Suspected Paris attacker possessed information on German nuclear plant

“Authorities found documents in Salah Abdeslam’s apartment referring to a nuclear facility in Germany. The report, which officials have denied, comes amid growing concern over terrorists’ use of nuclear weapons. …

… The public revelation of the discovery comes amid renewed concerns over the possibility of members of the so-called “Islamic State” terrorist organization obtaining access to nuclear weapons. Earlier this month, US President Barack Obama spoke at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, where he called on world leaders to ensure nuclear security in the face of a growing international terrorist threat. …”

Devon and Somerset Devolution: a brief primer

By Georgina Allen, South Devon Watch, Facebook

“Devon and Somerset are in the middle of a Devolution process.

The word Devolution sounds as though it will increase and support local democracy, but in fact the opposite is true. What we are experiencing looks more and more like the privatisation of local authorities and local democracy – our devolution bid has been written and is being led by a group called the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership, or the HoSWLEP for short.

This is a quango made up mainly of business men, a couple of women and a few councillors. The business people are primarily property developers, construction CEOs and arms manufacturers. There are 24 of them and they are self-appointed, un-transparent, unaccountable and hold their meetings in secret. They publish minutes, but these are so opaque as to make them pointless. These people have written a bid for the future of Devon and Somerset, which is full of grandiose aspirations for growth.

They want to create 123,000 jobs, build business parks and growth hubs and most worryingly 179,000 houses.

They have no public mandate for this other than the fact that all our local councils have signed up to this bid.

Many local councillors have publicly stated that they are very unhappy with the way the devolution bid is shaping up. In the South Hams, the leader of the council said that they had been coerced into signing up. When questioned further about this, he explained by saying that councils had had their budgets slashed to such a point that they could hardly function.

The government has taken money away from councils and given it to the LEP, unless local councils sign up to the Devolution Bid, they will not get this funding. A simple privatisation practice, but a very effective one. With councils forced to sign up, the LEP have the illusion of a public mandate. There has been incredibly little press about the LEP and they have not consulted with the public, this Bid is going on behind closed doors and is therefore, very concerning.

Where housing is concerned – how did the LEP come up with the figure of 179,000 houses?

This is not based on any known survey. There is no mention of social, affordable or sustainable housing in the bid, just an enormous amount of market housing the LEP want to build.

As the board is mainly made up of developers this raises the question of conflict of interest, which the LEP acknowledge, but which has not stopped them from making the Devolution Bid almost entirely about growth. There is little to no mention of farming, the environment, tourism, all the industries that are most important down here, instead the Bid is about building and growth hubs and IT. It sounds more like a Bid for a northern powerhouse than it does the rural west country.

Most of the growth projections described in the Bid are reliant on Hinkley C going ahead. As there are very real worries about the viability of this, so there should be questions raised about the LEP, who are lacking a plan B. Councillors, MPs, the National Audit Office and many others are becoming increasingly concerned about the process of devolution and the LEP themselves and as a local person, I am also worried at seeing local issues like planning being passed to a quango of business people, who have financial interests in pushing the type of development that is least needed down here.”

Comment: “Hugo Swire donor linked to Panama Papers”

… so it is interesting to note that a businessman who funds East Devon MP Hugo Swire has been linked to a company set up in an offshore tax haven.

The MP received a £5,000 donation from a company owned by the head of the family-owned JCB group, Anthony Bamford. In the register of MPs’ interests, Mr Swire declares the donation from JCB Research, based at Uttoxeter, Staffordshire. The company is used as a vehicle for political donations, and director Lord Bamford is one of the Tory Party’s biggest donors. It has emerged he was the sole shareholder in a company registered in the British Virgin Islands.

He dissolved the company called Casper Ltd in 2012, according to documents from the Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca seen by The Guardian, one of the media outlets studying the leaked Panama Papers. …

… There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by Lord Bamford or Mr Swire. …

… Lord Bamford is believed to have given the Conservatives more than £4m personally and through JCB companies.

Old Etonian Mr Swire, 56, Minister of State at the Foreign Office, which comes with a salary of £98,740, also lists donations of:

£3,000 from his relative Sir Adrian Swire, a billionaire businessman and former chairman of the Swire Group, a global transport and trading conglomerate with major interests in the Far East;

£3,000 from John Lewis OBE, a director of the company Photo-Me International, of which Mr Swire was a director from June 2005 to May 2010.

