There are alternatives to the government’s slash and burn policies

There are alternative ways of managing public finances that aren't reliant on more savage cuts.

There are alternative ways of managing public finances that aren’t reliant on more savage cuts

Never-ending austerity is the dominant vision of the Conservative-led coalition government. Last week it promised further cuts of around £55 billion to public expenditure. However contrary to the government’s claims, there are alternative ways of addressing public finances. Here are just a few examples.

Mega rich

Britain’s 1,000 richest people are estimated to be worth £519 billion, an increase of 15.4 per cent on the previous year. The wealthy elites can’t spend or consume their entire fortune, often built with the blood, sweat, brain and brawn of other people. They could even voluntarily forego 10 per cent of their wealth and it will hardly make a difference to their lifestyle.

Alternatively, the government could levy a 10 per cent wealth tax on the super-rich.

Tax avoidance

An estimated £120 billion of tax revenues go uncollected each year because of organised tax avoidance, evasion and arrears. Even by just collecting 25 per cent of the tax lost each year, government can make a massive improvement to public finances.

Yet the political will is not there. Chasing tax avoiders is a labour-intensive task, but due to austerity programmes some 34000 jobs have disappeared at HMRC.

Rather than firm action, the government is engaged in gestures. A good example of this is the proposals for a Diverted Profit Tax, or what is popularly known as ‘Google Tax’, which might raise £1 billion over five years.

This is optimistic as in the absence of a fundamental reform corporations are adept at creating complex structures to shift profits. In any case, the legislation is unlikely to be enacted before the next general election.

Pension contributions tax relief

The UK’s richest 1 per cent own about the same as the poorest 55 per cent of population. Inequalities and the demands of public purse can be addressed through reform of tax relief given on contributions to pension schemes.

Currently, tax relief is based on the marginal rates of income tax applicable to each taxpayer. If someone liable to the basic tax rate of 20 per cent puts £1,000 in to an approved pension scheme, this results in a pension contribution of £1,250. The same £1,000 results in a pension contribution of £1,667 and £1,818 for those paying income tax at marginal rates of 40 per cent and 45 per cent.

The total tax relief on pension contributions is about £35 billion a year. Employers receive another £15.2 billion tax relief on pension related National Insurance payments, making a total tax relief of around £50 billion. The UK has 29.9 million income tax payers . Of this, 25 million individuals pay tax at the basic rate of income tax or less, and 4.9 pay tax at higher marginal rates.

The government admits that only one-third of the tax relief on pension contributions goes to basic rate tax payers and the remainder goes to higher rate taxpayers. Others say that only about 25 per cent relates to basic taxpayers.

This is a massive subsidy for the well-off. By fixing the tax relief at the basic rate of income tax government can generate revenues of about £25 billion each year.

Corporate welfare

The government wants to be tougher on welfare cuts but there is complete silence on rolling-back the rampant corporate welfare programme.

Private Finance Initiative (PFI) has been promoted as a panacea for providing schools, hospitals and a variety of public services. The 725 current PFI projects have a capital outlay of £54.2 billion, but the government is committed to repaying about £238 billion.

This is a massive drain on public funds, especially as the government itself could have borrowed the money cheaply. The government should renegotiate all PFI contracts.

Railways were privatised in 1996, but the UK train fares are almost the highest in the western world. Train companies have picked up nearly £60 billion in subsidies since privatisation and pay generous dividends to their shareholders. More subsidies are on the way for the Crossrail and HS2 projects. This gravy train should be halted.


The above list is by no means exhaustive but shows that there are alternative ways of managing public finances than more savage cuts.

Prem Sikka is Professor of accounting at the University of Essex

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62 Responses to “There are alternatives to the government’s slash and burn policies”

  1. Leon Wolfeson

    Nope, you’re talking about your plans to increase prices, as ever, to screw over people. You keep defending tax evasion, though.

    And why would he hold your goals, of denying the poor capital (and incomes).

  2. Kevin Leonard

    We will never be kicked out of Nato nor the UNSC because of historical connections and the fact that Mi6 know where the bodies are buried as for losing Trillions yet more crap talk about how no one would want to trade with us designed to keep the European superstate intentions alive.

    44%-50% of our exports are to European countries is the claim constantly made by those who love Europe yet the real figure is closer to 33% due to exports to all countries being forced through European ports so they can add on their own cut.
    Dealing directly with those overseas countries rather than through a third party would allow prices to fall and result in greater sales. The European market will still be there and would continue.

    As for Trident who needs a multi million pound system when the biggest threat will more likely come from individual suicide bombers with a back pack.

  3. Alison Wunderland

    So, bring back exchange control. This is exactly what it was for! Another Thatcherism that benefitted the well heeled allowing them to flit the country and their obligations.

  4. LB

    You can do. But you need to leave the EU first.

    Freedom of movement of people, goods, services and capital.

    If you want to break that freedom or right, you now know what you have to do.

    Mind you, the last country that I’m aware of that imposed such rules was in the 1930s in Germany for Jews.

  5. Douglas Andrew Town

    Can they do that without selling on the business to what is effectively a new company?

    And if they can, shouldn’t the Treasury be telling local authorities:

    “Your contract is with UK-based Company A and not with Channel Islands-based Company B. Don’t pay Company B?”

    Or was this tax haven scam written into the original contracts?
    If so, maybe we should be investigating some of the signees for corruption.

  6. Douglas Andrew Town

    I found this radio programme on the subject:

    “For two decades, the Private Finance Initiative has been a controversial way of building new hospitals, schools, roads and prisons. Well over £200bn of taxpayers’ money has been committed to the companies managing these projects.

    The coalition government describes some PFI contracts as ‘ghastly’ and wants some of this cash back. One cabinet minister says ‘the people on the other side must have been laughing all the way to the bank’.

    But, while public services are facing cuts, PFI payments are guaranteed under watertight contracts. So experts say the government can win only small amounts in rebates.

    Much of the money has already gone offshore. Huge profits have been made by selling and reselling many contracts in a secretive ‘secondary market’ – with none of the proceeds returning to the taxpayer.”

  7. Leon Wolfeson

    Ah, the “it will be fine really” argument, this time backed up with magical intelligence agency powers. Nope, your plan severs us from them.

    The fact is we benefit from doing transhipment of goods, and you’d lose us that trade entirely, as you argue that it’s cheaper to pay tarrifs than not pay tarrifs, which is obvious nonsense.

    And of course you don’t believe in Russia.

  8. Leon Wolfeson

    No surprise you try that one.

  9. Leon Wolfeson

    Just declare that companies with PFI contracts who have offshore HQ’s pay tax on *global* revenue in the UK.

    That’d stop that one!

    (Well, we couldn’t stop them putting it in another EU country, but it’d stop the use of tax havens there)

  10. john vict

    when i was reading this article, i was very suprised, I am from Turkey and we think that we are developing country which tackle with some financial problem in public sektor. However UK is almost same with us, and some of our academician solution offer are almost same. so i can say that i live a developed country as far as UK

  11. Premsikka

    Thanks Douglas.

  12. Douglas Andrew Town

    Here’s another one which is adds up to Billions rather than just Millions per year:

    “More than £20 billion is lost through public sector fraud and £15 billion on duplicated procurement across Whitehall departments and councils.”

    I was really not kidding when I said (below) that many Private Finance Initiative contracts should be investigated for fraud.

    Read more:

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