Sunday 20 December 2015

The Government's forthcoming review of home schooling - an opinion!

Nicky Morgan's review of home education as a means of preventing the radicalisation of children needs to be cautious, to avoid throwing out the baby with the bath water!  Whilst there may be worries about such radicalisation, it is certainly not the case that all home educated children are radicalised in any way, and indeed many kids benefit from the home education environment.  The news stories about the review made me think back to my own experience of home education with my son, who is now approaching 30 years old.

My son was home educated because of bullying in a village school that no-one would deal with despite several children suffering this and ultimately being removed from the school by their parents. Not the head teacher, the governors, the PTA, the LEA, no-one, so we opted for home ed for him from age 7-16.

Our home ed was nothing to do with radicalisation, it was all about doing what was best for my son. When a child is so traumatised by school that he cries all the way there and people stop you in the street and ask you if he is OK you know there is something badly wrong!

Home ed allows families to educate their children according to the needs of the child. The current school framework of one size fits all doesn't work for all children!

The charity Education Otherwise were a fantastic support to us as a family. At that time there were 22 home ed families in the county we live in, so having EO there as a support network was invaluable to us at the start, and being able to help and support other families as we went through our home ed. years was rewarding in itself.

During the home ed years we had inspections by the LEA which were supposed to last about an hour. The inspections were designed to check how well the child was doing, and how well the parents were providing the education. Without exception the inspectors who came to see us were very supportive. None of our inspections lasted an hour. Most were around 2 hours, the longest was just over 5 hours, as my son and the inspector were so involved in everything he'd been doing they totally forgot the time. The inspector was enthralled by our way of home ed - he was, he told me, a former head teacher who had been seconded to the county's education welfare team as an inspector.

One of things which we discovered was that the National Curriculum did not apply to home educated children, in the same way as it did not apply to children educated at private (i.e. fee paying schools) - only pupils at state-funded schools were subject to it.

Home Education Guidelines (taken from

The Government's home education guidelines say that the parent is not required to provide any particular type of education and is under no obligation to:
  • teach the National Curriculum
  • provide a broad and balanced education
  • have a timetable
  • have premises equipped to any particular standard
  • set hours during which education will take place
  • have any specific qualifications
  • make detailed plans in advance
  • observe school hours, days or terms
  • give formal lessons
  • mark work done by their child
  • formally assess progress or set development objectives
  • reproduce school type peer group socialisation
  • match school-based, age-specific standards.
The clear message we read was, if it's not good enough for the children of those who rule the country (most politicians seem to have been privately educated and send their kids to private schools), it's not good enough for any kids! So we devised our own curriculum which included not just the academic subjects but also creative arts, and lots of fun science stuff.

Bear in mind, if you will, that we began home ed before the internet was widely available to families, so we used books a lot; we visited libraries, museums, art galleries; we walked a lot, peered at plants and wildlife, collected leaves and pine cones, and explored the great outdoors. Later we were able to benefit from having access to the internet, although in 1998 this was still on a very slow pay as you go dial up service, unlike today's superfast always-on broadband connections.

Despite not being a religious family we felt that socialisation with other kids was needed, so my son joined the local Boys' Brigade troop, won several awards during his time there, became a squad leader and later a corporal, he learned First Aid, table tennis and chess with them, went on camps with them, went fishing in the English Channel with them, and completed the challenging West Lowland Hike as part of the local BB team. He remembers,
"One year I was in the second team for the West Lowland Hike at Muirkirk, a two-day endurance walk, in which we finished 33rd out of around 50 teams. I gained my President's Badge and my Duke of Edinburgh Bronze Award whilst in the BB. "
One of the noticeable things about him as a result of his home education was that he feels comfortable chatting with people of any age, not just his peer age group. This is something I have noticed very much in home ed families, that the kids adopt a more equal and mature attitude to others. I recall long conversations he would have in shops or when we were out and about, where at any age he would happily and confidently discuss all sorts of issues with complete strangers, no shyness at all and no feeling that because he was younger his views were invalid.

At the age of eleven he decided he might like to attend a secondary school, so we went and checked some out. He wasn't impressed with what he saw so decided to continue home ed. The teen years were more challenging, but then teenage years usually are regardless of whether a child is home educated or at a school, as there are all the hormone changes happening as well as everything else!

We worked through all the stuff that kids in schools were doing but we did it at home, and included all the extra stuff we'd always done. Come the time he was 16 we had another decision to make - what to do about exams? If we did them from home the LEA would charge us £70 per GCSE exam which, as there would be 5 or 6 of them, we simply couldn't manage at the time. The other option was to do them at a local college where we would not be charged, and that's the route we went down. Lancaster & Morecambe College were intrigued by the idea of having a home educated student - he would be their first - a guinea pig, if you like!  Yes he could do English, Maths, IT etc... but no he could not do a Science GCSE as, in the college's opinion, this could not be satisfactorily taught at home (no labs or chemicals!) He could though, do a lower level Science course, which we finally agreed to, under protest.

At the end of the year he successfully sat his GCSEs and passed them all, along with the Science course, and received two awards for achievement in the annual prize-giving, along with his GCSE certificates! We also received an apology from the Science tutor, who admitted that his refusal to allow my son to take the Science GCSE had been wrong, his words were, "he would have walked it!"  So you can teach science at home, and we had done so, very successfully!  A-levels followed, along with a successful application to university.

So, our experience shows that home ed is not a disadvantage for kids, but that the attitudes of the establishment towards home education certainly can be a disadvantage. I would urge Nicky Morgan to tread carefully in any review of home education provision, and in particular, to protect the right of parents to opt for home ed if they believe their kids will benefit from it.

The right to educate your children at home was originally enshrined in the 1944 Education Act which said,
"It shall be the duty of the parent of every child of compulsory school age to cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable to his age, ability and aptitude, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise." 
Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 confirmed this right by saying,
"The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable (1) to his age, ability and aptitude, and (2) to any special educational needs he may have, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise." 
It's important that parents continue to have the right to make this important choice on behalf of their children!

Thursday 12 November 2015

Finding out: Was Winnie the Pooh real?

I have been a huge fan of AA Milne's Winnie the Pooh stories since I was a small child, so imagine my delight when I discovered that Winnie was based on a real bear, and not, as I had always thought, a toy one.

The real Winnie was a Canadian bear, bought by Harry Colebourn, a Canadian veterinarian serving in the Army, early in the First World War, and named Winnie after his hometown, the Canadian city of Winnipeg. She was also a female bear not, as written by AA Milne, a male one!

So who was the real Winnie and how do we know about her story? Enter Lindsay Mattick, Harry's great-granddaughter, and she has written a book which tells the story, based on the war diaries kept by Harry. Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear sets the record straight about the origins of one of literature's best-loved characters, and is delightfully illustrated by Sophie Blackall.

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear was published last week and is available on Amazon in hardback and Kindle formats.