The Panama Papers are a cache of 11.5 million leaked records from law firm Mossack Fonseca exposing the financial dealings of the wealthy.

Mossack Fonseca said the firm had no control of how its clients might use offshore vehicles created for them.

It is right that elected members of Parliament are transparent about their financial affairs, particularly members of the government which formulates tax law. And it is right that they are held to account through questions from the media on behalf of the electorate, and through the ballot box when the time comes.”

The 1% and why they pay most tax – nailed!

Following on from Hugo Swire telling us the top 1% (of which he is almost certainly a member) pay 27% of tax, a comment on South Devon Watch Facebook page:

The only reason the 1% pay 27% of all income tax take is because they don’t pay their workers enough for them to have to pay any tax. All those part-time/zero hours workers on the minimum wage. Sanctimonious meretricious b*****d.”

Not to mention if that 1% paid ALL their taxes we might still have a proper, functioning national health service AND no potholes!

We are NOT in it together and the 99% know it.

Neil Parish gets pompous (and evasive) about his tax affairs too

Note: MP Mel Stride represents a small part of the East Devon area. Mr Parish was an MEP from 1999 to 2007.

THREE out of four Devon MPs would not answer questions about wjhether they have benefited from offshore accounts, the Echo can reveal.

Hugo Swire, Neil Parish and Mel Stride chose not to respond to questions from the Echo about their tax affairs.

It comes after leaked documents showed politicians, footballers and celebrities had benefited from offshore investments designed to avoid UK taxes. Following calls for greater transparency amongst politicians, the Echo asked the MPs if they had ever used offshore accounts and whether they were prepared to publish their tax returns.

But Mr Swire, whose family was listed at 42 in the most recent Sunday Times Rich List, mounted robust defence of MPs’ right to keep their tax affairs private, which the Echo is publishing in full [see Owl’s post below for Swire’s letter].

His family’s business, which owns a stake in Cathay Pacific, has scores of subsidiaries operating from Panama, Bermuda and the British Virgin Isles.

A county councillor has criticised the 56-year-old foreign office minister for failing to answer the questions posed to him and said he should reveal his tax affairs.

Councillor Claire Wright, who represents Ottery St Mary Rural, said: “Hugo needs to be open and transparent about whether he has offshore investments or not.”

Ben Bradshaw, Labour MP for Exeter, was the only politician in the Echo’s circulation area to respond to all five questions.

He answered “no” to questions one, two and three, meaning he and his family to the best of his knowledge had not benefited from any offshore investments.

Mr Bradshaw said: “Sunlight is the best disinfectant. I have no problem with MPs who, after all, make the laws, being required to publish their tax returns and perhaps the same should apply to our tax-exiled newspaper proprietors too.”

Meanwhile an assistant to Mel Stride, MP for Central Devon, said he was not prepared to make a statement on whether Mr Stride had benefited from offshore accounts at the moment.

The assistant said: “All I can state is he has no offshore trusts.”

The office for Neil Parish, MP for Tiverton and Honiton, did not respond to any of the questions, but came back with the following statement.

Mr Parish said: “This Conservative Government has done more than any other Government to close tax loopholes, a move which I welcome and I voted in favour of these measures.

“All of the items where I have a pecuniary interest have been registered in the Register of Members’ Interest which can be found online.”

Cllr Wright, however, said she believed MPs should be open following the scandal.

She said: “Tax avoidance has been a growing public concern and after the release of the Panama papers, it has reached a point where it is a top story on the news every day.”

“It is beholden on every MP to be open and transparent. They are in a position of public trust if they do have money in off-shore accounts,” Cllr Wright said.

“Hugo is a government minister and as the government make attempts to try and tighten up tax avoidance, the public needs to have confidence in its MPs so we know that they are practicing what they preach.”

Jonathan Isaby, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, however said he thought it would be unfair for MPs to have to publish their tax returns.

He said: “David Cameron made a rod for his own back by moralising about the legal tax arrangements of others in the past and was clearly clumsy in his handling of questions about the Panama papers.

“But it would be unfair to start forcing politicians into publishing their tax returns. MPs already have to declare external sources of income, significant shareholdings and so on in the publicly-available Register of Members’ Financial Interests but enforced publication of full tax returns would be an undue invasion of privacy.

