Britain’s richest (pro-Brexit) person moves himself and ALL his assets to tax-free Monaco

“Reclusive titan of industry Jim Ratcliffe has found himself under unusual scrutiny after being declared Britain’s richest man, with his political leanings and tax affairs coming under the microscope.

The 65-year-old head of the Ineos chemicals group has assets worth an estimated £21 billion ($26.7 billion, 23.5 billion euros), putting him top of the 2018 Sunday Times rich list.

He was only 18th on last year’s list but the value of his company, of which he owns 60 percent, soared last year, propelling him up the ranks and earning him a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II.

It is a long way from his humble beginnings, growing up in social housing in Manchester, northern England. …..

Despite his success, Ratcliffe has long-remained a “secret” and “lonely” character, earning nicknames such as “JR” — in reference to manipulative oil baron in the US TV saga “Dallas” — and James Bond villain “Dr. No”, according to a 2014 Financial Times profile.

Privacy is also a hallmark of his Ineos group, which is not listed on the stock exchange and therefore has no obligation to disclose its accounts.

However, the businessman has made his views known on the thorny issue of Brexit, coming out as one of the few bosses to support the move to leave the European Union, like fellow entrepreneur James Dyson.

“The Brits are perfectly capable of managing the Brits and don’t need Brussels telling them how to manage things,” he told the Sunday Times a year before the June 2016 referendum.

Despite his professed patriotism, Ratcliffe has shifted his fortune to Monaco, according to British media, taking advantage of the principality’s generous tax regime.

The move put him in the sights of pro-EU politicians, who accused him of hypocrisy.

“It’s strange for someone who presents themselves as highly patriotic and has been given honours to move to a notorious tax haven,” Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable told The Times.

“It’s unfortunate that when we make a song and dance about a national hero who’s investing in the UK, they disappear to Monaco.”

Tax concerns had already led him to relocate the headquarters of his company to Switzerland in 2010, before returning to London in 2016, saying he wanted to demonstrate his confidence in Britain’s post-Brexit economy.

New York Times: “As Austerity Helps Bankrupt an English County, Even Conservatives Mutiny”

This us from the New york Times and published in the United States: it is the best assessment of the effect of austerity on the UK that Owl has ever read and contains deep-level information not seen anywhere else. It was written by NTT journalist Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura – “a correspondent based in London, where she covers an eclectic beat ranging from politics to social issues spanning Europe, the Middle East and Africa”.

“NORTHAMPTON, England — It was a seething, stomping protest in this ordinarily genteel medieval town: Throngs of residents, whistling and booing, swarmed the county hall. “Criminals!” they shouted. They held up banners that read: “Tory councilors wanted for crimes against people in Northamptonshire.”

The crime?

The bankruptcy of their Conservative-led local government, which has a budget deficit so big that councilors are stripping away all but the minimum services required by law. Inside the county hall, the besieged council debated the latest round of cuts — it had already voted to close libraries and stop repairing roads — as disgusted residents jeered.

“Your guilt should keep you awake at night,” Patrick Markey said at the meeting earlier this month, his voice trembling with rage. “It’s criminal incompetence and criminal politics.”

Usually, local government finance is a dull affair. But Northamptonshire has become a warning sign of the perilous state of Britain’s local governments. A Conservative Party bastion, Northamptonshire is leafy and affluent, littered with aristocratic estates — yet in February its local authority became the first in two decades to effectively run out of money.

Britain is already in upheaval over Brexit, its looming withdrawal from the European Union, with many experts warning of economic hardship ahead. But Northamptonshire is foreshadowing another potential fiscal crisis: Local governments drained of resources, cutting services to the bone.

Councils are Britain’s fundamental unit of local government, dealing with an array of basic needs: trash collection, public transport, libraries, town planning, and care for children and other vulnerable people, among other things. They levy a tax on homes and charge fees for some services. They also collect a nationally set tax on commercial real estate, and keep an increasing share of it. But for years they received most of their funding from the central government.

The crisis in Northamptonshire is complicated and partly self-inflicted. But it has roots in the austerity policies and cost cutting that the Conservative-led national government imposed a decade ago in response to the global financial crisis. The Tories in London argued that austerity was the responsible solution to balance public accounts and encourage future growth.

Now some Conservatives, especially at the local level, are openly defying what has been a pillar of the party’s ideology.

Funding from London for local governments has fallen 60 percent since 2010, with reductions expected to total $21 billion by 2020, the Local Government Association has calculated. In response, nearly every council in Britain has cut or outsourced services, sold off assets and tried a host of budget gimmicks, experts in local finance say.