Thursday 1 October 2015

The Labour Movement in Westmorland

All across Facebook folks are sharing status under the heading, "International Book Week", so it's interesting to see the range of books people are reading.
My current read is "The Labour Movement in Westmorland" by David Clark, which is a fascinating history of the Labour Party and Labour movement in an area long considered to be first a Tory and then a LibDem stronghold.
This fascinating books tells the story of Labour in Westmorland, from the earliest days of the Party through the years of the first world war and the 1926 General Strike, covering the visits by Sir Oswald Mosley's fascist blackshirts in the 1930s, the campaign by the county's first (and only!) female parliamentary candidate in 1935, the second world war and post-war austerity, through to the labour unrest of the 1970s and 1980s, and the fight for the party's survival locally in the 1990s and beyond the millennium.
A wealth of interesting characters populate the book, some surprising tales emerged, and the photos added to my delight as did knowing some of the people mentioned.
If you thought that Labour never happened in Westmorland, then this book will enlighten you. Well worth a read!
"The Labour Movement in Westmorland" 
by David Clark, Lord Clark of Windermere
Lensden Publishing 2012
ISBN 978 0955199295


Saturday 12 September 2015

Awake the Dragon!

Today is a significant one for me. There is a new Leader of the Labour Party. One who will, I believe, bring the party back to its roots and make changes for the better for society as a whole.  Because of this I have decided to cease political posts on this blog and instead have set up a new blog for political and social issues. If you want to follow my thoughts in these areas you will find the new blog at

This blog will continue as the ramblings of my creative side. Thanks for reading so far, and I hope you will stick with me here and perhaps also dip your toes into the other blog! 

Sunday 16 August 2015

Lies, damn lies, and newspaper headlines...

Today's Daily Mail / Mail on Sunday article on coffee, which unjustifiably attacked Laura Alvarez the wife of Labour leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn, serves to highlight two of the many things which are wrong with the current system. Namely (1) that the global price of commodities is fixed by the stock market not by the producer, and (2) newspapers think they have the right to sling mud at innocent people and get away with it.  

Coffee is the 2nd largest commodity market in the world!

(1)  Coffee is one of many things that is traded on what is called the commodities market. The price then set by the brokers often bears little relation to the actual cost of production incurred by the coffee growers, it's all about the brokers. In years where the harvest does well the commodity price drops, in years where there is a poor harvest then it rises. None of this takes account of the needs of the sole farmer growing his crop and facing local issues such as weather conditions, diseases, labour costs, living expenses, etc. 

To read an interesting article on how the commodities price for coffee works see here:
and to see which other commodities are priced in the same way, see the NASDAQ page here:

Fair Trade coffee sets a floor, or base price, below which the price paid to farmers must not fall, but even that can leave huge discrepancies in income versus production costs for the farmers themselves because it is still based on the commodities system. The only way to improve things is to do away with the commodities market and set up a better system that actually benefits those who produce the product (i.e. farmer and workers) rather than those dealers on the stock markets.

The Mail headline claims that Cafe Mam is Laura Alvarez' business. 


(2) Ms Alvarez's business is called Mexica Products Ltd, which, according to DueDil, "was founded on 17 Jun 2013. The organisation's status is listed as "Active" and it currently has one director. Its founding director was Ms Laura Alvarez Tonis.  Mexica Products Ltd does not have any subsidiaries."  The company is listed as a Wholesaler of Coffee, Tea, Cocoa and Spices. Ms Alvarez is not listed as an owner or a staff member of Cafe Mam! 

Cafe Mam is an American business, base in Eugene, Oregon. The history and ownership of  Cafe Mam is given on their own website as follows,
This story begins in 1982, when a group of farmers in Mexico read a magazine article in the Co-evolution Quarterly about New Growth Forestry, a worker-owned cooperative pioneering in stream restoration work in northern California. They were interested in learning how to teach erosion control in Mexico. This group of farmers invited one of New Growth’s members, Dahinda Meda (Café Mam founder), to visit them in Tlascala, Mexico, and teach classes on erosion control. In 1987, two of Dahinda’s students from that class, Jose and Marta, became advisors on organic techniques to the recently formed coffee cooperative, ISMAM (Indigenas de la Sierra Madre de Motozintla).

In 1989, ISMAM harvested its first certified organic crop of coffee, and because of the connection with Jose and Marta, Dahinda purchased the first 37,500-pound container of coffee from ISMAM (invoice # 0001). Thus, Café Mam was born.
If you want to know more about the coffee market, and Fair Trade principles, this is well-worth a read:

The dirty tricks brigade!

The reason that Ms Alvarez has been singled out for this unjustified attack is that she is the wife of the man whom that newspaper does not want to become the next leader of the Labour Party!  So, if they cannot denigrate him and his policies they will attack his family. Next will be his ex-wives, his children, his parents, and possibly even his grand-parents! 

It is a shame that journalists sink to such depths, but it also demonstrates just how rattled the established media is by the prospect of Jeremy Corbyn being elected leader of the Labour Party.  

Meanwhile, it remains to be seen whether or not the Daily Mail will apologise for its error in the same large print in which the allegation appeared, or even if it will apologise at all!

Saturday 15 August 2015

Re-awakening the sleeping dragon...

Are we nearing the end of Labour Party?  If you read some of the doom-sayers and fear-mongerers in the mainstream media you might think that the party, nay the whole world, might implode if the Labour leadership election is won by Jeremy Corbyn rather than one of the other three candidates.  But the astonishing support at his rallies throughout the country has reawakened the sleeping dragon in the heart of the Labour Party.

Ordinary members of the party who, for far too long, have felt distanced from policy making, or who have been disillusioned by austerity politics, have come alive with all the fervour of missionaries and are determined to bring the Labour Party back to government as the party which represents and cares about people.

The Party needs to stand together and bring those who have drifted to the right, or who been seduced by the politics of austerity, back into the fold.  Remember that many of them have only known a Labour Party run by Blairites, and if they do not know the party's history and what it (and we) stand for, then of course they are going to disagree.

Remember too that we have years of press and media brainwashing, of those within and outside of the party, to counter, which has drawn a picture of benefits' claimants as scroungers and workshy, painted immigrants as dangerous terrorists, and the old, sick and disabled as being a drain on the public purse.  This is what we have to reverse! 

Our task will be to help people to understand what Labour values are all about. To have a Labour government we need to garner the trust of the people across the political spectrum and persuade them to vote Labour rather than Green, UKIP or LibDem. There are members of other parties agreeing with some of the policies that Jeremy has put forward, so we need to build on that, and try and create a better society. We also need to convince those who did not vote at the last election, or who have never voted, that they should vote for a Labour government.

We want to be able to build a more caring and compassionate society, where we do not have people living in fear of benefits cuts and sanctions, or of being made homeless or struggling to afford their home due to the bedroom tax. We need to explain that a hard decision for many in today's society is not choosing between a holiday at Disneyworld or one in Marbella, it is having to make the choice between feeding their children or paying their rent.  That the sheer effort of getting through from day to day, or week to week, puts an enormous strain on the physical and mental health of families and individuals struggling to cope, and that we all, as a civilised society in a first world country, have a duty of care and compassion to others.