“Our politicians’ energy would be far better spent simplifying our labyrinthine tax code instead of pontificating about the tax arrangements of those abiding by the very laws which they have written.”

Our questions

The questions put to the four Devon MPs were:

1. Have you used a tax haven, tax incentive or deliberate means of avoiding tax in the past to your knowledge?

2. To the best of your knowledge has anyone in your immediate family?

3. Have you ever benefited from any offshore investments?

4. Are you prepared to publish your tax return?

5. What are your thoughts on the PM and Chancellor’s connections to the tax havens in Panama?

A letter from East Devon MP Hugo Swire in response to The Echo’s Offshore Tax questions

Hugo Swire’s tax affairs

“This week The Express and Echo went to East Devon MP Hugo Swire requesting answers to four questions sent out to each of the four MPs in the paper’s patch.

The questions put to the four Devon MPs were:

1. Have you used a tax haven, tax incentive or deliberate means of avoiding tax in the past to your knowledge?

2. To the best of your knowledge has anyone in your immediate family?

3. Have you ever benefited from any offshore investments?

4. Are you prepared to publish your tax return?

5. What are your thoughts on the PM and Chancellor’s connections to the tax havens in Panama?

Mr Swire chose not to answer the questions but instead asked us to print the following letter.”

“This media feeding frenzy is distasteful

I have found this media feeding frenzy around the personal tax affairs of the Prime Minister somewhat distasteful, writes East Devon MP Hugo Swire.

What exactly is the accusation? Has our PM done anything illegal? No. Immoral? I don’t think so. He has benefited from his late father’s will.

Is this not one of the most fundamental of human instincts, to help your children, whatever your income bracket? Was he even responsible for his father’s investments? Hardly. Yes, he did benefit from his father’s estate and yes it transpires that some of that money came from a perfectly legal overseas investment vehicle. Knowing the PM as I do, his entire approach to these ‘revelations’ will have been to protect his late father, his family (who have not chosen to be in the public eye) and importantly his widowed mother who is very much alive. We can all debate as to what he should have said and when but I think most of us would have had similar instincts.

Besides people who live in glass houses should be careful about throwing stones. When Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell called on the PM to answer if he had “benefitted directly or indirectly” from offshore funds he might have forgotten that £14,000 of his own pension, which he gets a year from his Westminster City Council, was in 2014 invested with Longview, an active global equity manager, that is based, yes, you have guessed it, offshore in Guernsey. McDonnell has been quoted as saying: “There has been one rule for the rich and another for the rest of us,” which is a bit rich coming from him!

Now as a reaction – I would argue an overreaction – the PM has published his Tax Return, and the Chancellor has followed suit. I think this creates a difficult precedent. Is this the moment that people with private means, self made or otherwise, turn their backs on public life? And where does it stop? Do we finally get to see the tax returns of local councillors, BBC presenters, doctors even, after all they are funded by the taxpayer as well? And while we are at it why don’t we demand to see the tax affairs of those who influence public life, journalists, multi millionaire newspaper editors like Paul Dacre of the Mail, and newspaper proprietors like the Barclay brothers and Lord Rothermere.

The hypocrisy of the Guardian, the BBC and the Mirror Group (owners of the Express & Echo) is also worth noting, all of whom have used elaborate measures to minimise their tax liabilities, as have the unions. Can we see their tax returns? If we are going to have them then let’s have them all. And then no doubt in a sanctimonious way we can all condemn those with an income or savings or investments worth over a certain amount and ‘celebrate’ those who earn far less.

Because the logical extension of this argument is that by definition there is something wrong with the rich. Why don’t we conveniently forget – as some do – that the richest 1 per cent in Britain today pay 27 per cent of all income tax, while the top 10 per cent pay well over half, at 55 per cent. Without their effort and enterprise of course, a huge burden would fall on the 12 percent of workers who pay no income tax at all, while the welfare state would collapse.

But let’s anyway smash the wealth creators who employ us all and fund our public services. Let’s drop this terrible idea that we want to give a leg up in life to our children after we die and take away a key driving force of wealth creation. Let’s all join Momentum and ride with the hounds of class warfare and demonstrate against globalisation, GM crops and Trident while we are at it. Let’s make sure that the likes of Jeremy Corbyn achieve the highest office in the land and squander all our hard earned cash. Wouldn’t we all feel smug and so much better as a result?”

So, Hugo, back to the four questions ….