One in 10 of the larger councils that have obligations to care for children and elderly people — about 35 councils in all — are in danger of exhausting their reserves within the next three years, according to the National Audit Office.

“There’s a slow-moving domino effect,” said Rob Whiteman, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy.

Northamptonshire was the first flashing red light. East Sussex County Council, run by Conservatives, recently announced it would reduce services to the “legal minimum.” The Conservative-led county council in Somerset warned it might be facing bankruptcy. This month, two families won a case against Bristol City Council to block plans to reduce funding of special education needs and disability services.

The Northamptonshire council, having run through its rainy-day funds, now has enough money to pay only for mandatory services for the elderly and children. Unable by law to run a deficit, the council voted in February to shut down 21 of the county’s 36 libraries, remove bus subsidies and suspend road repairs. (A court recently blocked the decision to close the libraries.) At the meeting earlier this month, some councilors seemed resigned to the angry public response.

“I am happy to apologize,” said Richard Auger, a Tory councilor. “I think mistakes were made,” he added. “It’s a situation we’re responsible for.”

The crisis is a political embarrassment for Conservatives, who are already divided into warring camps over Brexit. The former leader of the Northamptonshire council, Heather Smith, has resigned from her position, and from the Conservative Party. Investigators sent from London blamed her and other councilors for mishandling local finances, even as she blamed London for impossible mandates and a refusal to consider higher taxes.

Sounding increasingly like their Labour opponents, some Conservative councilors in Northamptonshire are now talking about stopping the outsourcing of public services and demanding tax increases.

“I was a believer that we had to save money, but there had to be other ways than to slash and burn,” said John Ekins, a recently elected Conservative councilor in Northamptonshire. “How did we get to where we are? What the hell has been going on?”

The Graph of Doom

They called it the Graph of Doom.

It was 2013, and the Northamptonshire council was presented a Power Point chart that depicted an unavoidable contradiction: a sharp, rising public demand for local services contrasting with a sharp cutback in money from the national government, as part of the austerity program led by Conservatives in London.

“It was showing how we were all heading towards this cliff edge,” recalled Ms. Smith, who was then a senior councilor. The cliff edge was a shortfall of $175 million that needed to be addressed by 2020.

A committed Tory, Ms. Smith initially embraced the calls for austerity, as did many in reliably Conservative Northamptonshire. “Being a Conservative-run council, everybody accepted that the country had been overspending and that it was time to scale all of that back,” Ms. Smith said.

The problem was how to do it. The council needed to find huge savings, but it also had limited revenue sources.

Raising taxes was ruled out, deemed ideologically unpalatable while the Conservatives were making austerity-related cutbacks. Eric Pickles, the government minister who oversaw local government financing between 2010 and 2015, said it was a “moral duty” for the Tories to keep local taxes low.

“Some Conservative councils had a big fight over it, and said, ‘No, we’re not doing it,’ ” Ms. Smith said. “They had a huge amount of pressure on them.”

Northamptonshire also had a more unusual problem. Many Conservative councils were partly shielded from central-government cuts because they had large earnings from the commercial real-estate tax, called business rates.

But the concentration of blue blood in Northamptonshire actually hurt its tax base. Much of the region is owned by gentry like the Duke of Buccleuch, thought to be the largest private landowner in Scotland and England, and Earl Spencer, uncle to Princes William and Harry, heirs to the British throne.

Those holdings are generally agricultural land, said Guy Shrubsole, who runs the investigative blog “Who Owns England?” And agricultural land is exempt from business rates, leaving Northamptonshire even more dependent on funding from London.

Faced with the cold reality of the Graph of Doom, council leaders decided that the old ways of doing business no longer applied. The council’s then chief executive, Paul Blantern, designed the “Next Generation Model,” an initiative that pivoted the council, like many others across the country, toward outsourcing.

Under “Next Gen,” the council would become a commissioning body, spinning off many of the services it had been performing and, in the process, saving millions of pounds a year.

One initiative, Olympus Care Services, was founded in 2014, as a wholly owned subsidiary of the council. It was created to oversee adult social care services, with the intention of generating extra revenue by selling off surplus bed spaces to privately funded care customers.

During its first years, Olympus managed to post modest profits, as well as reducing the overall cost to the council.

But it never achieved the projected cost savings, and as budget pressure from the council mounted, it started recording losses — around $4 million in 2016 and $1.25 million in 2017.

“It’s all such a perfect storm,” said Simon Edwards, director of the County Councils Network, a cross-party group that represents England’s local authorities. “Northamptonshire was trying to be too innovative too quickly, outsourcing this and spinning off that, that they thought would save them money and protect some of the services.”

“They did some things wrong,” he added. “But inexorably austerity is leading many counties into very difficult financial positions.”

