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Richard Murphy on tax and economics

The Fair Tax Mark – my debating points at Mazars tonight

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 17:35

Mid tier chartered accountants Mazars are staging a debate on the Fair Tax Mark tonight. Against the advice of those who have concern for my health I am taking part. This is what I intend to say in my opening comments (click the image for a bigger, easier to read version):

What if we don’t have direct taxes and we only ever tax transactions (wonkish)?

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 09:20

If you talk to tax practitioners they will tell you that tax is divided into two broad types.

Firstly there is direct tax, which, they say, is charged on things like income and profits. Examples would, of course, be income tax and corporation tax but capital gains tax also very clearly falls into this category, as does National Insurance.

The second type of tax is, perhaps unsurprisingly, called indirect tax. These are taxes on specific transactions. The obvious example is VAT, but there are plenty of others. Excise duties, fuel duty, all carbon taxes, insurance taxes, landfill tax and many other taxes fall into this category.

The more I think about it though the more artificial I think this divide is, and the less helpful thinking about tax in this way has been for the creation of good taxation policy. This realisation has, in part, been fuelled by a survey work I have undertaken on 147 different corporation tax systems. The outcome of that work is not yet published but the finding was unambiguous: there isn’t a single corporation tax system that I can find in the world (and the survey covered the corporation tax systems of more than 98% of the world’s GDP) that charges that tax on anything like accounting profit.

Now, of course, we know that in the UK, but then we are reputed to have one of the more complex tax systems. To replicate that finding literally everywhere was, if not surprising, then at least an eye-opener because what this means is that a so-called direct tax is actually no such thing. Corporation tax is, in fact, a tax on specified transactions, just like VAT. If confirmation were needed, when the European Union with drafting the articles for its proposed Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base it had to be explicit on this issue. In article 10 of the draft CCCTB it says:

The tax base shall be calculated as revenues less exempt revenues, deductible expenses and other deductible items.

You only have to think about that for a moment to realise that what it is saying is that specific transactions are taxed, or are tax allowable: it is not profit that is the basis for this proposed European corporation tax. This is not peculiar to the CCCTB; in effect what I now realise is that this is the commonplace basis the tax assessment for what are supposedly called profits (and in effect, income) around the world. We may start all tax computations with a figure for income, or profit, but that is in itself misleading. That figure is only an approximation to the revenues that are taxable, and even more so, to the expenses that are deductible, and the process of adjustment is not one that comes up with an alternative profit figure; it is an exercise to identify the chargeable and allowable transactions that are within the scope of tax. That is something quite different.

Now, maybe I am slow in realising this, but if I am, then I suggest that I’m far from alone. This suggestion is one I have not seen made. The appreciation does, however, have significance. Once we begin to think that we’re charging transactions to tax it becomes very much easier to think about alternative ways of taxing. It was many years ago that I recall reading the new economic thinker James Robertson suggesting that the object of a tax system was to tax the ‘bads’ in an economy whilst leaving the ‘goods’ alone. This idea is very difficult to reconcile with any concept of taxing either profit or income, but it is very easy to reconcile with a transaction-based approach to taxation: any transaction-based tax necessarily allows for this opportunity, and the truth is that we may only have transaction-based taxes.

The same realisation is also important for another reason, and that is in tackling tax avoidance. The CCCTB definition is very interesting here, and contrasts with the logic of UK jurisprudence on this issue, at least until the introduction of the General Anti-Abuse Rule. That is because the EU rule works on the basis that everything is taxable unless exempted whereas UK taxation law has worked on the basis that nothing is taxable unless specifically charged. Again, a transaction-based approach allows for a change of emphasis.

It does more than that though: it also changes the way in which we need to look at accounts. As I have often noted in the past, the IFRS Foundation have specifically stated that the International Financial Reporting Standards that they publish are not a suitable basis for the preparation of tax calculations, even though they are the only accounts that many companies might produce. Those accounts focus upon a profit figure, which we know to be inherently unreliable. If accounts are, however, to be useful for taxation purposes then there may well be a need for a different focus that seeks to identify particular forms of transaction that may, or may not, be taxable,  but that then opens the question as to who will produce those accounts, and who will set the standards for their production.

