequent generations  have stayed here ever since.

Indeed this exhibition reveals that in Britain’s first census in 1861 German immigrants were the largest group of immigrants , amounting to 28,644 people, just 0.09 per cent of the population. By 2011 there were 273,654 German born Brits, amounting to 0.43 per cent of the population.

The most fascinating part of the exhibition is the less familiar contributions from German immigrants. Two German chemists built London’s first gas works, the iconic and now listed De la Warr Pavilion in Bexhill on Sea was designed by a German architect, and one of the leading suffragettes, Kitty Marion (Katerina Shafer) was a German immigrant.

And there are many German academics, traders dating back to the Hanseatic League in 1300, and the big wave of Jewish immigration in the 1930s after the persecution by the Nazis.

Less well-known is that there is also a German speaking Somali and Vietnamese population in the UK, people who came as asylum seekers to Germany and have moved to Britain.

And yes there are stand up German comedians in Britain – you can watch one, Henning Wehn, on  a video – and he is funny!

All this is a real antidote to the anti-immigration frenzy sweeping the country, showing the benefits to Britain rather than harping on the horrors of immigration ruining our society.

The exhibition is on in London until October 24, times are on the German Historical Institute website (link above) and admission is free. The exhibition  will move to Manchester and Belfast later.