The outsourcing experiment collapsed last year, before it had fully started. By February, the council realized it had no way out, issuing a formal notification of de facto bankruptcy. In response, Conservative leaders in London dispatched government inspectors.

In March, the inspectors issued a damning report.

Max Caller, the chief inspector who wrote the report, said that the county council’s troubles were self-inflicted and that the Next Gen approach did not have any “documented underpinning” that set out how it was expected to deliver savings.

“The things that they did were unwise,” he said in an interview. “You could say that they didn’t want to face up to the challenges of austerity, but all the other councils have.”

According to his findings, he said, Northamptonshire overspent by $130 million over three years and took no steps to rein in expenditure. “Everything has been a waste of money.”

Still, he said of the financial problems afflicting other councils: “You can’t go year after year holding down taxation rates at local level and taking the money away and expecting the same level of service. That’s not possible.”

Ms. Smith and other local Conservatives said the inspectors’ report was unfair, and that the national government was wrongly scapegoating the council. She said other Conservatives, locally and in London, grew irritated with her insistence that insufficient funding was the core problem.

“They wanted me to shut up about us being underfunded,” she said.

This year, the government announced some new money for councils, including about $200 million for adult social services. Even so, some experts say that councils are still staring at a $4 billion funding hole.

In response, according to an annual government survey of council leaders, an overwhelming majority of county councils across England plan to raise council tax, their levy on homes, 5.99 percent this year — the maximum the central government will allow. Many have also said they would like to raise business rates, a move the central government is still rejecting.

Before declaring bankruptcy, Northamptonshire took the desperate step of selling and leasing back a $70 million headquarters building it opened in October. The move brought widespread public ridicule and helped prompt the arrival of the government inspectors.

Northamptonshire’s financial troubles were clear from the moment the government began to pull back on grants to local authorities, officials said. What they did not expect was that a Conservative government in London would let the county slide into bankruptcy.

‘The Whole Process Has Gone Mad’

On July 24, the Northamptonshire Council issued a Section 114 notice that banned any new expenditure of public money, after realizing it needed to save almost $90 million more this year. In laymen’s terms, this meant that the council was declaring de facto bankruptcy for a second time.

Politics is usually sharply divided in the county, with Labour on the left and the Tories on the right. But by the time the council voted to shut down most of the county’s libraries, the overall scope of the cutbacks startled many people in both parties. In recent years, the council had also closed local centers for children and sharply reduced educational funding.

But it was the vote to shut down the libraries that struck the sharpest nerve, even in affluent villages like Roade, where the local library is described as “a pub without pints.”

“I couldn’t face the libraries being cut,” said Sam Rumens, a Conservative councilor who voted against that measure, as he sat recently with some Labour officials at the town hall discussing “problems of capitalism.” (“This is one of the leftiest views you’ll get out of me today,” he told them.)

“There was a very sharp intake of breath,” he recalled when he said that he would oppose the cuts. Labour lawmakers cheered and members of the public who attended the debate on the budget this winter roared their approval.

“The whole process has gone mad,” said Jason Smithers, another Conservative politician and the incoming mayor of Higham Ferrers, as he strolled through the town, which has yellow-brick houses that look straight out of a Jane Austen novel and a grocer selling organic duck and goose eggs.

Like Mr. Rumens, he was a dissenter from his Conservative colleagues. “They were like cowboys running through the town,” he said of colleagues who voted for the library cuts. Mr. Smithers said he supported higher taxes even if it would jeopardize his political fortunes. “I’m a Conservative through and through,” he insisted. “But you’ve got to be realistic.”

Council leaders in Northamptonshire said they had done everything by the Conservative government rule book.

“We did everything that the government asked for,” said one senior council official, who would speak only on condition of anonymity. There was even a handbook prepared by Mr. Pickles, the minister in London, on “50 ways” councils could save money. It suggested banning mineral water in council meetings, scrapping subsidized canteens in favor of local sandwich delivery firms and opening coffee shops in libraries.

In Horton, a village where elegant mansions peek from behind wooded lanes, Wedgwood Swepston, 57, was out inspecting his Land Rover. An Aston Martin idled nearby.

“They’ve been austere in the wrong places,” he said of the government. “When austerity affects people who cannot look after themselves, then you need to question whether austerity has gone too far.”

When asked about his party affiliation, he became thoughtful. “I suppose I’m now what you call a ‘floater,’ ” he said.

“It makes me cross,” said Gloria Wagstaff, 77, expressing her discontent with typical British understatement as she waited for a bus in Higham Ferrers. “The whole government has lost its way.”

It is taking a petition to try to force government/developers to pay for their cladding mistakes

Dreadful that this has not been forced upon them by government.