I don’t have answers to these questions is yet: I would be interested in informed comments.

We have a choice whose voices we listen to. I say it should be those hardest hit by poverty.

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 08:32

Many people are now realising that inequality matters. Even economists have caught up with the issue. So too has the FT. As it reports this morning the widely reported claim that neoliberalism has solved poverty is little more than a myth:

More than one-third of the world lives on between $2 and $10 a day, making this “fragile middle” the world’s biggest income group. Some 2.8bn people – 40 per cent of the world’s population – were earning $2-$10 a day in 2010, the latest year for which data are available from the World Bank’s income distribution database.

Adjusting for inflation and purchasing power, the share of those living below $2 per day has dropped markedly since 1981 from 70 per cent of those living in developing countries to two in five, but the bulk of those lifted out of poverty remain only just above the line. About 1.5bn people were earning between $2 and $4 a day in 2010, and this $2-$4 group has grown more quickly than any other across the income spectrum.

But as the FT also notes:

Put in a global context, the number of solidly middle-class people remains small, while the fragile middle has grown exponentially.

Data show 2.8 billion people in the developing world sit just above the poverty line, at risk of slipping back as emerging market economies slow

A Financial Times analysis of more than 30 years of World Bank data from 122 countries in the developing world illustrates this change in fortunes. As poverty has fallen, the number of people clustered in a narrow band above the poverty line has grown. But only a relatively small number of people tend to make it beyond that. The result is that four in 10 of the word’s people now live in its fragile middle.

Many of those in that fragile middle swap positions with the poor, often.

We are a long way from solving the problems of poverty. But we could solve them.

We could tax the world’s wealth.

We could really make the world’s multinational corporations pay tax where they earn their profits.

We could tackle tax havens.

We could have progressive taxation.

These would all help, enormously. Tax can, quite literally, liberate people if paid in the right place at the right time.

But the world’s wealthy don’t want these things to happen. By implication, and the causality is direct, they want the world’s poor and fragile people to remain in that state.

We have a choice whose voices we listen to. I say it should be those hardest hit by poverty. What about you?

A quiet revolution in economics: Capital in the 21st century

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 06:55

A quiet revolution is going on in economics. It’s down to one man in particular. His name is Thomas Piketty. His new book is called ‘Capital in the 21st Century’.

I’m not claiming to have read it all as yet, but it seems pretty clear that in his enormous work there is one central idea, ultimately summarised in one graph, reproduced in Paul Krugman’s review in the New York Review of Books. This is it:

In this graph ‘r’ is the rate of return to capital and ‘g’ is the rate of growth in the economy.

If r is greater than g, and you’ll note that expect for the period in the last century it has been, than the return to capital accumulates faster than the growth in the economy as a whole. The result has to be increased inequality because that increased accumulation of capital has to arise as a result of a reduced return to labour.

That, Piketty compellingly argues is the situation we now face. The 1% (or less) are, very literally, taking the rewards due to the rest of us.

What I like is that Piketty is brave enough to say there is a solution. It comes, as I often think solutions come, in the form of tax. He says we have to tax wealth inequalities out of the system out of the economy and we have to tax high incomes because they are not earned. I agree. Quite literally, future prosperity demands that we do so.

Now all we have to agree upon is how to do it.

And then we have to do it, soon.

If we want a new criminal tax penalty demand disclosure of all bank accounts, and target those who don’t report

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 06:26

As some will have noticed, I have been critical of George Osborne’s plans for new tax penalties over the weekend. There have been three reasons for doing so.

First, I am wary if his explanation for this move. I am not convinced this is a real change in policy and is much more a PR exercise.