There are some within the party who will never agree with us, the Blairs and the Mandelsons of this world, but they are few and we are many. When Jeremy wins the leadership we will have the opportunity to make change happen. We need to stay strong and focused and spread the word that a better time will come.

Friday 14 August 2015

Disparaging other candidates: playground behaviour or grown up debate?

I am truly shocked at reading the attacks on Jeremy Corbyn by the other candidates,  Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall, as reported widely on the BBC and in other media.

Mr Burnham, Ms Kendall and Ms Cooper need to take note that under the Code of Conduct for the Leadership Election, to which they agreed by standing, no candidate or any member of their campaign team is permitted to "to disparage or brief against any other candidate". *

And the Code also says in respect of the election process, "This does not preclude candidates undertaking press, Radio or TV interviews, though under no circumstances should any candidate disparage any other aspiring candidate." **

This is a grown up leadership election and candidates should not be name-calling like children in the schoolyard. If candidates cannot behave like decent human beings then they are not worthy of the support of party members and are guilty of bringing both the Labour Party and the election process into disrepute. 

Source: C. Elections for Leader and Deputy Leader 2015 - Candidate Code of Conduct
* Para 3   ** Para 13    Issued by the Labour Party.

"Why on earth is he suddenly the bloody messiah?"

A friend of a friend on Facebook made the following comment about Labour leadership candidate, Jeremy Corbyn, "He's made no impact in 22 years as an MP apart from campaigning to ban the importation of foie gras. Why on earth is he suddenly the bloody messiah?"

Overlooking the inaccuracy of  the remark "in 22 years as an MP" (he has actually been there for 32 years, maiden speech 1st July, 1983),  I have to say that there is much more to Jeremy Corbyn than just an aversion to pate!

He has one of the highest levels of support from voters in any constituency in the country, and in the recent election managed to increase his majority to around 21,000,  an increase of almost 6% on 2010.  Not many Labour MP's managed that, did they?

He is very aware that the money he spends as an MP on his office, staff and expenses comes from our taxes, and he is as careful with it as he can be, which is why he has one of the lowest expenses records of all 650 Westminster MPs.  He is often seen travelling around London on his bicycle or on the bus, as this is both economical and environmentally friendly.  How many MPs do you meet on the bus?  

His strong advocacy for the rights of women, LGBT persons, and ethnic groups has been in evidence since his arrival in Parliament, and his support for maintaining a publicly funded NHS that provides the best service available free at the point of use goes has its origins in his days as a NUPE full time official. 

He has campaigned on behalf of many victims of miscarriages of justice, and is passionate about protecting the poor, the vulnerable, and our human rights.  Just recently, as one of the 48 Labour MPs who really understand that the opposition party's role is to oppose and not to abstain, he voted against the Tory's Welfare Reform Bill, when the official party line was to abstain.

He has been travelling around to rallies (around 70 of them so far in a matter of 7 weeks), attracting crowds of up to 2,000 people in (and sometimes outside of!) huge venues all round the country,  all of whom are wanting to hear him speak, because what he says resonates with them.

He is connecting with and inspiring people who had walked away from the Party under the Kinnock, Blair, Brown, Miliband leaderships,  and bringing them back to the party, but more than that, he is inspiring a whole generation of youngsters who have not seen anything worth voting for in recent elections and who felt that politics wasn't relevant to them as no-one listened to their points of view anyhow.  He listens.

Thousands of new members have flocked to join, or return to, the Labour Party as full members, registered supporters or as trade union member supporters as they re-engage with the political process, so that the number eligible to vote in the Leadership election is now over 610,000.

Come 12th September the final result will be in, and the party will have a new leader.  Until then, just watch and wait, and take notice of how many people are actually talking about politics again, is this something we can call "the Jeremy effect"? 

Sunday 9 August 2015

Do you feel the other political parties don't represent you?

Or are you a lapsed and disillusioned Labour supporter?  

If either is the case, and you want to support a movement to bring politics back to the people then why not support Jeremy Corbyn's campaign for Leadership of the Labour Party?  Jeremy has been speaking to packed venues throughout the country over the past 6 weeks or so. 

His message is simple: austerity does not work, people deserve better, we can make a difference.  If you agree with him then why not join the campaign for Jeremy for Leader?  If you are on Facebook you can join the support group I'm backing Jeremy Corbyn or follow / support the campaign on Twitter

Simply follow this link to sign up as a supporter of the Labour Party
or here to join as a full member

Being a supporter will cost you just  £3 (minimum - you can pay more if you want). That's less than the cost of a high street coffee in most places!  Full membership rates vary depending on age, and whether or not you are working, retuired, unwaged, etc...  

Being either a supporter or a full member will give you a vote in the leadership & deputy leadership elections, and for London Mayor Labour candidate if you live in London. But you must sign up before 12 noon on Wednesday 12th August to ensure you have a vote.

If you care about this country and want to help make a difference, then it makes sense to add your voice to the 140,000+ supporters who have joined Labour since the leadership campaign began.

Saturday 8 August 2015

Being a left-wing nuisance is necessary and desirable

Becoming involved once more in the politics of the Labour Party, and the election for its new leader has given me much to think about over the past weeks. Coming from a trades union background (USDAW), serving on trades councils, and being appointed as a national officer for BTOG at, what was then, a very young age for such a job (26) I met and worked with many committed trades unionists who were considerably older than I was. Indeed, many were old enough to be my parent or even grand-parent, in some instances! 

Having that experience helped me to learn such a lot about the history of the Labour Party, from those involved, and what it stood for, and what it had achieved in the years before I was born. I enjoyed long chats with people who had been on the Aldermaston Marches, with people who had been involved with the NHS at its inception, and with those who had been involved with various labour disputes over the decades. It was, for me, where I honed my political beliefs, beliefs which I had first heard at the knee of my lifelong Socialist grandfather, who died when I was 10 years old.

One of the women with whom I had contact whilst working at USDAW was the late Audrey Wise (1935-2000), former MP for Coventry South West (1974-1979) and Preston (1987-2000). Audrey Wise teamed up with Jeff Rooker to draw up the Rooker-Wise  Amendment to the then Chancellor Denis Healey's 1977 finance bill. The Rooker-Wise Amendment "introduced retrospective inflation-proofing on tax allowances, which led to £450m being handed back to taxpayers." That was quite an achievement - two backbench MPs managing to over ride the plans of the Labour government's own Chancellor for the people. It made me realise that ordinary people could make changes happen if they stand up for what they believe in.

Audrey was a huge inspiration to me. She was never afraid to say what she thought, she spoke her mind, and stood firm for her principles. According to her obituary in The Guardian, "At Westminster in the 1970s she was regarded as something of a left-wing nuisance, a state of affairs that she viewed as necessary and desirable." In many ways Jeremy Corbyn reminds me of Audrey: firm in his beliefs, principled, straight talking, able to inspire people and to make them believe that they can make changes happen.  It's also what I believe in.

