Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Please Don't U-Turn into a Cul-de-sac Swinney

After my initial joy at the news that the SNP are looking to localise their Local Income Tax (LIT)proposals I was a little shocked about some of the apparent revelations that have emerged.

John Swinney had said that he had raised the issue of LIT with Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC), it is the least one would expect 17 months into an administration that had this proposal as one of its linchpins. However, HMRC have apparently said they have not been involved in discussions. Yet the The Times had reported that the whole thing blew up at the weekend because of a leak of emails obtained by the BBC:

"E-mails obtained by the BBC under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that
some unpopular aspects of the proposal are under review. Correspondence sent from the Scottish Government to Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs last month show that the SNP now wants etc.."

So if last month the Scottish Government wanted to review some things already sent to HMRC surely that means that consultation with them over the issue of LIT had to be underway.

Heaven forbid that the Sir Humphrey Appleby* equivalent at HMRC had been house trained after 11 years of Labour masters not to look at alternatives. Even it that alternative does come from a legislature overseeing a devolved part of the UK, after all devolution was a linchpin of New Labours sweep to power in 1997.

John Swinney has to be careful that this double talk, of misinformation coming from the HMRC is not allowed to cloud the agenda over LIT.

He also though has to not U-turn on his own U-turn having accepted that he has made one. When one Government official made a statement on Monday night saying:

"We favour HMRC as the most efficient way to collect a local income tax as it
already has experience of administering income tax. After introducing local
income tax at the same level in all local authority areas, in the medium term we
are considering options for local variability in a downward direction. HMRC
would still collect the tax in the most efficient manner - we are not proposing
to transfer collection to councils at any stage."

It makes it appear that the Nats have not moved away from we'll do it our way first, with a National Income Tax before giving way to council setting their own rate. This approach has already be vehemently rejected by the Lib Dems as not being a Local Income Tax. So if the statement on Sunday by Swinney was meant to appease Liberal Democrats the statement the next night when fending off the attacks needs either clarification or rejection.

* The current Permanent Secretary of HMRC is Dave Hartnett who was only appointed earlier this month.

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