Second, without staff at HMRC to bring cases any such move is irrelevant and HMRC is scheduled to lose many thousands of staff over the next year or two.

Third, I have problems believing the legal interpretation given to justify the move that it is hard to prove intent in tax evasion cases. I do not agree. What I do think is that some very poor cases – such as the Redknapp case where the defence was there was no taxable income – have been chosen for prosecution and this has seriously undermined HMRC’s position.

Some have, however, interpreted this as me being soft on those who are tax evading. Far from it: I want many more prosecutions, but if we are to have them then let’s get rid of the ambiguities so that cases can be more readily dealt with. There are, of course, ways to do this, but I fear HMRC will not take them.

Let me offer an obvious solution. I would require that a tax return should demand that a tax payer disclosed all their bank accounts. This is, if course, just about the first information always demanded in a tax investigation so it is important. Most of us don’t have many. And it’s not hard to list them all. Then it becomes a relatively simple matter to prosecute someone for failing to disclose a bank account if that is appropriate. No intent need be proven: it’s error that could trigger the penalty. Of course some guide lines would be needed: failing to disclose an account that has not been used for years and has less than, say, £500 in it which has not accessed during a year should not be a crime, but above that a penalty could be imposed – and a criminal one if need be.

And there could be personal penalties for failing to disclose that the individual was a signatory to a corporate bank account. I know for a tiny number of people this will require considerable disclosure. So what? Good governance requires that people know this sort if thing.

And penalties should, of course, relate to domestic as well as offshore abuse. Both are important.

Make this one simple change and motive disappears from the question of culpability: fact determines the issue. Penalties could be geared (I suggest very heavily) to the sums involved. That is tax justice.

What we would then have is a new disclosure mechanism with penalties attached for three issues: offshore tax evasion, tackling the self-employed shadow economy and for using companies for tax evasion purposes. We could get all this in one go, and all with criminal penalties attached. And for most people the cost of compliance would be tiny.

I am not expecting such a neat solution from HMRC this morning when they issue their consultation on this issue. But if I were in the Treasury this is what I would do. And it would work.

The IPCC says we can afford to tackle climate change: now is the time for a Green New Deal

Sun, 04/13/2014 - 17:01

The Guardian notes today:

Catastrophic climate change can be averted without sacrificing living standards, according to a landmark UN report published on Sunday. It concludes the transformation required to a world of clean energy and the ditching of dirty fossil fuels is eminently affordable.

I, and the other members of the Green New Deal group, have been saying so for some time.

Now is the time for delivery. The era of fossil fuel is over. This is the time to release what we call ‘the carbon army‘ to transform our economy.

Cameron’s reform to GP services would be dangerous

Sun, 04/13/2014 - 07:53

I am intrigued that the government is saying that it is going to ensure GP services are supplied by people's normal doctors seven days a week, twelve hours a day, with the over 75s guaranteed access to their own personal doctor, and all that for an annual cost of £50 million.

To put that in context, that's £2,000 a doctor – maybe the cost of upgrading them all to the secure email system they're all supposed to consult on in the future.

Politely, this is nonsense. Now, I admit my expertise in this area is second hand as I am married to a GP, but I have as a result seen the detailed workings of a number of GP practices over the years and have discussed GP services with a wide range of doctors. There are three obvious points to make.

First, the proportion if NHS resources going to GPs is already falling, significantly. It is now less than 9% of all resources when it was over 10%. So the service is already underfunded.

That is compounded by increasing demand. I can remember only fifteen years or so ago when an average of four consultations per patient in a GP's list was normal: now it's over five and still rising. That is an enormous change.

Third, there is a desperate shortage of GPs to work in the existing system, largely because of the considerable demands made, long hours and massive stress.

