Monday, December 13, 2010

So Who Do You Want To Carry?

I NY. Not.

Back in the 70s the Big Apple nearly went bust. After years of gross fiscal incontinence under Mayors of both parties, the City of New York was on the skids.

Naturally, they turned for help to their fellow Americans - the folk with whom they had been bonded for two whole centuries, one nation under God.

And you know what their fellow Americans said?

Drop Dead. That's what they said. You got yourselves into this mess, so you can get yourselves out of it. Besides which, we never liked you anyway.

Four decades on, and five little PIIGieS find themselves facing a very similar predicament. Because although the Greeks and the Irish have so far been bailed-out by Northern European taxpayers (including us), nobody seriously believes that's the end of the matter. The fiscal deficits and banking debts of the PIIGS are way beyond their own ability to fund, and way beyond the total European bail-out fund already established.

But will Northern Europe's taxpayers be prepared to shell out even more to rescue the PIIGS? Will they want to carry that weight for a bunch of spendthrift Latinos who spend half the day dossing around in the shade, and with whom historic relations are perhaps best described as troubled?

This morning Boris highlights the issue. Just like he and we Eurosceptics have always said, it turns out Northern Europe's taxpayers really don't want to pay for the profligacy of others. Your average German does not recognise a duty to support the Spaniard.

Quite rightly, Boris demands an apology from all those arrogant half-baked Europhiles who denied there was a problem and wanted us to join the Euro - the ones who wrote us all off as "xenophobic, garlic-hating defenders of the pint and the yard and the good old bread-filled British banger".

Ah yes, how right he is.

Yet there's one bit of Boris's argument that sent the Tyler eyebows twitching skywards. Contrasting the disparate tribes of Europe with the cohesive whole that is Albion, he says:
"London contributes massively in net tax revenues to the rest of the UK, and by and large Londoners accept that this is part of belonging to a single political entity."
By and large, hmmm? A nice phrase, and a nice way of reminding the rest of Britain that they'd better keep the Golden Goose of Londinium sweet. Because to our certain knowledge, there are increasing numbers of London taxpayers who most definitely do not accept that their taxes should be carted off to fund the Picts and the Celts.

We've blogged the regional unfairness of Britain's fiscal arrangements many times (eg here). But just as a reminder, here's the latest analysis from Oxford Economics. It shows that Londoners are made to contribute a net £2 grand pa per head. That is, the average Londoner pays £2 grand pa more in tax than he gets back in terms of public spending:

As we can see, the only regions that actually make a net contribution are London, the South East, and the Eastern region - together comprising the Greater South East. Every single other region takes more than they pay (and in Scotland's case, Oxford Economics have allocated to them all North Sea taxes).

It's been like this for as long as anyone can remember, and the obvious question is why do those living in the Greater South East put up with it? Without the fiscal drain to subsidise the other regions, the average family in the Greater South East would be getting on for £5000 pa better off.  That's serious money, and you'd think most families would notice.

Which brings us to today's Localism Bill.

As regular readers will know, we're great fans of localism (eg see here). We absolutely believe that local councils should have greater authority over the services they provide, so they can respond both to local priorities, and to local cost conditions. So to that extent we welcome the Bill.

Unfortunately, as far as we can see, the Bill does not address the single most important requirement for localism to work - sorting out the money. What would really concentrate minds in local councils, and would make local electors really focus on the issue, would be if councils had to raise much more of their own money for themselves (aka fiscal decentralisation).

As things stand, they get the vast bulk of their cash from Whitehall, and they get it whether or not they satisfy local electors. Indeed, we have just about the most centralised system of local council finance anywhere in the developed world (eg see this blog).

It is a recipe for continued inefficiency at the local level, and a recipe for continued fiscal transfers from the productive to the less productive.

One day in the tough years to come, the Greater South East is going to wake up. One day, its families are going to look at that £5 grand pa being carted off elsewhere and ask why? One day, its taxpayers are going to tell the rest of the country to drop dead.

PS This morning's R4 Today gave us yet another example of BBC statism. According to them, the main problem with Pickles' localism is that it might result in mad-cap councils doing mad-cap things, and surely government has a responsibility to stop that. Like Whitehall has got everything taped.

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