Thursday 6 August 2015

Less than a week to go... have you done it yet?

It is the final week for anyone to register as a supporter of, or to join as a member of, the Labour Party and have a vote in the forthcoming leadership and deputy leadership election. So if you are a supporter of the Party and want to have your say but have not got round to it yet, now is the time to do it!  The closing date is Wednesday 12th August, 2015, 12 noon. 
All fully paid up members, affiliated and registered supporters who have submitted their applications by noon on 12th August 2015 are eligible to vote. You can become the Labour Party’s newest member at and you can sign up as a registered supporter by heading to
Signing up as a supporter will cost you just a measly £3, full membership costs around £3.88 per month, with reduced rates for juniors, retired, unwaged, and trades union members.  For your support / membership you will be able to vote for 
  • Leader of the Party
  • Deputy Leader of the Party
  • London Mayor (if you live in London)

If you care about the Labour Party's future and share its values then why not add your support?  You can read more about the various membership options here:

Straight on for Jeremy Corbyn!

There is one candidate who has said the same thing from the outset, one man who set out his stall and has stuck to his word all the way through, which is why he has been speaking to packed rallies up and down the country, why thousands of people have been queuing to hear him speak, why thousands more have watched him live online, and why his support has been growing at a remarkable pace over the past weeks.

There is one man to lead the Labour Party: Jeremy Corbyn for Leader. 

Can you believe it!

Andy Burnham is to pledge that Labour will promise to axe university tuition fees if he becomes the party's leader.
So says the BBC, in another comment on the slippery road to political party leadership. 

This announcement looks like a desperate bid by Burnham to counter the support being given to fellow leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn, who has always opposed such tuition fees,  and who voted against their introduction from the outset!

Witch-hunting in the Party

A report on the BBC website states,
Harriet Harman has written to all Labour MPs asking them to check new members are not trying to skew the party's leadership contest.
Each MP has been sent a list of new members from their constituency so they can check for suspicious names.
If I had been told this casually I would have dismissed it as more media rubbish, but here on the BBC is the astonishing claim that Labour MPs are to vet new members and supporters to make sure they are genuine and not loony-lefties or Commies or other infiltrators.

It beggars belief that Ms Harman thinks this is a good idea - but then her last good idea was to recommend that Labour MPs abstain on the Tory's Welfare Bill vote - an idea so good that 48 Labour MPs who disagreed actually voted against her advice. Well done to them! 

So, Labour MPs are presumably to spend their Summer break whizzing around their constituency checking up on new signups. That will be fun for them!  Picture the scene... a knock at the door, householder opens the door to find Labour MP clutching a list and demanding to know if the householder is a Trotsky-ite, or a Communist, or a member of UKIP trying to undermine the leadership election process.  I can imagine what some of the responses would be to such an enquiry!  But seriously, how can it be proven?  And what happens in areas like mine, where there is no Labour MP?  Who is the poor muppet who gets sent to check then?  It is hardly going to endear the Labour Party to electors if it starts acting like the Witchfinder General! 

It is important to welcome new members and supporters into the party and to encourage participation in politics and policy making. Traditional Labour values are not redundant, despite the apparent shift away from them by a majority of current Labour MPs. There is a huge resurgence of interest in politics, more so than for the last two decades, and if the Labour Party temporary leader makes the wrong calls now she will be directly responsible for causing great damage to the Party. I would hope she would not want that on her conscience.

Same old, same old... blah blah blah

I keep reading comments, from various Labour MPs, that they will not serve in a Cabinet under Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister.  Personally, I think that's incredibly foolish of them to say so, and assumes that they are going to be asked to so serve!

The earliest that a GE should happen would be 2020 and those Labour MPs who are currently griping may lose their seats then, if the voters in their constituencies are as disillusioned with their performance as appears to be the case in many areas. Perhaps if I say Welfare Reform Bill and abstention, it might prick a few consciences!

But something else I have not heard mentioned anywhere is that, with the current resurgence in politics, amongst both the young and the not-so-young, disillusioned electorate, there is a strong chance that there will be a raft of new candidates standing on a traditional Labour values platform, who do win seats and who would be more than pleased to serve in a Corbyn-led Cabinet.

The pinky-blue Labour MPs need to think long and hard about where their true allegiances lie, about the harm they are doing to the people of this country, and whether they are truly representative of Labour values.

Sunday 2 August 2015

If Labour is not seen as an effective opposition, why will voters believe it will form an effective government?

Something that struck me just now is that Jeremy Corbyn, as the oldest of the 4 leadership candidates, experienced the Labour Party pre-Blair, as did I.  We were there during the Wilson years and the Foot years, we listened to Tony Benn, Ian Mikado and Dennis Skinner, and then we saw the rise of  Neil Kinnock and the arrival of Tony Blair and his cronies. At the time some thought that supporting Blair was the correct thing to do - he was young, charismatic and personable, the opposite of John Major, the grey man, and an antidote to the severely formidable Margaret Thatcher. Many thought that Blair was the new leader that the Party needed, that he would bring Labour values back to politics and lead the Party to the Promised Land. How wrong that turned out to be! 

Over the three terms of their government, Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson, Gordon Brown and their teams moved the Party further away from the core values of the Labour Party. To be fair, for the first 3 years Blair's administration did some good work:  it brought in the National Minimum Wage Act, the Human Rights Act and the Freedom of Information Act. It was the architect of the devolved Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales, and the Northern Ireland Assembly after the Good Friday Agreement.  They did not, however, rescind the anti-trades union legislation brought in by the previous Conservative government, but they did bring in changes in student fees,  welfare payments, and increased police powers of arrest and dispersal, and the taking and retaining of DNA samples. It can be argued that those areas indicate Blair's shifting to the right, politically speaking.

Blair's involvement in bringing peace to Northern Ireland needs to be recognised as a significant achievement, but his administration's subsequent meddling in Afghanistan and Iraq, in cahoots with the Bush administration in the USA, was nothing short of a disaster which has helped to destabilise the political situation in those countries and led to the deaths of far too many military personnel and civilians both there and in the subsequent terrorist attacks on British and American soil.

That their first landslide victory in 1997 (winning 418 out of a total of 659 seats) showed huge support for Tony Blair's policies and manifesto is not in dispute. He was hugely popular, and seen as the saviour of the nation by many. His second term as Prime Minister (2001 - winning 413 seats), which started with the invasion of Afghanistan and later of Iraq alongside the Americans, brought huge opposition from the public to the use of British troops and to the interference in the affairs of another nation state in effectively invading both countries. The third election which Labour won under Tony Blair in 2005 (with 355 seats), was the start of the real decline of Labour, and that opposition to war dented Blair's popularity and brought about his subsequent stepping down as Leader in 2007, when he was succeeded by Gordon Brown, formerly Blair's Chancellor.

