Jonathan Isaby is Chief Executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance
Matthew Elliott, Andrew Allum and a small group of dedicated activists founded the TaxPayers’ Alliance with the publication of the first Bumper Book of Government Waste ten years ago this week. I was working as a journalist at the time and well remember its launch – and little did I know that a decade later I would be at the helm of the organisation described by the Telegraph last weekend as “arguably the most influential new pressure group of recent political times”.
Over the last ten years, I believe the TPA has radically changed the terms of the debates about taxation and spending in this country. And here are ten policy victories from those first ten years of which all of us at the TPA are rightfully proud.
1. Spending Transparency
It was one of the TPA’s founding principles that whenever politicians or bureaucrats are spending our money, they owe it to us to explain where it has gone. It therefore followed that spending transparency was an early demand from the TPA. Our regular Public Sector and Town Hall Rich Lists shone a light on senior public sector salaries for the first time, and their publication is now automatic rather than forced as a result of our Freedom of Information requests. Similarly, the Coalition has insisted that government departments and local councils publish considerable amounts of spending data online – although, as I argued in The Times (£) yesterday, ministers should ensure that this is enshrined in law to make it harder for any future government that might be less committed to transparency to row back in this area.
2. Exposing and cutting the taxpayer subsidy to the unions
The TPA conducted its largest ever Freedom of Information campaign to expose for the first time how trade unions were enjoying a taxpayer subsidy to the tune of at least £113 million a year. Ministers are now acting to reduce this subsidy.
3. An historic cut in Beer Duty
In 2013 we ran our MashBeerTax campaign, calling on the Chancellor to scrap the Beer Duty Escalator. The campaign secured a comprehensive victory with the escalator abolished and the announcement of the first cut to Beer Duty since 1959.
4. Fuel Duty Freezes
The TPA’s FreezeFuelTax campaign played a major role in securing the recent freezes in Fuel Duty.
5. Abolishing unelected, unaccountable and wasteful quangos
The TPA has long called for a cull of numerous bodies which exercise considerable power and enjoy significant budgets, without taxpayers being able to holding them to account. So we were delighted when the Regional Development Agencies were scrapped after our research exposed extensive waste in their grant programmes, along with the abolition or reduction in size of other quangos like the Carbon Trust and the Sustainable Development Commission.
6. Scrapping ‘Prevent’ grants
It was the TPA which exposed how the so-called ‘Prevent’ grants from a Whitehall anti-extremism fund were actually funding extremists, prompting ministers to scrap the grants.
7. Cutting public sector wage and advertising bills
The TPA was first to call for a two-year public sector pay freeze, in September 2009, which was later enacted by the Coalition. Before the 2010 general election we also called for a 50 per cent cut in the public sector advertising spending, which was subsequently delivered.
8. Inheritance Tax cuts
TPA-commissioned polling and a joint campaign with the Daily Express demonstrated public anger at Inheritance Tax thresholds which in 2007 helped prompt the then Labour Government to effectively double the IHT threshold for married couples.
9. Income Tax cuts
Before the 2010 general election we were calling for income tax thresholds to be increased so as to take the poorest out of tax altogether – a position which was further pushed in the award-winning final report of our 2020 Tax Commission. We also led calls for the abolition of the economically nonsensical 50p rate, which has of course since been cut to 45p.
10. Halting UK support for loans to Argentina
We were shocked to discover in 2012 that the Government was not objecting to British taxpayers’ money being used to underwrite loans via the World Bank to Argentina – a nation which was repeatedly attacking British interests. After eight months of pressure from our StopFundingArgentina campaign, the Government announced in February 2013 that it would oppose future World Bank loans to Argentina.
That is just a flavour of some of our national achievements over the last decade. It doesn’t begin to look at some of our local successes, such as helping to overturn the proposals for a congestion charge in Manchester or defeating the plans for a workplace parking levy for Bristol.
But we cannot afford to be complacent: we must never stop reminding all those who hold the purse strings in local and central government – not to mention the EU – that there’s no such thing as government money, only taxpayers’ money, and that they have a duty to be far more responsible when they are spending it.
And we will of course continue to fight off plans for new and ever more pernicious taxes that would damage the economy and send seriously negative signals to anyone wanting to do business in this country.
But for today, let’s celebrate ten years of TPA success and hope the organisation can be equally, if not even more effective in the decade to come.