Now please don't get me wrong: there are fat cat GPs in the existing system who treat the NHS as a market and profit making opportunity and so abuse it. And I am well aware that some GPs seem to think that a full time working week is four days, or that they need a half day off in a five day working week. For these doctors I think their time of using the system is over, and that's to be welcomed. But they're not a majority of GPs. Most already work very long hours and can physically do little more than they do now. Which is precisely why recruiting GPs is very hard indeed: young doctors rightly see little appeal in working in this way.

In that case can what Cameon and Hunt will be offering be delivered? I do not think there is any hope if it.

But more importantly, I think it would be very dangerous to try: pushing healthcare professionals beyond their limits is not a way to deliver safe care.

Section 2 of the Fraud Act lets offshore tax abuse be prosecuted now: so what else is Osborne going to do?

Sat, 04/12/2014 - 18:13

The government is claiming it cannot prosecute offshore tax evaders at present without proving intent on their part to evade tax if they omit information on their offshore bank accounts from their tax returns.

I have already said I do not agree. Nor do HMRC. This is the declaration on the 2013 tax return:

 

Now, let’s think about this for a moment, shall we?

If the tax payer knows they have an offshore bank account on which income has been earned and they fail to declare it then very clearly they have evidenced intent to evade tax. What further evidence is needed of intent?

And if they don’t declare it HMRC already say they can be prosecuted.

But HMRC say it’s hard to prove intent and new law is needed. Self evidently both claims are wrong or the statement they printed on the 9 million or so tax returns they issued in 2013 is wrong.

And what is the crime they can be prosecuted for now? It’s simple: it’s fraud. At one time it was called cheating the Revenue. The offence is described in section 2 of the Fraud Act 2006:

Everything needed to prosecute someone submitting  a false tax return is there. The signature on a false tax return is the fraudulent declaration. The gain is the tax evaded. And I do it think subsection 2 is an obstacle: the requirement that the taxpayer appraise themselves of what must be declared is already imposed by law. Ignorance is not an excuse.

I make clear, of course I want prosecutions. I have been calling for them for a long time. But I cannot help but think that today’s claims by Osborne, lamely defended by Gauke, look even more like posturing to me tonight then they did this morning.

My prediction is unambiguous: this new law, if passed, will change nothing.

Capital’s attack on wages goes on

Sat, 04/12/2014 - 10:01

One of the underlying important themes that the Tax Justice Network and I have emphasised over the last decade has been the continual shift of the burden of taxation from capital onto labour.  As if evidence were needed that this trend is continuing, this was the headline from an email that I received this morning from the OECD:

The relevant links are here.

Of course, the situation varies from country to country.  It is the trend that is important,  and that is a continuing explanation for the crisis that our economy, and that of the world at large, faces.  Growth without a rising share of labour income  is not possible:  inequality prevents it.

Osborne’s new offshore tax offence looks much more like a PR exercise than anything significant

Sat, 04/12/2014 - 09:54

According to the Guardian:

George Osborne is planning to make it easier to impose jail terms or heavy fines on British residents using offshore tax havens to cheat the exchequer out of billions in revenue.

The chancellor, who is in Washington at the International Monetary Fund’s spring meeting, has drafted a criminal offence of failing to declare offshore income as he steps up a long-running campaign to crack down on tax dodging.

At present, HMRC has to prove a British resident has deliberately sent funds abroad to dodge tax. The need to prove intent has undermined several prosecutions and allowed those under investigation to escape with only light fines, Treasury officials said.

Now, I am not someone  who is likely to oppose a clampdown on offshore tax evasion, but this statement is very odd.

First of all, there is already a criminal offence for failing to declare offshore income.  That offence occurs when a tax return is submitted without the income included upon it. Making a false declaration that the tax return  that has been submitted without that information is complete is, in itself, an offence, and therefore it seems hard to see why another  offence is needed.

Secondly,  it is not necessary to prove intent in the case of tax evasion cases: failure to declare the income is sufficient to prove that evasion has taken place.  I do agree that there are offences relating to the movement of assets offshore where intent is a factor,  but to suggest that these cover all tax evasion situations is misleading.

