Cameron tries to tackle tax

THE rows of empty shops in Enniskillen, painted to look as if they are busy and successful during the G8 conference of world leaders, pay testimony to the problems continuing to bedevil the global economy almost six years since the start of the financial crash.

However, while conference host David Cameron wants the talks to focus on boosting prosperity through trade deals, a concerted crackdown on tax avoidance and reducing world poverty, the G8 – as so often happens – is in danger of being sidetracked by the urge to prevent bloodshed, in this case the continuing carnage of Syria’s civil war.

The Prime Minister has moved with impressive speed to prepare the ground for an agreement on curbing tax avoidance, signing up British Overseas Territories and dependencies to a deal sharing informations.

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The problem with such a deal, however, is that it will only be effective if it is backed by global agreement. And, while there is broad support for Mr Cameron’s assertion that tax secrecy costs governments billions in lost revenue, a worldwide exchange of information is a different matter.

Countries have a common interest in maximising tax revenue, but once greater transparency threatens to damage their individual competitive advantage, all thoughts of a common cause will go out of the window.

While Mr Cameron is right to say that a fairer and more open tax system is an incentive to investment, any country that moves too far ahead of its competitors with this kind of tax reform risks losing business as a result.

Of course, by the end of this week’s conference, an agreement of some sort will be signed, but how meaningful it will be is another question.

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Tax deals, however, look a simple matter when compared with taking action on Syria. Haunted by US intervention in Iraq, Barack Obama seems as reluctant to offer concrete help to the Syrian rebels as Mr Cameron is enthusiastic.

The US State Department, meanwhile, seems to have its own agenda, namely countering the spreading influence of Iran, the key backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad, regardless of the election of the apparent moderate, Hassan Rowhani, as Iran’s President.

In spite of Mr Obama’s hesitancy, not to mention the reservations of the rest of the G8 about taking sides in a Sunni-Shia conflict, a policy of assisting the Sunni rebels seems to be on the cards, regardless of the presence of al-Qaida in 
the opposition ranks.

Much will depend, however, on negotiations this week with Russia, a strong ally of President Assad. And, so far, it is 
as difficult to imagine Vladimir Putin backing down over Syria as it is 
to see him sharing tax information with his Western rivals.

Flood of concern

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IT WAS in July last year that the then Environment Secretary, Caroline Spelman, told the House of Commons that a deal to provide flood insurance to the most imperilled properties was “very close”.

Almost 12 months later and the Government is still saying that discussions with insurers to prevent soaring bills for more than half-a-million householders and businesses should be resolved soon.

The difference, however, is that there is now only a month to go before the current deal expires and 
still the discussions 
continue, even though Ministers have known of the deadline ever since the coalition Government took office.

While no-one can dispute that money is tight, it is simply unacceptable to create uncertainty for so many home-owners and businesses in this way, particularly when the anniversary of last year’s devastating Yorkshire floods is a reminder that, with Britain’s unpredictable weather, disaster could strike again at any time.

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This is why Ministers must not only pull out all the stops to sign a new deal with insurers, they should also be investing in adequate defences to make certain that, when floods do arrive, as few insurance policies as possible are actually invoked.

Crime conundrum

THE Prime Minister’s description of Britain’s police as “relatively honest” illustrates the falling level of trust and respect between politicians and police following recent budget cuts.

Yet, in spite of these deteriorating relations and the continuing economic slump, crime rates have been falling. This is why the large increase in burglaries in Barnsley and Rotherham is so unexpected.

It is simplistic, and also insulting to the people of South Yorkshire, to suggest that previously law-abiding people are turning to crime merely because they have less money in their pockets.

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The availability of police resources, however – and, crucially, their deployment – is a different matter. It is encouraging, therefore, that a new scheme, in which high-visibility patrols are deployed according to the pattern of recent offences, appears to have had success in reducing burglaries in Doncaster and is now being expanded.

Crime figures are seldom as simple as they first appear, but if this scheme’s success continues, it may be that South Yorkshire Police are setting the pace in demonstrating how cuts in resources need not necessarily result in rising crime.