Election debate: Why you should treat Dave,Nick and Gordo like dodgy car salesmen

nick clegg:pic courtesy daily mail

gordon brown:pic courtesy apoliticus

david cameron: pic courtesy greenpeace

Tonight is the last time you can see the three party leaders go head to head before polling day. The subject for the last TV debate on BBC1- the future of the economy – could not be more important for you, your family and your future.

 This time don’t treat the clash like watching the X factor. Instead think of your vote as the equivalent of writing a very big cheque at a car showroom for a dream motor or at a department store for a designer kitchen. You are going to spend a lot of money. You want a good product that lasts, is not going to cost you a bomb to service or repair, and some guarantee that you can afford to pay for it.

Now treat the three party leaders not as politicians but like the salesmen you would encounter on the forecourt or in the shop and take a very critical view of how they pitch their sale to you.

On the economy you already have your own independent Which? report provided by the Institute for Fiscal Studies about the huge hidden failings in the product. Look it up before the debate. In short you will discover, just like many salespeople, the politicians may not have deliberately lied, but they have seriously misled you about the huge cost of the product you are about to buy.

They have not told you the price they will charge you to bail out the bankers either in lost services or higher taxes and charges.

 The scale of their deception is highest among the Tories, pretty bad from Labour and slightly better from the Liberal Democrats.

David Cameron – the smoothest of the salesmen – has concentrated on the nice extras you will get from the Tories – an extra £3 a week for married families, no extra bills on your national insurance, a freeze on your council tax.

But he has not told you how you are going to cope with a whopping £52.4 billion in public spending cuts- beginning weeks after May 7. It’s like 

a salesman diverting you to look at the car’s funky stereo system while not telling you the motor does five miles to the gallon.

To get such cuts the Tories will have to go much further than anything they have said. You are looking at things like a dramatic rise in the retirement age – not their stated 66 but more like 70 – or doubling commuter rail fares if they  have to remove the transport subsidy. Or VAT will have to go up. Their unfunded cuts are the largest of any party.

 Labour’s salesman, grumpy Gordon Brown, has promised to exempt front line staff in the NHS, schools and the police from cuts. What he hasn’t told you is that this means you are going to face much steeper cuts to find the £52.1 billion of savings from other departments like local government, the arts, housing, transport, social security and  defence .And this is on top of higher national insurance. Or again VAT will go up. The problem with Labour is that you have to pay more to safeguard what they have promised to exempt and this will happen from next April.

The Liberal Democrats salesman genial Nick Clegg is the nearest the IFS find to being anywhere near honest. They have to find the lowest sum – some £34.5 billion.

They may not have to introduce more tax increases but they will have to introduce more cuts. Their policy sees a meaningful tax cut worth £700 a year to anybody earning between £10,000 and £113,000. Those earning less than £10,000 including many pensioners on low incomes will be exempt from tax altogether.

Better off families with children will lose out on child tax credits, lose their child trust fund and the NHS, schools and the police will not be exempt from cuts unlike Labour. What you have from the Liberal Democrats is the nearest to a consumer product guarantee but you still don’t know the call out charges.

By the end of the debate it is likely that none of the leaders will have  genuinely spelled out the real cost of their policies to tackle the deficit. It is up to you to decide which is the least worst option. Unlike a disgruntled shopper, you can’t entirely walk away because you are going to get one of the products anyway.

You also should not forget that these were the people who conned you over their expense claim system and you should not allow them to con you again. Also ignore the distractions over hung Parliaments, that is a problem for the politicians not you.

Remember also there are other candidates standing from the Nationalists,Green Party, UKIP and independents. It’s your vote.

This blog also appears on the UK site  of MSN’s general election feature page.

Own Goal by the Revenue:Why we must foot their bill

gordon brown:His watch saw inept off shore tax deal for revenue -pic courtsey apoliticus

If you have just had a new tax code or VAT demand, it is likely that the Revenue and Customs office that issued it is managed in a tax haven.

And if you have recently visited an old Abbey National office of Santander Bank you are on the premises of an off shore managed office.

You probably didn’t know either. Today an analysis by Parliament’s watchdog the National Audit Office reveals the off shore company that managed both deals are legally set to avoid paying hundreds of millions of tax to the very offices making tax demands on you.

The findings by the Commons Public Accounts Committee is the latest revelation on signing an outsourcing contract 8 years ago which MPs describe today as “ highly damaging to the Department’s reputation”.

 In effect to save an estimated £1.2 billion Revenue and Customs signed a £3.3 billion contract with a firm now called Mapeley to hand over for 20 years the ownership and management of 591 tax offices including the freehold of 132 offices to an offshore company then based in the Cayman Islands.

Today the cost of contract has risen to £3.87 billion, the maximum potential savings have dropped by £300 million and the department has found that it cannot recover its own VAT from the rent. It will have to draw up contingency plans costing over £100m should the company walk away following a decision to close 130 tax offices as part of the first wave of efficiency savings.

But the most extraordinary revelation is the rare glimpse given into tax avoidance by auditors from the NAO. After a stormy hearing at the Commons public accounts committee, the company allowed the NAO access to its offshore books to see the effect of the loss of tax revenue to the government. The figures, hidden at the back of the report, are staggering.

If Mapeley, now part of the US offshore Fortress Group was based in Britain rather than Bermuda, the tax coffers would be swelled by £184m. Easily enough to build a teaching hospital or renovate a lot of schools. In fact the company is expected to pay £14m –saving £170m. That is hardly enough to renovate a big secondary school. Furthermore Gordon Brown’s efficiency savings by closing down tax offices is going to give the offshore company a tax bonanza if it can get a good price for them. Only the recession is stopping them.

These tax savings are only on the Revenue and Customs contract. The company has a similar deal with the old Abbey National and if branch closures follow bank mergers under Santander, logic dictates even more tax savings.

No wonder the NAO concludes in its prosaic way; “There is unlikely to be any overall benefit to the Exchequer from such arrangements as any apparent savings for the Department are accompanied by reduced tax revenues.”

With everybody living in this country having to pay more tax and face cuts in services to pay for the bail out of the banks, the prospect of the Treasury being deprived by the  Revenue of extra tax is obscene.

The people who negotiated this deal should hang their heads in shame and the politicians, and that includes Gordon Brown, chancellor at the time, should be brought to account for such an inept negotiation.

For while we debate the scale of tax rises and cuts in the general election campaign, the directors of the company involved must be laughing all the way to their offshore bank.

This blog is also on The Guardian’s Comment is Free website.