February 16: Party funding and tax ethics

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THE apology by HSBC over unethical banking standards has done little to defuse the fierce political debate between Labour and the Tories over the tax arrangements of the rich.

The latest exchanges saw Ed Balls, the Shadow Chancellor, accuse the Conservatives of being the party of rich hedge funds while the Tories accused Labour of hypocrisy, not least over Ed Miliband’s property arrangements and the tax arrangements of those donors supporting the Opposition.

This blame game, so symptomatic of the wider breakdown in trust between the major political parties and the electorate, does little to address the key issue of the ethics of tax; namely the extent to which individuals should minimise their liabilities and whether it is right for the public to expect higher standards of probity from politicians and other public figures.

It has prompted Ken Clarke, a former Chancellor, to urge the Conservatives to break its reliance on millionaire donors and look to broaden its support base at the grass roots. He is right to do so – the need to win corporate backers has come at the expense of trying to reinvigorate the party’s local membership so that the Tories are better placed to make electoral advances in the North. The same is equally true of Labour – it remains too reliant on the benevolence of the trade unions, even more so since Mr Miliband became leader.

Yet the flaw in Mr Clarke’s plan is that it increases the likelihood of the state funding of political parties, a prospect which should be resisted on three grounds. First, it would be misuse of the public purse at a time of austerity. Second, it would see the parties becoming even more remote from local communities that they purport to serve. And, third, it would effectively see hardworking people penalised for the failure of the major parties to honour their various promises to clean up politics and reform the banks in the wake of the 2007-08 financial crash.

Care consensus

LIKE IT or not, the no nonsense approach of Eric Pickles, the Communities and Local Government Secretary, has compelled town halls to become more efficient. The plain-speaking Yorkshireman has challenged established orthodoxies, not least the profligacy that prevailed under Labour.

Yet the Minister’s cost-cutting zeal must not compromise the future funding of social care – one of the core responsibilities of local councils. While the Tories have made a virtue out of their decision in 2010 to ring-fence NHS funding for hospitals and so on, it does not apply to the costs of looking after the elderly and other vulnerable people in the community.

However, with growing demand due to an ageing society, one of the priorities facing the next Government will be the need for a closer integration between the NHS and community care. The Local Government Association would like to see spending on adult social care ring-fenced to avoid the elderly going without essential every day support such as washing, dressing and meals on wheels.

Yet, while many will sympathise with this, the more pressing priority is coming up with the best way of delivering care for the elderly and the vulnerable, and how this vision can be delivered most effectively. This process needs to take place prior to any decision on ring-fencing or otherwise so any opportunities for efficiency savings can be identified and implemented. It is also important that a political consensus is reached on the best way forward – this issue is not going away and will be a major challenge for all future governments, irrespective of their composition.

A lasting legacy

JANE TOMLINSON would be so proud. Less than eight years after one of the most inspirational Yorkshirewoman in this county’s long history lost her valiant fight against cancer, the charity named in the memory of the heroine continues to exceed all expectations.

Having set an initial target of £5m to honour a mother-in-a-million who took fundraising to new levels with the endurance challenges that she undertook after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, The Yorkshire Post can reveal today that the total amount raised by the Jane Tomlinson Appeal now stands at an incredible £7.6m. And, thanks to the Run For All events, and the Plusnet Yorkshire Marathon, that are staged by the organisation and its partners each year, there is the prospect of even more money being raised for a range of cancer and children’s charities. All that is required is the willpower and public-spiritedness that Jane Tomlinson embodied in her life. Go for it.