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In just over a month’s time, the Chancellor of the Exchequer will stand up at the Despatch Box and deliver his Budget.

At the same point last year, the Chancellor announced he would save £5 billion by tackling aggressive tax avoidance and evasion.

Unfortunately, the government’s rhetoric doesn’t match its actions. The online tech giant Google and HMRC came to an arrangement where the company would pay £130 million in back taxes following a six year investigation.

Experts have suggested this could mean an effective tax rate of just 3 per cent. I know many businesses up and down the country who would be very interested in a similar arrangement if this were the case.

I also doubt whether the millions of people who have recently submitted their tax returns and paid what was owed would think the Google deal was a “major success” as George Osborne claimed.

As HMRC reached this deal behind closed doors and maintains that tax affairs are private, the detail of it will never be made public.

If George Osborne is so confident the agreement is a “major success”, how has he measured this? Is anything more than zero a great achievement in his book?

It’s right that the Public Accounts Committee has launched an inquiry into this arrangement and HMRC’s role in all this.

I know from my work on the Committee and through speaking to local businesses that the performance of HMRC still leaves a lot to be desired.

Honest, hard working people who want to get through to HMRC to pay their taxes often face lengthy waits on the phone.

That’s if they can get through at all – in our recent report we found that at one point only half of all calls were even being answered.

We need a tax system that is straightforward and fair to everyone, not one where big international companies can afford expensive tax accountants to reduce their tax bills while small businesses in Sunderland cough up.

 

This article was originally posted on the Sunderland Echo's website on 3rd February 2016. You can view it here.

Sunderland Echo: We need a tax system that is straightforward and fair to everyone

In just over a month’s time, the Chancellor of the Exchequer will stand up at the Despatch Box and deliver his Budget. At the same point last year, the Chancellor...

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Our Lady Queen of Peace Primary School in Penshaw recently took a large party of primary school children to visit the Houses of Parliament. As well as visiting Parliament, the pupils also visited No. 10 Downing Street. Local MP Bridget Phillipson supported efforts to organise the visit.

Commenting after the visit, Bridget Phillipson MP said:

“During one of my visits to the school I chaired a debate with the children in order to give them a greater awareness of the democratic process and an insight into how Parliament works. I saw how informed and animated the children were when putting forward their point of view and I was very pleased when the Head Teacher contacted me for advice on arranging a tour of Parliament for the children.

“I am delighted that the trip was a success and I shall be visiting the school again this year to thank the staff and pupils for making the long journey down to London. I am also looking forward to hearing from the children first-hand what they thought of Parliament and I know from my previous visits to the school that the children will have plenty of questions for me."

Barbara Reilly O’Donnell, Head Teacher of Our Lady Queen of Peace RC Primary School in Penshaw said:

“It was a privilege to take our children to Parliament, to see at first hand our national seat of democracy. The children had the opportunity to see how laws are made and by visiting both the House of Lords and House of Commons they could see how opinions can be pursued and shared. This, along with debating opportunities in school, has reinforced the message that everyone has a voice that should be heard. Some children said they felt that they now would like to follow in Bridget’s footsteps and be an MP and many children now recognise that they can use their talents to strive for equality, justice and fairness. Our remarkable day was completed by a visit to Downing Street where Katie got the chance to knock on the big, black door!”

Local school children visit corridors of power in Westminster

Our Lady Queen of Peace Primary School in Penshaw recently took a large party of primary school children to visit the Houses of Parliament. As well as visiting Parliament, the...

The creation of the National Health Service is my party’s proudest achievement. It was founded on the principle that healthcare should be available to everyone free at the point of need and not based on your ability to pay.

We also have a duty of care to those who do so much to care for us and who work tirelessly to serve the public often in difficult circumstances. But this government seems determined to make life harder for NHS staff, and for patients too.

Student nurses, midwives, physiotherapists, radiographers and many others are voicing their concerns about government plans to scrap the NHS student bursary.

Last year, George Osborne announced that the bursary would be replaced by loans. Not only that, but they will now also face tuition fees of up to £9,000 a year and will be left with debts of least £51,600 by the time they’ve finished their training.

This is a huge gamble with the future of the NHS workforce. We are already facing a nursing shortage thanks to the government’s short-sighted decision back in 2010 to cut the number of nurse training places which led to 8,000 fewer nurses being trained. Many hospitals are being forced to rely on overseas or agency staff.

Plans to scrap the NHS bursary risk making staff shortages even worse.

Student nurses are not like other students. They are required to spend a significant amount of their course working with patients, including at night and weekends.

There aren’t enough hours in the day to take on a part-time job to help with costs. We also know that student nurses are far more likely to be mature students – that often means children and families to support.

We should be encouraging people to re-train and bring their valuable experience into nursing rather than making it harder to do so. The changes will effectively charge students for working in the NHS and keeping our hospital wards up and running.

The government’s plans won’t solve the nursing crisis that ministers themselves created. Rather, many promising students will be priced out of a career.

But they won’t be the only losers – patients will suffer and our NHS will be poorer. There’s still time for the Chancellor to think again and protect the vital services on which we all rely.

Echo Column: A huge gamble with the future of the NHS

The creation of the National Health Service is my party’s proudest achievement. It was founded on the principle that healthcare should be available to everyone free at the point of...


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