Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Last hopes of Celtic Energy clean-up near vanishing point

My post of last month mentioned hopes that at least two of the scars left by Celtic Energy's open-cast mining in the county borough might be restored. This BBC report, which includes an illustration of the grim legacy, dashes them.

Local Labour councillors, who were so enthusiastic about the developments and praised the company's promised restitution scheme to the skies, should examine their consciences.

But the major part of the blame lies with the last Labour government in Westminster in actually legislating for the accounting entities which widened the scope for financial sleight-of-hand, for the coalition government in not closing them down again and for the failure of the financial conduct and supervisory authorities under both governments to enforce what law there is in this area.

Recall of MPs: the Lords should pick up the pass dropped by the Commons

The Upper House today begins discussion of the Recall Of MPs Bill, and later will consider amendments to send back to the Commons. It is to be hoped that their lordships will fill the hole at the heart of the Bill, namely that the people of a constituency may not initiate the recall of their member, which one would have thought was the primary purpose. In this era of fixed five-year parliaments there is even more need to put this weapon in the hands of the electorate than there was before 2010.

It should not be left to the Commons to "mark their own homework". (The report of the Commons Third Reading debate begins at Column 649 in the Hansard of 24th November,)

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Basic post office accounts saved

The Liberal Democrat Minister for Pensions Steve Webb announced to the House this afternoon that the Post Office Card Account will continue for a further seven years. This basic service, as I have posted before, enables people who cannot practically or absolutely make use of the commercial banks to receive the full range of benefits from the government to which they are entitled. The move also protects the Post Office network.

There are over 2 million POCA holders in the UK. Regrettably, the minister has asserted that he does not maintain statistics per constituency, so he must have done a special search for Jenny Willott in order to tell her that there are 4,000 POCA holders in Cardiff Central, and a similar service for some of the other questioners in the Commons. I would love to know what the figures are for this end of Wales - I suspect they might be rather higher than in Cardiff, in proportion to the population.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Sell software in the EU over the 'net? There are big VAT changes in less than three weeks' time.

The VAT rules for digital downloads are changing from January 1st 2015. This 
will affect everyone.

If you sell even a single item in Europe you will be affected, even if you 
are well under the VAT threshold.

They changed the law so that the VAT must be paid in the purchaser's 
country, not the seller's. This was intended to catch out companies like 
Amazon who sell from Luxembourg where the VAT is lower.

But they never realised that this will catch out the tiny one-person 
businesses as well. They've only just noticed that it will even hit people 
like housewives earning pin money while looking after the kids. So they 
haven't even told them about the change!

If you sell a song, an ebook, an app, a knitting pattern, anything like 
that, you have two choices: (I am not a lawyer, this is my understanding of 
the situation).

1> Check which country the purchaser is in. Make sure you are registered for 
VAT in that country and pay them the VAT. Some countries have a zero 
threshold for registration. And you have to check the country for every sale 
just in case.

2> Register with the 'VAT Mini One Stop Shop' the government have set up, 
which will handle the details for you. However to do this you will have to: 
Register for VAT here (though you won't have to pay VAT here until you hit 
the threshold). For every single sale, collect two non-conflicting pieces of 
evidence of which country they are in. Retain this data for 10 years. Since 
this makes you a data controller, register for that (and pay the annual fee) 
as well. Oh, and find a sales package that will handle all this for you 
(Hint: there aren't any yet).

Many people have already said that they will simply have to stop trading.

And it is intended to make the same change for physical sales, in a year's 

There's a fuller explanation of all this here:

ansible@cix has some useful links here:

And search for the hashtag #VATMOSS

Thanks to rafe at for the above warning. What makes the situation worse is that the HMRC automated telephone hotline did not recognise enquiries about the one-stop shop until Radio 4's Money Box followed up a listener's complaint earlier this month.

Bank of Scotland double-charged mortgagees, maybe committed fraud

There was disturbing news last week that Britain's biggest mortgage-lender had, contrary to a legal ruling, double-charged some of its customers in Northern Ireland.

The original [civil] case focused on the way the bank added arrears to the initial mortgage borrowing.

That is a standard practice for tackling arrears and is known as capitalisation. It has the effect of increasing borrowers' monthly repayments. The judge ruled that once capitalisation had taken place, the mortgage should no longer be considered as in arrears. However, the bank continued to treat such mortgages as in arrears and used that as the basis for bringing legal cases. The judge said this meant borrowers had been held in fear and were being threatened with repossession on account of an "erroneous and fictional arrears balance".

The province's chief law officer has now taken an interest and believes that a criminal act has been committed. There is more detail here.

BBC Radio's personal finance guru, Paul Lewis, reckoned that the aggrieved mortgage-holders were able to defend themselves against the bank's effort to repossess their properties because up until now legal aid has been available for this kind of civil case in Northern Ireland. This has not been so in England & Wales for some time, so it is likely that the bank will get away with it if it has been ripping off its customers here.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

A new inequality - and the gap is widening

Today is the centenary of Alan Bullock. Born in Wiltshire, but educated in Yorkshire, he was an influential historian who also founded St Catherine's College Oxford. He initially made his name with a biography of Hitler which the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography sniffily suggests was superseded by others' research. However, he was ready to take this on board and towards the end of his career produced a mighty parallel biography of Stalin and Hitler.

The ODNB notification landed in my in-box as I was catching up on the Thinking Allowed episode ( in which Peter Hennessy and Danny Dorling discussed the means to break into the Establishment first by the Butler 1944 Education Act (Hennessy reckoned that he was part of a golden generation) and the comprehensive revolution in England and Wales (Dorling confessed that he would not have passed the 11-plus). Before those changes, there was the opportunity offered to working-class young men and women by the great mixing of the second world war mobilisation, which was taken by Bullock and others of his generation. (On a personal note, if the son of a ship's steward from Merseyside and the daughter of a master at a venerable private school in south Wales had not both joined up and met in an army camp in Kent in wartime, I would not be here now.)

Both Dorling and Hennessy felt that, barring another war, such chances of climbing the ladder into the elite were steadily being eroded. I would add that bringing back the grammar schools (and secondary modern and technical schools for the rejects) would not recreate the conditions of 1945. The big advance was not the opening up of the grammar schools, but providing free secondary education.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Cuba revolution re-enacted on the streets of New York

Fifty years ago. this happened:

United Nations Headquarters was fired upon yesterday with a 3.5-inch bazooka from across the East River. The attack coincided with a demonstration by anti‐Communist Cubans at the front entrance against the presence of [Che Guevara]

Footnote the original bazooka was a musical instrument.