Friday, August 14, 2009


This week we are getting very close to the watershed number of 200 service personnel killed in operations in Afghanistan. This is against a background of reports (including comments from senior military commanders) of inadequate equipment. Read the books by Andy McNab to fully understand how under-resourced British troops are compared with, say, the Americans. At the same time, the MOD is taking two severely injured servicemen to court in order to try and get the level of damages and financial compensation awarded significantly reduced.

At first sight these elements seem unrelated, yet actually they reveal a frightening consistency. The British Government (of all parties) has a long and dishonourable history in the way it has resourced its service personnel and the way in which it fails to look after them once they have left military service. There is often talk, in the media, about the unwritten "social contract" the British people have with service personnel. In reality it is hard to discern what this is.

The people have one view, the Government has another. Recent events and actions by the Government such as the attempt to prevent former Gurkha troops being able to reside in Britain reveal a long-standing and ingrained culture, evident across so many areas of Government operations, of a lack of care for its citizens. It shows, for example, in the disgraceful way the Government refused to sign the EU Working Hours directive a few years ago; the way in which Gordon Brown, in his first year as Chancellor in 1997-98, started raiding pension funds of £5bn annually; or the unquestioning handouts of £800bn (now rising to around £1.3 trillion) given to banks whilst continuing to cut public services; in allowing banks to repossess an increasing number of homes; and refusing to assist charities which lost significant amounts of investment funds in the collapse of the Icelandic banks.

This lack of care is partly driven by another ingrained tradition - that of placing cost cutting and minimisation above people or long-term investment. It is driven by a short-term Treasury model from a body which is dictating policy but yet is unelected, unaccountable and undemocratic. HM Treasury does more damage to Britain and its people in a single day than the much-pilloried House of Lords could ever do in a lifetime.

So meantime, our troops as always are doing an excellent job in unimaginably difficult circumstances, sent by political masters whose primary motives are characterised by a lack of genuineness.
Continuing the theme of hidden changes to rules made by the Inland Revenue (or HME as they are now known, a new title which will make so much difference), another nice little earner which has been introduced quietly has been the practice of sending out what appear to be mysterious VAT demands for business not yet transacted. Apparently HME have been ordered to do this as it is a way of bringing forward future revenue streams and is most likely a device to help the Government plug the hole in the public finances.

Once again, however, it is another example of clasic Treasury short termism. If payments on account are brought forward, what will happen in future? At some point there will be a shortfall. But we have a Government that is probably just planning to survive for another year before the next General Election. Entering that phase looking as good as possible is, of course, so terribly important and any regard for the longer term health of the nation's finances is irrelevant.

Companies and the Budget - Surprise surprise

Ok, so please tell me, in all the media hype about the government helping small businesses, how it was not mentioned that various company rules have changed - such as it is now only 9 months in which to file your previous accounts, and if they are late, the fine has 'stretched' from £100 to £375. I am not sure what this amounts to as a percentage, but in the days of the deepest recession (during my lifetime), this seems excessive.

Having read through the 2009 Budget Press Notice, I cannot see anything that tells me as a company director, that the fees have been increased and the time frame for filing shortened. As far as I am aware, we have not received any mail to notify us of this change either.

How do I know this then? Well, unfortunately our company accounts were accidently sent to the wrong place (to the tax office, along with the tax cheque) albeit on time. We recently received a Companies House letter to remind us we have not filed our accounts - you can imagine our surprise. So a phone call or two later, we discover what has happened - and the cost for this mistake would be £375. If we did not file accounts soon, it would then be £750!

If you would like to check out the previous rates against the current rates, it is almost impossible to find - other than previously published pdfs such as this one by Macintyre Hudson, Chartered Accountants and Business Advisers. Looking at the increase in late filing fees, it must be really quite difficult to justify this in a time when a lot of small businesses are really struggling to keep afloat. Maybe this is why it has been neatly hidden?

The time frame in which to file your accounts has also changed and again it is not clear, especially on the Companies House website which states a time frame of 10 months quite clearly for subsequent accounts. It is only through a thorough search that I was able to find any evidence to the contrary to tie in with what we were informed by a Companies House employee. This was via Legal Clarity and to be fair to their name, it is quite clear, the time frame for subsequent accounts is now 9 months.

Ok, so if they have reduced the time frame for filing accounts, and increased the amount by more than double for over 1 month late filing, what message is this giving small businesses? We can give you help with this hand, but if you are not really observant, we can take it away again with the other? How many other things have been hidden? If I am mistaken, please let me know, but this really does smack of underhandedness and greed.

The following links clarify other points more commonly discussed - I am just surprised that the fees and the reduction in filing time has not been mentioned in even these discussions. Surprise, surprise.

This is Money
Federation of Small Businesses

Sunday, August 9, 2009

I do not understand why........

I do not understand why banks are allowed to fail and yet still pay bonuses. I do not understand why when given huge amounts of money to bail them out that they are then not forced to pass this back into the economy.

Sat in the pub this week, chewing this over with my other half and a colleague, feeling so very disgruntled and realising that this was all we were able to do. Or is it? I am sure we are not the only ones to feel so frustrated about what is happening. We have children who cannot get on the housing ladder, mostly due to the banks not lending but also without pay rises over the last year or two, they are gradually eating into any savings they may have built. They are being penalised through no fault of their own.

So when you hear the profits that have been made by Barclays, in particular, you really cannot fathom how this is being allowed.

Even with reading as much as you can about how this is allowable, it still does not compute to the way we have to work in our companies.

On 3rd August, Radio 4 Today's programme John Varley of Barclays defends the profits / bonuses, it is definitely worth listening to ('Barclays defends £2.98bn profits'). It is heavily stressed that Barclays has not received taxpayers money - they did not need to. Why? Because they were able to sort themselves out by going to Qatar and Abu Dhabi (Times Online - Oct 2008).

And why did they do this and not fall in with the other banks for government help? Well, this link helps to explain: 'Barclays preens while others face reality'. As our 3rd largest bank, how can the government allowed this to have happened? 32 per cent of this bank is now owned by another nation! It just seems so wrong!

A paragraph in a Chinese paper, explains a little more about the way Barclays worked to avoid being tied to the government: 'Breaking with convention'

There just feels to be something dirty about the whole process, a form of underhandedness that if we tried within our own companies, we would be penalised.
Am I wrong? Let me know.