Thirdly,  I will be curious to see what the proposed offence is. It cannot be the case that having an offshore bank account is, in itself, illegal.  That would be contrary to EU law,  and even I have never argued that having an offshore bank account is, in itself something that should be considered an offence. It is the use of those accounts that is important.  But, in that case,  Osborne is going to have to fall back on some form of failure to declare to create the offence that he wants:  I suspect that  failure to notify the existence of an account will now be an offence, but if that is the case this is no different  in substance from failure  to notify income arising on that account on the tax return, which is already an offence, as I note above.

In that case,  whilst I have an open mind until I see the consultation document, this looks very much more like a PR exercise than it does to be a serious attempt to tackle offshore tax abuse.

And let’s remember, some of the most serious offshore tax abuse which is of greatest public concern relates to the use of tax havens by multinational companies, and this is something that George Osborne has gone out of his way to encourage. The duplicity of his approach is staggering.

The new person charged with stopping transfer pricing abuse is a KPMG partner – another fox in the hen house

Fri, 04/11/2014 - 14:43

It’s odd how much happens in a week when you just don’t feel up to  writing.

Some are big, but many are small and yet deeply symbolic. Take the appointment of a new head of transfer pricing at the OECD as an example. It is not mainstream news stuff – but in a  world where tax abuse by multinational companies is rampant and the demand that they be brought to book dominated many political agendas throughout 2013 this is important.

And that new head of transfer pricing at the body that is meant to set the rules to eliminate abuse is Andrew Hickman. No, I’d never heard of him either until now. But all you need to know is that he was a tax partner at KPMG in London. And that he replaces someone who was formerly a tax partner at PWC.

The Big 4 accountants continue to capture the world’s tax authorities so that they can continue to play their games of abuse – abuse they permit by being in all the world’s major tax havens, for a start. Now we have a head of OECD transfer pricing from KPMG and a chair of HMRC from KPMG, and something pretty similar is going on in Australia, if I recall correctly.

These people are not there to reform the system. These people are there to ensure the system is maintained as it is because those who profit most from it are, almost certainly, the Big 4 who have a monopoly in providing advice on how it, supposedly, works (even though, very obviously, it does not work at all – except for their benefit).

I’d like to say you could not make this stuff up, but you can. This is what neoliberalism delivers – the corporate state, run by business for the benefit of a few in business. In that case is it any surprise that right now it appears that the OECD is not making any real progress at all on Base Erosion and Profit Shifting? All that politics is now being shredded by those inside the system to ensure that the burden of tax continues to be shifted from capital onto labour – which is you.

Now you know why the fight for tax justice has to go on. It’s core to our freedom. We thought we saw some progress last year. Right now 2014 looks to be the year when business is fighting back hard – and so far, it’s winning.

A little tentatively, and with some tweaks, here and there

Fri, 04/11/2014 - 08:10

A little tentatively, I am back at my desk.

I’ve learned a lot in the last week. I have learned I can go a week without blogging, or even writing. It’s a very long time since that last happened. But I needed to stop.

I have learned that until I have an operation I am going to be in pain. That’s not fun.

As a result I have learned what restricted mobility feels like.

To my sons’ amusement, I have learned what it is like to beg them to slow down, rather than speed up.

I think really low fat diets are very boring, already.

I have explored the inside of my eyelids, a lot. And I have taken time to think. And read a bit. I realise I really like short books. I’d love to write a really effective one.

But actually, I’ve realised I want to be fit again and getting on with what really mattes to me – which is a fight for social justice for most people, who are denied it. And I’m still, very strongly of the view that tax is an essential component in delivering that justice.

It’s not bad to take a week off to realise that, with some tweaks here and there, what you’re trying to do is pretty much on the right track.

