Friday, 22 September 2017

EU funds may be available for UK Caribbean territories restoration

From the European Parliamentary Research Service blog:

EU Solidarity Fund

Providing for emergency and recovery operations in areas affected by a major natural disaster, the EU Solidarity Fund is open to Member States and candidate countries. A recent witness to the brute force of Hurricane Irma, the French territory of Saint Martin, one of the EU’s nine outermost regions and thus an integral part of the EU, is eligible for support under this mechanism. To receive help, the Member State involved (in this case, France) must apply to the European Commission for assistance within 12 weeks of the first damage. With a maximum annual allocation of €500 million, the EUSF may be used to fund measures such as providing temporary accommodation, supporting rescue services or cleaning up disaster areas. In principle, it is limited to non-insurable damage and does not therefore compensate for damage to private property. The EUSF has intervened in over 75 disasters to date, allocating a total of €5 billion to help alleviate the impact of natural disasters, including the 2007 hurricanes in Réunion and Martinique, both of which are outermost regions.
In the case of outermost regions, a special lower threshold is applied, such that the damage caused exceeds 1 % of a region’s GDP (rather than 1.5 % in other regions), to take account of their specific structural social and economic situation. In addition, following the adoption of an amendment to the EUSF Regulation in July 2017, Member States affected by a natural disaster may now draw on a special EU financing mechanism, to help supplement EU Solidarity Fund assistance. This allows the application of an extraordinary EU co-financing rate of 95 % under a cohesion policy programme in an affected region. Accordingly, programmes in outermost regions such as Saint Martin, which have an 85 % co-financing rate, will now be eligible for an additional 10 % support in the event of a major disaster. At the time of writing, Saint Martin had not yet applied for assistance under the EUSF.
In addition to this emergency assistance, it is also worth highlighting that several EU-funded programmes are already active in the region and improving the lives of local people. The ERDF-ESG Guadeloupe et Saint Martin operational programme, for instance, which has a total budget of €273 million, includes an investment priority on disaster management, providing funding for activities such as strengthening buildings against the risk of earthquakes. The Interreg V Saint Martin – Sint Maarten cooperation programme, focuses, among other things, on preventing the risk of flooding through better management and control of rainwater, while the priorities of the Interreg V Caribbean cooperation programme include increasing natural hazard response capacity by putting in place shared risk management systems. Saint Martin may also be able to receive support from the €587 million available to France under the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD), an EU fund that provides material assistance such as food, clothing and essential goods for deprived groups.

Support for overseas countries and territories

As overseas countries and territories (OCTs), the British territories of Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos Islands, the Dutch territory of Sint Maarten and the French territory of Saint Barthélemy have a special relationship with the European Union, governed by a Council decision on the association of the overseas countries and territories with the European Union. This text provides that humanitarian and emergency aid may be granted to OCTs faced with serious economic and social difficulties of an exceptional nature resulting from natural or man-made disasters. Under the rules, aid is financed from the general budget of the Union, with a non-allocated reserve of €21.5 million set aside to finance humanitarian and emergency assistance for the OCTs.


However, if the UK goes to the Solidarity Fund, there would be some clawback from the country's "Thatcher rebate", as this official answer in respect of the Cumbrian floods makes clear.

The grown-ups agree that there will be no Brexit

Vince Cable has been saying for some time that Brexit is unlikely. Now Paddy has been unequivocal: it will not happen because there will be parliamentary stalemate. (For once that metaphor, referring to the end of a chess game, seems appropriate.)

But we must be prepared for the repercussions of that outcome. 52% of people who voted in a referendum last year will feel cheated. Government (of whatever stripe) must go some way to meet the arguments of the Leavers.

There is some justification for the belief that at the bottom end of the labour market, immigration has a slightly depressing effect on wages. There is also resentment of people at the other end of the scale, including financial manipulators who are seen as abetting the financial melt-down in the UK.

If the minimum wage (I refuse to call it a living wage) legislation is policed as it should be, and there is stronger action than naming and shaming a few token employers, then the first objection can be met, especially as thorough inspection should also turn up non-EU citizens illegally employed, who must also be depressing wages.

Government should also withdraw right to remain status from those people who are or have been involved in activities which harm or have harmed the UK economy. Any outstanding international arrest warrants should be honoured. Benefit tourists should be deported - existing EU law allows this.

Of course, this will mean raising the staffing level of the Border Agency and of police forces, but the cost should be offset by the additional tax raised by the uplift in pay. Besides, Mr Dacre, would it not be a price well worth paying for a tighter immigration régime?

The answer to those who voted Leave in the genuine belief that the EU is a self-appointed institution and that it dictates all the law in its member states is clearly more education. The BBC has failed, and continues to fail, in this regard. This is a dereliction of duty, in view of its constitutional requirement to educate as well as inform and entertain. The government needs to be honest in explaining how it contributes to EU decisions and that it is not powerless in the face of the Commission. Political parties, including Liberal Democrats, need to take up part of this education burden, particularly as the majority of the print media can print lies about the EU with impunity.