If anyone was destined not to be PM it would be Gordon Brown. He, like Michael Foot before him, has a brilliant mind and is a most able man, but he did not inspire the country to suppport him. In many ways he inherited a poisoned chalice, as the tide had already turned against the Labour Party and he was too closely identified with the policies brought in under Blair. The public were disillusioned with policies which were only marginally less-Tory than those of the Conservatives themselves, and what were perceived as attacks on working people, whilst the Labour Party politicians themselves were viewed as political fatcats taking advantage of MPs expenses, allowances for housing, subsidised food and alcohol in the Palace of Westminster, and a host of other cosy benefits that made being an MP such a pleasant and lucrative occupation. Meanwhile, the very people whom the Labour Party professed to represent were suffering reduced incomes and increased housing and educational costs. Was it any wonder that Labour lost the next election in 2010?

Losing 91 seats in 2010 (down to 258 out of 650 after constituency boundary changes)  mainly to the Conservatives, should have been a wake up call to the Labour Party, but it wasn't. The reason being that many of the new intakes of MPs under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were of the same ilk, despite the change of leader to Ed Milliband.  They were not true Socialists, but were what has come to be referred to as pinky-blue Labour MPs. Much more to the right of the party, some being so-much so that questions have been asked as to why they ever joined the Labour Party in the first place! These MPs continued to support the Tory-lite policies of austerity, without providing an effective opposition to the new Conservative / Liberal Democratic coalition government. The removal of policy making from the Party conference to the Parliamentary Labour Party was an indicative of a schism between the members and its MPs, but this was apparently air-brushed over - something which was to lead to the catastrophic loss of seats in the 2015 General Election, where Labour lost all but one seat in Scotland, and dropped to a mere 232 seats overall out of the total of 650. 

This defeat triggered yet another leadership election, this time with three candidates who have been described as being from the pinky-blue group, and one lifelong left-wing Socialist, in the form of Jeremy Corbyn. Unlike Jeremy, the other three candidates have only ever known a Party run under Blairite lines. They are too young to have known pre-Blair Labour, so cannot really be blamed for the pinky-blue stance they have taken. But, and it is a huge but, if Labour is to regain its credibility with the people of this country and have a chance of once again forming a government it needs to move away from the pinky-blues. It needs to establish that it is a credible opposition, that it is not the Tories or Lib Dems under another name.  It is not enough to abstain when the Government introduces a measure which Labour disagrees with, it must oppose the measure with every means at its disposal.  It must fight to reverse the damaging measures which are being brought in by the current government: the welfare cuts, the privatisation of health services, the cutbacks in education, the slashing of public services. If Labour is not seen as an effective opposition, why will voters believe it will form an effective government?

It is my view, and here I am nailing my colours to the mast, that the only leadership candidate who has any hope of bringing the party back into credibility and gain the support of ordinary people in this country is Jeremy Corbyn. We need a Leader who is seen to be honest, open, genuine, credible, and ethical. What we do not need is another cloned Westminster bubble politician on the same gravy train as the other lot.

If you agree, please support Jeremy Corbyn's campaign here:

Saturday 6 June 2015

My replies to Money Box piece in Tweets

This is the series of tweets I sent from my business Twitter account after today's Money Box programme about the #EU #VATMOSS #VATMESS.

@vanessamock is the EU spokesperson on the programme, and @paullewismoney is the twitter contact given on the BBC's Money Box contact page.

From @AstarteWebDes
@vanessamock @paullewismoney 1. Digital sales #VAT change was suggested 6 yrs ago & internet marketplace has changed a lot since! #VATMESS

From @AstarteWebDes
@vanessamock @paullewismoney 2. Hardly any small digital biz were selling online from their own sites 6 years ago!

From @AstarteWebDes
@vanessamock @paullewismoney 3. Saying there is a "problem with the UK" + new VAT rules implies just UK biz whingeing, this is NOT true!

From @AstarteWebDes
@vanessamock @paullewismoney 4. EU will do nothing till Sept. 2015 which is too late for some biz who have already stopped trading. #vatmess

From @AstarteWebDes
@vanessamock @paullewismoney 5. Needs an immediate suspension of new rules whilst EU does its stuff. UK Govt can do this for us but will it?

From @AstarteWebDes
@vanessamock @paullewismoney 6. Unless #VATMESS is fixed fast there will be more casualties. Digital Single Marketplace needs this to work!

And the EU still doesn't get it!

I've just been listening to today's Money Box programme on BBC Radio 4, where Sarah Paine, a UK seller of digital cross-stitch patterns, explained the problems that the new #EU #VAT rules for digital cross-border sales have given her. I entirely sympathise with Sarah - she, like me and many thousands of others across the EU, is a victim of the "unforeseen consequences" as the EU puts it, of the 2015 #VAT rules changes - an issue which the EU VAT ACTION GROUP is campaigning to have amended.

The EU just don't get it! 

I was hugely disappointed in the response to Sarah's concerns that was given by the EU spokesperson, Vanessa Mock, Ms Mock said that no-one had objected before the new rules were brought in despite countries having every opportunity to do so  (she made no mention of how long ago that was and how the internet marketplace has changed in the intervening 6 years) and the statement that there is a "problem with the UK" thus ignoring the fact that sellers in other EU countries are also adversely affected by this (but have not yet been as vocal as we in the UK are, perhaps!)

Are we waving? No, we are drowning! 

The EU, said Ms Mock, will begin a public consultation in September 2015 to see what can be done to put things right. She did not say what EU small digital businesses are meant to do in the intervening months...  are we waving? no, we are drowning!

We have to somehow get the message across that it is not just the UK having a moan at Europe!

That EU people keep spouting forth that "you had ample chance to comment and didn't" totally ignores the fact that the EU is speaking to the UK govt. who DO NOT tell UK residents what is in the pipeline so we, as end users, do not have the chance to comment, or point out where there will be problems or insurmountable difficulties in complying with the new requirements.

How do we get our points of view across to the EU mandarins?

This is one of the big problems with applying EU rules to the UK... the lack of consultation and the lack of feedback between UK citizens and the EU. Yes we have #MEPs but they do not seem to tell us anything.  I cannot honestly remember seeing or hearing an MEP raise an issue which would affect UK businesses, and that is a parlous state of affairs. If MEPs are supposed to represent us, then we need to have more interaction with them in the same way as we can and do with our domestic MPs. Do MEPs have local surgeries at which folks can raise issues?  I have never heard of one in the North West where I live!

So we should tell our MEPs we have a problem, what then? 

I emailed all 8 of the NW MEPs on the 17th May 2015  (via the website) about the VAT issue, raising my concerns and asking that they raise the matter with the EU as a matter of urgency.

To date I have had the following responses:

Julie Ward MEP - auto-acknowledgement (18th May)

Louise Bours MEP - brief reply saying, "agree that the EU Vat proposals are not beneficial to UK businesses and they will not support them in any vote. Ultimately of course, UKIP would withdraw from the EU and regain control over VAT, via our own Parliament." (18th May)

Afzal Khan MEP  - auto-acknowledgement (18th May)

Paul Nuttall MEP - no reply whatsoever!

