Osborne tries to blame the EU for "taxes" - it doesn't charge any

Is the Chancellor hoping the public will forget he's responsible for raising taxes?

Over the next few years, we can expect the Conservatives and the right-wing press to take every opportunity to spread myths about the EU in order to win public support for David Cameron's madcap renegotiation strategy. A useful example of this tactic was offered by George Osborne during his interview with the BBC this morning. The Chancellor remarked that "a lot of big British businesses and small businesses came out last week and said actually one of Britain's problems are the taxes and regulations from Europe". 

There are many things that one can blame on the EU but "taxes" are not one of them, for the simple reason that it doesn't levy any. At no point in the history of European integration have national governments ever surrendered control of taxation to Brussels. As the EU's website helpfully explains:

This [taxation] is decided by your national government, not the EU.

Governments set tax rates on company profits, personal income, savings and capital gains (profits made from selling an asset, such as a house). The EU merely keeps an eye on these decisions to see they are fair to the EU as a whole.

This means ensuring national tax rules are consistent with the EU's goals of job creation and do not impede the free flow of goods, services and capital around the EU, or give businesses in one country an unfair advantage over competitors in another.

Moreover, national governments remain in control of raising taxes as EU law requires that no EU decisions on tax matters be taken unless all member countries are in unanimous agreement.

It's true that the introduction of VAT, which replaced the UK's existing consumption tax, the Purchase Tax, was a pre-condition of the UK joining the EEC in 1973, but since Osborne increased this tax from 17.5 per cent to an all-time high of 20 per cent in his 2010 "emergency Budget", that's presumably not what the Chancellor had in mind. 

With the UK in danger of an unprecedented triple-dip recession, it would be surprising if businesses weren't concerned about the tax burden. But unfortunately for Osborne, the only person to blame for that is him. 

Chancellor George Osborne takes part in a tour of the train wheel manufacturers Lucchini UK, at Trafford Park in Manchester earlier today. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The deafening killer - why noise will be the next great pollution scandal

A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. 

Our cities are being poisoned by a toxin that surrounds us day and night. It eats away at our brains, hurts our hearts, clutches at our sleep, and gnaws at the quality of our daily lives.

Hardly a silent killer, it gets short shrift compared to the well-publicised terrors of air pollution and sugars food. It is the dull, thumping, stultifying drum-beat of perpetual noise.

The score that accompanies city life is brutal and constant. It disrupts the everyday: The coffee break ruined by the screech of a line of double decker buses braking at the lights. The lawyer’s conference call broken by drilling as she makes her way to the office. The writer’s struggle to find a quiet corner to pen his latest article.

For city-dwellers, it’s all-consuming and impossible to avoid. Construction, traffic, the whirring of machinery, the neighbour’s stereo. Even at home, the beeps and buzzes made by washing machines, fridges, and phones all serve to distract and unsettle.

But the never-ending noisiness of city life is far more than a problem of aesthetics. A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. Recent studies have linked noise pollution to hearing loss, sleep deprivation, hypertension, heart disease, brain development, and even increased risk of dementia.

One research team compared families living on different stories of the same building in Manhattan to isolate the impact of noise on health and education. They found children in lower, noisier floors were worse at reading than their higher-up peers, an effect that was most pronounced for children who had lived in the building for longest.

Those studies have been replicated for the impact of aircraft noise with similar results. Not only does noise cause higher blood pressure and worsens quality of sleep, it also stymies pupils trying to concentrate in class.

As with many forms of pollution, the poorest are typically the hardest hit. The worst-off in any city often live by busy roads in poorly-insulated houses or flats, cheek by jowl with packed-in neighbours.

The US Department of Transport recently mapped road and aircraft noise across the United States. Predictably, the loudest areas overlapped with some of the country’s most deprived. Those included the south side of Atlanta and the lowest-income areas of LA and Seattle.

Yet as noise pollution grows in line with road and air traffic and rising urban density, public policy has turned a blind eye.

Council noise response services, formally a 24-hour defence against neighbourly disputes, have fallen victim to local government cuts. Decisions on airport expansion and road development pay scant regard to their audible impact. Political platforms remain silent on the loudest poison.

This is odd at a time when we have never had more tools at our disposal to deal with the issue. Electric Vehicles are practically noise-less, yet noise rarely features in the arguments for their adoption. Just replacing today’s bus fleet would transform city centres; doing the same for taxis and trucks would amount to a revolution.

Vehicles are just the start. Millions were spent on a programme of “Warm Homes”; what about “Quiet Homes”? How did we value the noise impact in the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow, and how do we compensate people now that it’s going ahead?

Construction is a major driver of decibels. Should builders compensate “noise victims” for over-drilling? Or could regulation push equipment manufacturers to find new ways to dampen the sound of their kit?

Of course, none of this addresses the noise pollution we impose on ourselves. The bars and clubs we choose to visit or the music we stick in our ears. Whether pumping dance tracks in spin classes or indie rock in trendy coffee shops, people’s desire to compensate for bad noise out there by playing louder noise in here is hard to control for.

The Clean Air Act of 1956 heralded a new era of city life, one where smog and grime gave way to clear skies and clearer lungs. That fight still goes on today.

But some day, we will turn our attention to our clogged-up airwaves. The decibels will fall. #Twitter will give way to twitter. And every now and again, as we step from our homes into city life, we may just hear the sweetest sound of all. Silence.

Adam Swersky is a councillor in Harrow and is cabinet member for finance. He writes in a personal capacity.