THE BBC has a set of principles. Its mission is to enrich lives with programmes that “inform, educate and entertain”. Its “vision” is modestly put at becoming “the most creative organisation in the world”.
Among its values are “taking pride in delivering quality and value for money”. Now is a good time to ask whether the Corporation, funded by the licence fee – a poll tax by another name – lived up to these aspirations in its Jubilee celebrations coverage?
We know that more than 2,400 member of the public who have complained think it did not. In line with criticism from sections of the commentariat, the complaints centre on the trivial, populist tone the BBC set. As an example, people singled out a sequence in which presenter Fearne Cotton and singer Paloma Faith discussed a Jubilee-themed sick bag.
The response? No surprise that Corporation director general Mark Thompson praised the coverage as “impressive”, but a more accurate assessment came from ex-BBC executive Mark Damazer who said the organisation tried too hard to make coverage “informal” and “inclusive”. He has a point, and it is ironic that Sky News, which is a commercial organisation with no public funding, won plaudits for the more serious tone it set.
Judged by its own criteria, then, we can only conclude the BBC did not properly inform, educatate or entertain over the Jubilee weekend. It was not particularly creative and failed to deliver quality while spending unknown millions of our money. If the Corporation cannot get the tone and content right for such an important national event, then its privileged position as the de facto state-funded national broadcaster becomes unsustainable.
Stamp Duty change welcome but watch ‘Revenue Scotland’
John Swinney yesterday cited no lesser authority than Adam Smith, the son of Kirkcaldy who was the father of modern political economics, when he unveiled the Scottish Government’s plans to replace Stamp Duty on house sales with a Land and Building Transaction Tax. Quoting the author of The Wealth of Nations, Mr Swinney said taxation should be governed by four maxims: the burden proportionate to the ability to pay, certainty for the taxpayer, convenience and efficiency of collection.
Given that Smith is both a distinguished Enlightenment Scot and that his work has more recently been celebrated by those on the left of politics, such as Gordon Brown, as well as those on the right at the Institute which takes his name, this was a canny move by a finance secretary anxious, as a nationalist, to present a distinctly Caledonian aspect to his plan while placing potentially controversial changes to taxation in the reassuring historic context of the work of such a universally respected figure.
The possible pitfalls for Mr Swinney in presenting his plans in this way are, however, many and varied. His consultation document on the new tax will be pored over by, among others, political opponents, solicitors and estate agents, and homeowners, to see if they do indeed meet such exacting standards. The good news for the finance secretary is that, at first glance, they appear to do so.
At the heart of the new tax is the desire to end what is called the “slab rate” increases of Stamp Duty, where the tax is the same until a certain price is reached, then rises sharply when a house is sold over a certain amount. The finance secretary wants to iron out this anachronistic system and replace it with one in which the taxes rise in proportion to the price and which is, in his words, more “progressive”.
So far, so good, but the devil is in the detail. Under the plans as currently set out there will be an exemption from the tax for homes at the lower end of the price range, something which should, in theory, give a much-needed boost to first-time buyers struggling to secure mortgages.
On the other hand, it appears that for sellers of houses priced over a figure of around £350,000 will pay more in taxes. We all know from the poll tax that winners rarely praise governments which change taxes, but the losers can be extremely vociferous. The detail will need to be carefully examined.
There is another aspect of Mr Swinney’s plan which deserves further scrutiny – his idea of setting up Revenue Scotland, as a “small and efficient” body for the administration of the taxes at a claimed lower cost than Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.
If this can be achieved, it will be very welcome, though this new body should not be used by the SNP to further their political aims by being presented as a precursor to a Scottish Treasury.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Sunday 19 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 7 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 10 C to 20 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east