The OECD is asking developing countries to tax on the basis of make believe, and that’s not good enough

Tue, 04/08/2014 - 20:24

During the last week the BEPS Monitoring Group of NGOs and civil society organisations, of which I am a member, made a submission to the OECD on the Base Erosion and Profit Shifting paper on transfer pricing. The key issues within the submission were as follows:

In our view, the Report is disappointing. It is inadequate and unhelpful for developing countries. The Report:

  • assumes that developing countries should use transfer pricing methodologies which have been found deficient even by OECD countries, and are currently being revised, especially through the project on Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS);
  • prioritizes the use of comparables, although these methods have been shown to be deficient in both theory and practice, especially for developing countries;
  • obscures the real problem, which is not the absence of data but lack of appropriate comparables, due to the integrated nature of multinational firms;
  • fails to provide any information about what databases are available, or an evaluation of whether or how the data that they provide is supposed to be helpful for the purposes of auditing transfer pricing;
  • encourages developing countries to use methods which are likely to require case-by-case negotiation to ameliorate the fundamental deficiency of data without acknowledging the asymmetries of knowledge and power between developing country tax administrations and both tax advisers and developed country tax administrations; and
  • provides only a superficial consideration of alternatives to the use of comparables.

In our view methods based on either comparable prices or comparable profits are unsuitable for developing countries, and likely to lead to either over- or under-taxation, because:

  • the lack of appropriate comparables means that appropriate assessments require detailed examinations, specialist knowledge, and subjective judgment;
  • such assessments are time-consuming, and require skilled specialists, who developing countries find it hard to recruit and retain;
  • the subjective judgments involved leave officials open to undue pressures and temptations to corruption;
  • relying on data-bases can result in the use of inappropriate comparables, which may become generalized as firms also rely on them to avoid disputes;
  • conversely, the adoption of aggressive adjustments by officials, which may also result from performance incentives, resulting in counter-claims by firms, can lead to an adversarial culture, and sometimes excessive litigation;
  • the subjective and often arbitrary nature of adjustments based on comparables makes it hard to resolve conflicts if they arise between states other than by equally discretionary bargaining.

Our recommendations are that developing countries should:

  • learn from the mistakes of the OECD countries, and build on their own experience, for example the `sixth method’, or the Brazilian approach;
  • anticipate rather than await reforms likely to result from initiatives to combat BEPS, such as country-by-country reporting;
  • establish methods which are clear, transparent and easy to administer without the need for significant ad hoc investigation or subjective judgment;
  • coordinate transfer price scrutiny with other anti-avoidance measures such as denial of deductions for inappropriate payments to related entities.

Let’s not beat around the bush here: we think the OECD has got its whole approach to this issue wrong. It is absurd to ask developing countries to adopt and use a system of profit allocation between states that very obviously does not and cannot work. However well trained officials from these countries might become in this system nothing within their supposed new competence will overcome the fact that the OECD transfer pricing system assumes that companies within multinational corporations are independent of each other, when very obviously they are not, and that there are comparable free market prices available with which their trades can be compared when we very obviously know that is not the case, not least because up to 70% of all world trade is now thought to be undertaken on  an intra-group basis.

Asking people to tax on the basis of make believe is not just absurd; it’s also a recipe for abuse. That’s what we’ve got and that’s what we’ll keep whilst this system is perpetuated by the powers that be in the OECD, the Big 4 accountants and big business that has everything to gain from continuation of this abuse.

On the value of a local hospital

Fri, 04/04/2014 - 06:41

I have mentioned my gratitude to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, King's Lynn over the last couple of days.

Officially the hospital is on the CQC hit list for poor care. I will not explore details:,suffice to say if you want to fail something you always can.

What I have reflected on is the social impact of this hospital. It is not a specialist centre. It could fairly be described as remote and rural. Its hinterland is smaller than some hospitals despite that because some is in the North Sea. And so the wish to close the hospital will be running high amongst those with a wish to rationalise NHS services in the name of 'efficiency'.

But just think of the consequences. With 2,400 staff the hospital is the biggest employer in the town and region. The diversity of its staffing is vital for the community. It's presence reinforces the fact this is a community despite its remoteness when other agencies, like HMRC, want to pull out.