Sajjad Karim MEP -  no reply whatsoever!

Steven Woolfe MEP -  no reply whatsoever!

Theresa Griffin MEP - brief reply saying, "Thank you for your email on the changes to VAT. In order to increase efficiency and productivity, the Labour MEPs for the North West have divided the constituency in terms of casework. My colleague Julie Ward has responsibility for Westmorland and Lonsdale. I have spoken to my colleagues in his office and have asked them to look into your case. They will revert to you shortly." (20th May)

Jacqueline Foster MEP - detailed reply from her office as follows, "Thank you for your email. 
Conservative MEPs have, this week, again called on the EU and national governments to address some of the devastating problems caused by new rules for VAT collection. Mrs Foster is particularly concerned that the so-called Vatmoss rules are driving small-scale online entrepreneurs out of business by obliging them to collect and process VAT payments, even if they conduct only a tiny amount of overseas trade. A recent survey of 2,000 small companies says a quarter now block overseas sales and a fifth have stopped selling altogether. They are no longer earning money - so authorities are collecting no tax at all. Conservatives agree that the easiest solution is an exemption, a threshold, for small businesses.  Tackling Vatmoss requires a unanimous decision by all the EU's finance ministers – but that must happen and happen soon and Conservative MEPs are working with Ministers in the UK Treasury to seek agreement from across the EU." (20th May)

This is a wake up call for the North West's MEP's

It's hardly encouraging, that just three of the eight have bothered to reply! Yet these eight MEPs will no doubt expect me, and others, to vote for them come the next Euro Parliamentary election... but why should I if they cannot even be bothered to listen and respond to legitimate concerns about how the EU's actions is having an adverse effect on my business and the businesses of others like me?

Come on MEPs, do your job and help small businesses out of the #VATMESS that is #VATMOSS by raising the issue within the EU and lobby your colleagues in other countries so we can get a speedy resolution to what is an EU-wide problem, not just us Brits having a moan at the EU again!

Wednesday 27 May 2015

We need an Emergency Interim EU VAT Suspension from UK Gov't!

At last week's EU meetings it was made very clear that there would be no immediate help coming from the EU for low-turnover businesses being hit by the new EU VAT rules on cross-border digital sales.

Despite accepting that there has been unfortunate and unforeseen consequences for low-turnover businesses, and that something needs to be done to put things right, the EU mandarins have said it is not going to be considered until the end of the Summer, 2015, at the soonest, and no action will be forthcoming until 2016 at the very earliest.


Already businesses are struggling and failing to comply with the evidence requirements for cross-border sales. Add another year to the mix and many more will have closed their doors or stopped digital sales totally.

We have been told that there is something that the UK government can do to help, but we need YOUR help to make it happen.

It is called an Emergency Interim EU VAT Suspension, which basically means the UK government agree to suspend the new rules until such a time that the EU gets its act in order and provides a permanent fix for the mess it has made for micro-businesses.

What we need is for everyone to write to their own MP - you can use this site to contact them by email if it is easier than emailing them directly - and ask your MP to demand an Emergency Interim EU VAT Suspension on behalf of the thousands of small UK businesses that are suffering under this scheme.

Also, if you are a member of a Trade Association, please ask that they lobby the government for the same suspension. The EU VAT Action campaign has this to say about who to lobby and how,
If you are a member of any kind of trade of business association, please write to their Chair today to ask them to support the call for an immediate interim ESC to remove the burden of these rules from micro businesses. Please ask them to contact:
  • PM David Cameron
  • David Gauke (Financial Secretary to the Treasury, who would have to propose this legislation)
  • and Jim Harra (HMRC Director General of Business Tax, who would need to propose this to David Gauke).
Please copy your request to your MP and ask them also to lobby David Cameron, David Gauke and Jim Harra.
Please also ask your industry body to contact any colleagues they have in other industry organisations and trade bodies, to urge them to do the same.
The more people who raise the issue with their MPs the better the chance we have of getting the Emergency Interim EU VAT Suspension, so please do this and help the thousands of us who are struggling to comply with the unintended consequences of this unfortunate EU legislation.

More details can also be found on the EU VAT Action website here .

Friday 22 May 2015

Hilary Clinton championing small businesses in her USA presidential bid

Who would have thought I could get to speak to Hilary Clinton on EU VAT? :) 

Well not actually SPEAK... but Hilary has joined LinkedIn as part of her presidential campaign, as she wants to connect with small businesses in the USA.

And she has written her first post today outlining how she wants to make the burden of tax and admin easier for small businesses, and so I have added a reply pointing out the detrimental effect that the EU VAT rules are having on American businesses trying to sell into Europe.

If anyone else on LinkedIn wants to add comments to the post it strikes me as a good way to raise the issue's profile in the USA.

Tuesday 19 May 2015

Once again the #EU Commission proves it does not care about small biz!

Once again the ‪#‎EU‬ Commission has let small businesses down. Once more the ‪#‎VATMESS‬ that is ‪#‎VATMOSS‬ looks set to destroy all cross-border sales for small businesses.
Today the #EU Commission had the chance to prove it cares about low-turnover businesses as well as the global conglomerates and once again it has failed to do so, despite the best efforts of a number of supportive MEPs.
#EU Commission, I and others are disgusted with you.
If you cannot help us stay in business, we have no business staying in the #EU.

Saturday 16 May 2015

How the new #EU #VAT rules are hurting buyers!

The new #EU #VAT cross-border digital sales rules don't just affect sellers, they hit buyers too, as if we have to charge VAT you have to pay more when you buy from us! That's no fun, is it?!

But it's even less fun when you realise that these rules are going to be extended to cover sales of anything that goes from one EU country to another, or from one non-EU country into the EU. Are you listening yet America? Canada? Australia? New Zealand? Japan? China? Rest of the world?

Low-turnover businesses have been covered by their home country's VAT threshold until 31.12.2014, and still are for sales they make within their home country, but get caught up in the VAT rules when they sell outside their home country, even if the item is a penny!

OK so what will happen if those digital sellers at the low-turnover end of the marketplace stop selling online? Will it affect you? You may think not, but you'd be so wrong!

Do you buy music from indie bands?
Do you buy apps for your smartphone?
Do you buy games or modifications for games for your computer?
Do you buy software?
Do you buy patterns for your knitting, crochet, craftwork?
Do you buy images for use in your projects?
Do you buy ringtones for your mobile phone?
Do you subscribe to a specialist digital magazine?
Do you buy ebooks from indie authors?
Do you undertake online courses to learn a new skill or hobby?

If you said yes to any of those questions then you are affected by this issue.