Save homeowners from financial ruin. Ensure the right parties pay in the Cladding Scandal:

“Thousands of UK bridges are ‘sub-standard’, at risk of collapse and will cost almost £1billion to repair, experts warn after the tragedy in Genoa”

“The number of ‘sub-standard’ bridges in the UK has soared in recent years and would cost almost £1 billion to repair, according to alarming new findings.

A survey by the RAC Foundation revealed that almost 3,500 British bridges maintained by councils are not considered strong enough to bear 44-ton lorries – the heaviest vehicles permitted on our roads – placing them at risk of collapse if warning signs are ignored.

The figure – an increase of almost 45 per cent from the 2,375 recorded in 2015 – was correlated after the motoring research charity sent out Freedom of Information requests to all local authorities.”

“Government £200m brownfields building fund falls flat, as number of new homes declines”

A £200million Government fund to pay for more homes on industrial land has resulted in the opposite effect, with fewer homes built on brownfield areas than before it was set up.

Official Government’s land use change statistics show that the proportion of new homes registered on previously developed land has fallen by 4 percentage points since 2014, when the fund was set up.

Yet over the same period the number of new residential addresses on supposedly heavily protected Green Belt land has increased by the same proportion – 4 per cent.

Separately, over the same period – 2013/14 to 2016/17 – the proportion of new residential addresses on the protected Green Belt land increased from 3 per cent to 4 per cent of all new homes built.

The Government’s record on building on brownfield sites was attacked by Labour which said minister’s commitment to building on brownfield sites was “hot air”.

The £200million fund was announced by Brandon Lewis, the current Tory party chairman and then then-Housing minister, in August 2014 so “councils across the country can now team up with developers and bid for government assistance to build thousands of new homes on previously-developed land”.

Mr Lewis published bidding criteria to create 10 housing zones on brownfield land, each able to deliver up to 2,000 new homes each.

The new zones, which will be outside London, should be large enough to deliver 750 to 2,000 properties and would help councils boost housebuilding on previously-developed land while safeguading the countryside, he said.

However John Healey MP, Labour’s Shadow Housing Secretary, said the figures showed that the Government had gone backwards on its pledge to encourage more building on brownfield sites.

He said: “If hot air built homes then Ministers would have fixed our housing crisis. Despite big promises to get building on brownfield land, official Government figures show we’ve gone backwards.

“It’s clear that Ministers are failing to get good value-for-money for taxpayers.

“By giving developers a free rein to do what they want, the Government is failing [to] get homes for local people built where they are needed.”

Matt Thomson, Head of Planning at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, backed the findings, saying that “promises to build the homes the nation needs while protecting the countryside are not being carried through.

“Our analysis of the government’s new ‘planning rulebook’ suggests that despite a lot of warm words current trends will continue, to the detriment of both town and country.

The government must stick to its guns and end this constant cycle of broken promises.

“They need to rein back greenfield development where suitable brownfield land is available, and discourage growth where it cannot happen without compromising their own policies intended to manage sprawl and protect open land.

Last week the CPRE warned that green belt was disappearing at an “alarming rate” with the equivalent of 5,000 football pitches lost because of a relaxation of planning laws.”

Source: Sunday Times (pay wall)

Vulnerable children failed by cash-strapped councils

Owl says: children – not adults, children. How low we have sunk. But no doubt still even further to sink.

“A “silent crisis” in the care system has left more than 13,000 children with unacceptable levels of support from local authorities, an analysis warns.

Tens of thousands more are being looked after by English councils that are deemed to be in need of improvement, with warnings that a £3bn shortfall in the budget for children’s services will emerge by 2025. Anne Longfield, the children’s commissioner for England, said the findings cast “a stark spotlight on the inadequacies of systems that are meant to be in place to support our most vulnerable children”.

Vulnerable children are on the new frontline of a crisis in social care
The analysis by the Social Market Foundation thinktank examined the treatment of “looked-after children”, who have been taken into care. It found that over the past three years, about 47,000 of the children were with local authorities deemed by Ofsted inspectors to have inadequate children’s services or services that require improvement. The figure represents almost two-thirds of all children in care. There were 13,790 in inadequate authorities.

Local councils insisted that those deemed to need improvement in some way should not be seen as failing. However, only 36% of local authorities were classed as “good” and only 2% were rated as “outstanding”.

The study warns that children in care have educational outcomes that are way below average and are significantly over-represented in the criminal justice system. Only 14% achieved five A*-C GCSEs, including maths and English, in 2015. The national average is 55%. Looked-after children are five times more likely to be excluded from school, while 39% of children in secure training centres had been in care. …”