Downscaling this hospital would be a disaster, for those who work there, for those who use it, for those who live around here, and for the town. I expect the demand for that downscaling will arise in due course though. Hunt wants power to over-ride all such local considerations without consultation.

I am not interested in devolution of all power for its own sake. I do not think everything local is good. I believe in the integration of services, just as I believe in a mixed economy. But integrated services require local presence to be effective, most especially in a national health service. The paradox is national has to embrace local to work.

I am not the first person to realise the value of their local hospital, of course. And like many others I am willing to shout about it. But the fact is that the economic madness of a disintegrated NHS has led to questioning of the role of places like QEH, King's Lynn. It's that madness that needs treatment, not the hospital.

A vote of thanks

Fri, 04/04/2014 - 06:17

Another quick update.

First, again, my thanks to all who have sent good wishes. My apologies if I have not acknowledged each individually.

Second, it's good to be home rattling full of drugs of various kinds. I now wait for the next stage that is likely to be an op.

Third, school breaks up today. I may well be takng time off too with my sons as a result and heeding some of the advice given that I relax for a week, although since not writing for me is quite stressful I suspect some blogging will get through.

Fourth, my thanks to the NHS – but I already feel a blog formulating on that one.

 

It had to happen

Thu, 04/03/2014 - 07:44

I always knew the day would come when I had to spend my first night in hospital for reason of my own health for the first time since I was born and last night was it. The lergy that hit me at the weekend turns out to have been a gall stone giving grief.

What have I learned so far? First, I have to admit, is that morphine is an amazing pain killer.

Second is just how extraordinary the NHS can be. Once it was clear I needed to come in everything moved remarkably quickly and smoothly from GP to hospital to tests and diagnosis. Now I am well aware that I have presented a fairly simple case , but I am still impressed.

Third, the need for integration is so obvious when looking at the whole process I have been through and yet the whole ethos of NHS privatisation undermines this.

Fourth, the vast majority of NHS staff make the private sector look silly. Purpose clearly matters to these people. I cannot see how working for a private sector provider could improve this; indeed, much recent reading I have done suggests how hard it is for private sector providers to recruit staff to serve the NHS.

Fifth, I am not alone in thinking this: the guys around me share that view. I have asked them.

Sixth, the hospital I am in is under threat. It has a big deficit and supposedly low ratings. But, close it and the nearest hospital for all in here would be 40 miles away. The social cost of that would have been enormous. So would the economic cost: I doubt I could have withstood getting here in a car if the journey had been 40 mikes; an ambulance would have been needed.

Seventh, what this says to me is the frontline can work well so if reform is needed (and I know all the arguments for reform ) then it is the back end that needs change. The obvious answer is to remove the enormous admin cost of the faux market in the NHS.

Eighth, I have already improved enough to have a sausage bap for breakfast.

Ninth, I can blog from an iPhone – and haven ‘t before.

But most importantly, my commitment to this amazing institution is stronger than ever.

An answer to Polly Toynbee’s question

Wed, 04/02/2014 - 09:42

I noted, belatedly, that Polly Toynbee, writing in the Guardian yesterday about the composition of the HMRC board, said:

Why isn't Murphy on that board?

There is a simple explanation for that. Such an appointment would, of course, be argued to be political when, however, the appointment of the former senior partner of KPMG and others from the tax profession and business community is not, of course.

That's how the neoliberal capture of the state is justified, even if it requires a straightforward lie to be told to do so.

The People’s Parliament, tonight: apologies for absence

Wed, 04/02/2014 - 07:27

First, thanks for many messages of goodwill yesterday. I am, for once, by and large heeding your collective advice.

Second, apologies to those going to the meeting of The People's Parliament in Westminster tonight, where I was meant to be speaking. I'd love to do so but definitely won't be. I won't be going anywhere today.