Juliet McKenna of the EU VAT Action team has been looking into the issue, after the team undertook a survey of more than 2,000 small traders whoc supply exactly the sorts of digital products I listed above. Her findings are worrying. Here is what she says,
If there’s a big company behind your chosen product, they’ll probably be able to cope. It’ll be a hassle for them, no doubt about it, but they have the resources.
If that business is run by just one person, working on their own? Then it’s unlikely they’ll be able to handle the new rules. Just how many of those resources come under the heading of “automated digital services”. In other words, they’re all now subject to the new rules requiring whoever’s offering them to charge the correct VAT rate where you live.
The administrative burden of trying to figure out, with up to 3 pieces of information, where your customer is and the choosing the correct rate from the EU’s 81 options is enormous. Most small businesses do not have the means to do this.
The people who create these amazing resources, unless they’re a big business with tech support, are more likely to close or to block your country than to be able to comply with the new EU VAT rules.  Here is the link to the full article.
Ahhhh, you say, but I don't buy things I get mine for free...  maybe you do, but not for much longer!  Your "free" product is actually paid for by the advertising revenue that is made by the site from which it is sold, or via ads within the product itself (those ads you see in apps are a prime example).  That advertising revenue now comes under the EU VAT rules so the seller has to register for VAT, and has to account for the VAT on the revenue and pay it to the relevant tax authority.  So what?! you might say... well here's what...  that all takes time to do, it costs money to do, as managing VAT returns means higher accountant's fees, it means registering as a data controller, and a host of other hassles that go with it and take up your time - and as we all know, time = money in a business! 

So, if you believe in a free marketplace where you can buy your digital products you really do need to take notice of what's happening with the EU VAT rules.  The answer is not to pull out of the EU, but rather to shout loudly to your MEPs that the EU has got it wrong. If enough of us shout they might listen.  If we don't shout, then we will all just be shopping for the same old things at Amazon and eBay in the future!

Friday 15 May 2015

Are the #EU #VAT rules discriminating against low turnover businesses in the marketplace?

Juliet McKenna of the EU VAT Action Campaign say they are discriminatory, not just against small businesses, but also against people who are unable to be in paid work for a host of reasons. Juliet says,
New digital technologies and business opportunities are proving invaluable for those working from home for a whole range of reasons. People who specifically benefit from being able to work at home include those with autism, agoraphobia, depression, social anxiety, long-term physical illnesses, and mobility issues. Such people can and do run successful businesses because they’re able to work on their own terms and for the hours that suit them, using IT and the internet. Many are otherwise unable to work.
The EU claims it is anti-discrimination yet here we have its own rules which are discriminating against a significant sector of the population. The only way for the EU to achieve its aim of a free market place and a truly level playing field for businesses is to remove the barriers it has put in place that are causing the suffering and demise of so many low-turnover businesses.

Even not-for-profit ventures such as the planned Science Fiction Foundation's Terry Pratchett ebook has fallen victim to the problem of #VATMOSS. As Juliet says,
Any small charity wishing to publish specialist books for a target audience will find themselves in the same position, with the same unpalatable choices.
The EU was never intended to cause such havoc, nor to put in place so many obstacles to free trade. The time has come for the EU to accept that it is failing in what it tried to achieve and rescind the existing rules for low-turnover businesses whilst there are still some of them trading that can be saved.

The alternative is truly scary: all online sales will only be via 3rd party marketplaces such as Amazon, eBay, Folksy, ETSY, etc... and many of the choices offered by independent sellers will have gone for good!

Juliet's article may be read in full on the EU VAT Action website here:

Are the #EU listening to low-turnover businesses? Possibly!

I've feeling more hopeful tonight than I have been in months since I discovered the idiocy that is #EU #VAT #VATMOSS. This is where sellers of digital products within or into the EU have been required, since 1st Jan 2015, to register, charge and account to HMRC or another EU member state, the VAT on cross-border sales, even when the seller is below the VAT registration threshold in their own country, and thus not liable for VAT on domestic sales.

Tonight I have watched a video posted by Julia Reda, who is an MEP from Germany, who asked Digital Commissioner and EU Commission VP Andrus Ansip if help would be forthcoming for the businesses that are being damaged by the scheme, and if the EU would consider introducing a threshold below which cross-border sales would be exempt.  Julia suggested a turnover level of €100,000 pa.

Commissioner Ansip appears to agree with her!

It is now up to the EU's meetings, which are scheduled for next week (Mon & Tues) to decide to support or oppose the proposal.  Initially this was seen as being a problem which only affected us Brits, but thanks to the sterling work done by the EU VAT ACTION Campaign over the last 6 months, it is now clear that it is affecting people throughout Europe and beyond. That is a consequence that the EU certainly had not anticipated!

The video is well-worth watching!

Thursday 14 May 2015

You can't hack the #EU #VAT problem with a grand in an afternoon!

Tech solutions are not the way to deal with poorly thought out #EU #VAT rules on cross-border sales that are hurting low turnover businesses. #vatmoss is still a #vatmess and is coming to all cross-border sales soon, not just digital as now.

Don't think that this isn't your problem, as if you sell anything outside of the UK it will be your problem soon. Even if you are currently below the UK VAT registration threshold. There will be NO THRESHOLD on cross-border sales unless we fight for one now!

Read the latest article on the ongoing #VATMOSS is a #VATMESS saga on the EU VAT ACTION web site, " Why The Hope For An EU VAT ‘Simple Tech Solution’ Has Become The Emperor’s New Clothes – And Time Is Running Out To Save Micro Businesses"

Wednesday 13 May 2015

EU VAT needs a sensible threshold, here's why...

How much help would a €100,000 EU digital VAT threshold actually offer? Juliet McKenna explains what the costs are of compliance with the EU VAT regulations for digital sellers, why a threshold is needed and why it needs to be at a sensible level!

EU VAT action is STILL on our menus!

The EU VAT issue for digital small/micro/nano businesses has not gone away.  Juliet McKenna explains why 3rd party marketplaces are not the answer and why low turnover businesses need the support of a sensible cross-border VAT threshhold, to allow them to survive and grow, and compete with the big-boys on a level playing field,

Friday 20 February 2015

"One site to rule them all..."

If, like me, you have cause to visit any of the UK government's websites you will find there has been lots of changes recently, and many of the separate sites for different depts have all come together under one umbrella domain, from which much of the old useful info has vanished and lots of arty farty new stuff has appeared.

The first impression was that I had landed on one of those ubiquitous domain parking pages full of spurious links and advertisements for dubious pharmaceuticals or gambling setups. Who thought that was a good design for the UK government portal?

Scrolling down past the parking page section, I found a notice on the front page that says,
The websites of all government departments and many other agencies and public bodies are being merged into GOV.UK. 

Well that's not quite true, as revealed on the page mentioned above, where it says the following have merged: 
  • All 24 Ministerial Departments
  • The offices of the PM and DPM
  • 9 of 22 non-Ministerial departments (are these not government departments?)
  • 144 of 349 Public Agencies and Bodies (it should be 145 but perhaps they have mislaid one somewhere...)
  • 71 High Profile Groups (go read the list if you really want to know who they are!)
  • 12 Public Corporations (ditto)
  • 3 Devolved Administrations (Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales)
So when it says all government departments are being merged, what it really means is 35 of the 48 have merged (well that's almost 73%, which is pretty close-ish!) and the rest are not going to do so. As various wise men have observed over the years, there are "lies, damn lies and statistics".

