mm1 820x410 - A look at Surrey’s history and today’s tax climate

A look at Surrey’s history and today’s tax climate

Surrey is one of the historic counties of Britain. The most striking thing about Surrey is perhaps the Surrey county cricket club, one of the first cricket clubs in existence. Surrey began as a fishing hub during the time of the Semiahmoo, Katzie and Kwantlen people, and the agricultural landscape is ever so prominent today.

We start from the early modern age when the Tudors occupied Surrey. It was an age of prosperity for the county, with great castles built in those parts. It was an important industrial hub, previous known for its blooming cloth and textile industry. Later, the iron industry took over and contributed majorly to the local economy.

Surrey was governed by a county council in the 1800s under Newington area. It’s 11 districts were spread and scattered across. However it was not officially a city until the early 1990s, when parts of the county were recognized under the Greater London area.

Properties here are governed by council taxes, as is the case with the rest of Britain. In the 1800s, the land taxes were administered strictly in the county, with people ineligible to vote unless they had paid their due land taxes. Later on, the need for land tax assessments were removed with electoral registers coming in.

mm2 - A look at Surrey’s history and today’s tax climate

We turn our attention here to a recent announcement on council taxes in Surrey. In February 2018, the local council voted to increase council taxes by an astonishing 6% on average, meaning that each individual should pay up an additional GBP 1.53 a week. The announcement came after a legislation from the central government in the end of 2017 that allowed local councils to hike the council tax independently.

The key reason for the increase in Surrey council taxes was as a result of widening definite and a lack of funding from the central government. As a result, alternative means of increasing revenues had to be identified. Government funding to Surrey had reduced by a net total of GBP 200 million in a period of 7 years.

The local government however aims to lead infrastructure and development projects that are both sustainable and can increase future revenue streams. This should enable a situation where the council taxes can be gradually reduced to perhaps less atrocious levels. We believe this is economically feasible.

img7 820x410 - 3 key reasons why the hearth tax was unpopular in Britain

3 key reasons why the hearth tax was unpopular in Britain

The hearth tax was a revolutionary policy in the 1600s and set the trend for tax collection and proper recording. While at the institutional level it simplified and made transparent the entire process, the public reception was not very favorable. Read more about the introduction at www.hearthtax.org.uk/about/history.html

At the broader level, the tax system is adept at measuring wealth inequality and taking measures to bring down the levels. The system was fair in its design, as wealthier property owners paid twice as much as the average property owner. Property owners who owned properties worth more than 20 shillings paid 2 shillings in annual tax (10%) whereas the rest paid 1 shilling.

Let us begin by neglecting the most widespread cause of unpopularity, which is that tax evasion was no longer possible. This is not a reason that should at all be factored, as it is every citizen’s duty to pay tax. With transparency and proper recording of tax records, tax evasion could easily be monitored and eradicated.

It was not so much the design and the intent of the tax system, rather the execution and administrative complexities that made it unpopular at the time. The structure allowed the role of private tax collectors, who could enter homes and collect taxes, which were then passed to the crown. However, due to a lack of proper execution, there were cases where tax information was incorrectly passed on.

This happened when tax collected visited homes when people were away. In some cases, they tried to count the number of chimneys in a house from outside in order to determine the number of hearths. This resulted naturally in incorrect counting and wrong tax calculations. This created dissatisfaction and outrage among some sections of the community.

In some other cases, people would deliberately not answer the doors when the tax collectors came, to avoid paying taxes. The same outcomes resulted from such situations, although in this case it is hard to blame execution. You cannot forced someone to enjoy paying taxes!

There were also loopholes that were fully exploited by citizens. For example, in those times it was possible to evade tax by declaring yourself to be poverty-stricken. Such declarations were easily possible by downgrading to a home worth very less, which would indicate that you are poor. These was no comprehensive check on all means of finances at the time.

The situation could have been tackled in various ways, mainly by proper communication. When the tax was introduced, the full disclosure of what the tax revenue will be used for, and what kind of future benefits it could produce to the very same citizens that pay up initially, would have resulted in relatively more willingness to pay taxes. These are lessons for the future.

mon 820x410 - It’s not just tax, governments have other revenue sources too!

It’s not just tax, governments have other revenue sources too!

Let us begin with macroeconomics. All of us have studied this at some point or the other. Macroeconomics presents the concepts of tax, public spending, deficit, trade imbalances and recession. These concepts are crucial to understanding the current economic context.

Every institution, individual, company or government has sources of revenue and sources of expenses. When it comes to government, the key revenue source is taxation. Taxation can come in many forms – income, capital gains, property, wealth, inheritance, pensioners and corporate. With each of these tax types, there are usually different slabs catering to different categories of taxpayers.

Why is tax important? Let us begin with the annual budget. At the beginning of every fiscal year, the government releases an annual budget for its expenditures. Expenditures range from key categories such as trade, education, social service and infrastructure, to minor categories such as foreign aid and presidential /royalty expenditures. All these expenses are meant to serve the citizens of a nation, ergo are funded by the citizens’ income.

mon2 - It’s not just tax, governments have other revenue sources too!

When there arises a situation wherein tax revenue exceeds expenditures, you have a fiscal surplus. And vice versa, when revenues fall short of expenditures, you are faced with a fiscal deficit. While both situation are not ideal, fiscal deficits can potentially lead to more disastrous consequences. When governments try to win the popular vote by reducing tax when they are not supposed to, their fiscal situation becomes unstable and they can fall into serious debt issues.

It is obviously important to keep a balance between fiscal stability and the overall public health. This is the reason why tax has not just one lever, but several. When there are looming threats of wage disparity or unemployment, you move the levers of taxation such that the policies don’t negatively affect the middle-class or lower income earners. When you are faced with the threat of domestic investors finding the local situation a tad too unfair and moving their investments abroad, you adjust (to an extent) levers that affect the wealthy such as wealth, property and capital gains taxes.

img5 - It’s not just tax, governments have other revenue sources too!

If the government would like to keep tax rates intact and still is in dire need to raise revenue, there are always other sources. However these need to be planned in advance and cannot be exploited as easily as tax levers. Two additional revenue generating means for the government are trade and external loans. In times of surplus, governments can consider issues loans to foreign institutions or governments to rely on a predictable interest stream for the future.

There is also trade. Countries like Germany enjoy the flexibility of tax adjustment decisions due to the immense trade surpluses that they enjoy, Naturally trade surpluses have their own pitfalls, but when it comes to revenue sources they are as good as any. So citizens, take note! When you are doubting the effectiveness of a policy designed to increase revenues, it is good to have the full situation known.