The upside is that as soon as government announces that it has abandoned Article 50 negotiations and will seek to keep the UK within the EU, sterling's value will rise against other currencies' and inflation will stop - maybe even reverse.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

"Corporate Wild West"


Firm evidence to add my blog post of two days ago ("Uncollected company secrecy fines...") that the UK freed from regulation by the EU intends, under the Conservatives, to remain the corporate wild west.

From 25th April:

The government has agreed to drop key measures to tackle tax avoidance from the Finance Bill following a deal with the opposition.

These include tougher penalties for tax evasion, changes to prevent people avoiding inheritance tax through offshore trusts and the axing of permanent non-dom status.

Liberal Democrat MP and Public Accounts Committee member John Pugh said:

"Many voters will be shocked that measures to crack down on tax avoiders are being quietly dropped.

“It seems promises to crack down on tax avoidance after the Panama Paper leaks were nothing but hot air.

“This makes a mockery of Theresa May’s claim to be delivering for the many not the few.

"Meanwhile Labour is failing in its job to hold this government to account.

“This election is a chance to change the direction of the country and ensure Britain has a proper opposition."


And from the day before:

Britain will have to settle a €4bn bill over failure to tackle customs fraud before a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU can be agreed, The Times has reported.

Commenting, Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael said:

“This is a major embarrassment for Theresa May.

"Under her watch as Home Secretary, customs fraud was happening on an industrial scale. Now it is British taxpayers who are set to pay the price.

"The cost of the Conservative's divisive hard Brexit is soaring by the day."

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Some things have changed for the better

Whatever the faults of the present House of Lords, at least it no longer has an inbuilt Tory majority due to the hereditary system. I came across this great comment by Lord Tordoff, the Liberal Democrat whip in the 1990s about the easy job his Conservative opposite number in the Lords had: "Whenever I see the Duke of Atholl in the lobby, I know that he's got to the end of the alphabet again."

EU photographic prizewinner from Wales

Congratulations to Matthew Browne for his "Road improvement, walkways and cycleways in Wales" being a joint winner in the 2017 Europe in My Region photo competition, the only UK prizewinner.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

The leader's speech

Vince Cable's speech to Lib Dems federal conference 2017 was well up to standard, with some cutting one-liners about Jeremy Corbyn, Theresa May and the juvenile behaviour of the challengers to her leadership. Points that stood out for me were the reminder - complete with a ?Swahili quotation - of his financial qualifications in the Kenyan Treasury, his nailing of the responsibility for the banking crashes in the UK on Labour's emasculation of the regulators (egged on by the Conservatives, who wanted to go further) and the re-statement of the fact that the Liberal Democrats are not a one-issue party.

I was disappointed that he is thinking of replacing student loans with a graduate tax, which was roundly criticised when Ed Miliband put it forward as a possible Labour policy. However, it seems that this is a result of discussions with the NUS and that Vince is holding up his end of a bargain. Moreover, he did not present it as a policy, but has asked David Howarth (a grievous loss to the Commons) to look at it and will lay the findings before conference.

He touched on the electorate's loss of trust in us. He might have added that, a couple of glaring examples (which I was not alone in criticising at the time) apart, it was only partly justified. The Labour-supporting media were all too happy to blame us for all the Tory depredations, not acknowledging that our ministers had softened the blows as far as they could, while both they and their Conservative-supporting counterparts gave us no credit for the positive things we had achieved. That trust is going to take a while to build up again, and I believe Vince should have stressed that it will be a hard slog. It is going to mean our candidates at all levels being cautious about what they promise and the national parties acting swiftly in the case of councillors who have clearly acted improperly.

The full speech will be put up on Liberal Democrat Voice in due course and there should be a link in the comments to this posting.




Uncollected company secrecy fines could pay for BVI restoration

£32m has been committed by the UK government to help fund the restoration of the British Virgin Islands in the aftermath of hurricane Irma. However, according to Private Eye magazine, thousands of UK companies, many with BVI connections, are liable to fines totalling £100m. The Eye quotes articles written on the Naked Capitalism blog by Richard Smith.

As from June last year, under The Register of People with Significant Control Regulations 2016, the person or people controlling a company should be readily identifiable from a register at Companies House. There are loopholes, described here, for anyone prepared to make a false declaration. Even so, around 100,000 companies have failed to meet the deadline for reporting anything at all. In theory, this should land them with a £1,000 fine and a further daily £100 levy.

The trouble is, says the Eye, the law is "effectively unenforceable".

Neither Companies House - whose recently departed chief executive, Tim Moss, took commendable steps to open up corporate data - nor any other part of government has the resources to police the system at a level that would present any sort of deterrent to the world's money-launderers. 

Without enforcement action,there is, alas, a danger the new rules do more harm than good. The UK gets extra brownie points for "transparency", so the use of its shell companies becomes a stronger reason for banks looking for excuses to handle questionable money to clear transfers  in these companies' names. Until the UK company tax system is policed properly, or it becomes harder to set up a UK shellco (and there is unlikely to be much appetite post-Brexit for either measure), the UK will remain the corporate wild west.