However back to super-gov...
I quite often popped over to various of the old sites to look something up, and there was always lots of useful info on each of the dedicated domains. Sites like the Charity Commission, DEFRA, Dept. of Work and Pensions, OFSTED, all had helpful easy to find pages, which were designed to suit the data presented. Now we have a one-size-fits-all supersite that looks like a social media wannabe. All it lacks are the avatars of each Minister down the right hand side and the option to Like or Poke a Minister (oooerrr missus!) and the job's a good'un!

It has sections for Popular on GOV.UK (apparently student finance, driving theory tests and renewing vehicle tax comes in there;  Most Active (student finance, driving theory tests and renewing vehicle tax figure in there too!);  or if you are bored and want something to read that's allegedly better than watching paint dry you could check out GOV.UK blogs - Search the list of GOV.UK blogs, and find one to match your interest.  Here you can find such delights as, "My visit to Manchester: how the Civil Service is becoming more innovative, collaborative and efficient" (presumably by going to Manchester); "How digital inclusion can support wider policy outcomes" (clearly not written by the Plain English Campaign);  or even "Knocking down the Towers of SIAM" (I thought it had been renamed Thailand years ago, and just why are we knocking their towers down anyhow?!)

I suspected it was just me being older and crotchetier than usual, not liking change and new looks and all that, but it seems I am not alone in my scorn for the new setup. The Register (whose strapline reads, "Biting the hand that feeds IT") also seems to think it's not fit for use... and they have been gathering interesting evidence that all did not go according to plan!  If you'd rather read something consdierably more interesting than a blog why not make yourself a cuppa, grab a biscuit, and read the nightmare story of how not to create a government website!

Monday 16 February 2015

Why MPs should care about the impact of the new EU VAT rules

Short answer: because 2015 is an election year!

Long answer: We are already being bombarded with candidate flyers, despite being 3 months away from the day, but this made me think about MPs and how (or even if!) they take on board the worries of their constituents, especially if those concerns are at odds with the policies of the MPs political party.

I should say that whenever I have raised an issue with my MP (the LibDem's Tim Farron, Westmorland and Lonsdale ) he has always listened to what I had to say and raised the issue with the relevant dept. or minister on my behalf, so I have no complaints there. It was more an idle wondering, in the wake of the template letters in response to constituents writing to MPs about the EU VAT issue I wrote about yesterday,  as to whether MPs as a whole have really thought about the effect the new EU VAT rules are having, and what this means in terms of the social impact on the country.

Don't get me wrong, I am not saying that Britain will come to its knees because small businesses and sole traders have to register for VAT. What I am saying is that there are a lot of people who make a small but adequate income from doing what they do, whether it be selling mp3's of their music, downloadable ebooks, online magazines, creating apps for phones, writing software, doing a bit of website hosting or selling advert space on one to help defray the cost of their own website, licencing photos or graphics for use by others, or even creating patterns for crafters. Those folks may be full-time students earning a bit to help them through uni, they may be parents with young children to look after, they may be carers for elderly or disabled family members, they may be retired and doing something which helps out with the pension, or simply be using their skills to create a product that will never have a big demand but which fills a small niche market.

For whatever reason they are selling digital goods and services online, they are earning a small income, and for many of them that income may be the difference between not claiming benefits and being forced to do so to get by. 

So, if small digital product sellers are being forced out of business by the lack of a sensible threshold for cross-border sales, the country loses out. It loses people who are working and earning, and instead gains people who need to claim financial support benefits. Surely that cannot be a good thing for the UK?  The cost to the country of a population on benefits is surely much greater than the revenue that  would be lost by allowing a sensible cross-border sales threshold for VAT.

Over the past decade or so there has been a lot of encouragement for individuals to start their own businesses. We are told that the digital economy is growing. More and more shopping is being done online. A whole raft of public services are online. We have been encouraged to get online and do all sorts of stuff, and as a country we have done just that, with 89.90% of us with internet access. The latest figures from the Office of National Statistics (.pdf, 482kb) state that there are 4.6 million self-employed and sole traders in the UK. If even 10% of them are selling digital products (and the bottom line is, we simply don't know how many are yet!) that means almost half a million traders are affected by these awful, unworkable new rules. .

So we now have a whole sector of the business population who are being walloped by the EU or put out of business for doing just what our government has encouraged us to do. It's just plain wrong!.

Further reading: Heather Burns writes about web design law, strategy, and what matters to the profession

How level is a level playing field? Internet giants v. sole traders

One of the things I have noticed during the last few weeks, from the number of people who have written to their MP raising the issue of the new EU VAT rules on cross-border digital product sales, is that all seem to be getting a pretty much standard template letter back. The letter states that the changes are good for the UK and will help provide a level playing field for businesses within Europe.

That, you might think, is a GOOD THING, and I'd agree, except that it isn't true!  Let me put it another way: "How does a sole trader whose cross-border sales may total a few hundred pounds a year effectively compete with an internet giant?"

Let me explain...   

Sole trader: 
Before the change... works from home, does accounts on own computer using spreadsheet software and files an annual self employed tax return. Has a website built using either an open source or a commercial install-it-yourself website/shopping cart and uses PayPal as a payment handler. Dead simple, easy to manage.

After the change... works from home, does accounts on own computer using spreadsheet software and files an annual self employed tax return. Has a website built using either an open source or a commercial install-it-yourself website/shopping cart and uses PayPal as a payment handler.Has had to register for VAT MOSS to account for VAT on cross-border sales. Has had to figure out if his/her existing website/shopping cart software can handle the new requirements of determining which country a potential buyer is from by producing 2 pieces of evidence from the list of those acceptable and displaying the price including the relevant VAT rate for the potential buyer's country, and then input all the details required to show 75 different rates of VAT covering the 28 countries of the EU, and then keep all the transaction data safe for a minimum 10 years from the date of sale.  Not so easy now is it?

Internet giant: 
Before the change... employs a whole army of people to provide a 3rd party marketplace sales platform, employs accountants and tax advisors to ensure they are using the system to their best advantage and are compliant with the requirements. Has the financial resources to provide a complex system for establishing the location of the buyer, calculating and charging VAT on sales based on that location, and to handle all the accounting for and payment of said VAT to each EU country afterwards. Has the resources to ensure the safe and secure retention of the sales data for the required minimum of 10 years.

After the change...  employs a whole army of people to provide a 3rd party marketplace sales platform, employs accountants and tax advisors to ensure they are using the system to their best advantage and are compliant with the requirements. Has the financial resources to provide a complex system for establishing the location of the buyer, calculating and charging VAT on sales based on that location, and to handle all the accounting for and payment of said VAT to each EU country afterwards. Has the resources to ensure the safe and secure retention of the sales data for the required minimum of 10 years. Did you see any difference?

How is that a level playing field???