Thursday, March 30, 2006

Column, March 28, 2006

THERE are times when I worry for the blood pressure of the Farmers Union of Wales. It seems that it is intent on conforming to the stereotype of the red-faced farmer shouting at some townie who has committed the heinous offence of crushing a blade of grass or looking at their view.
The townie who is the subject of their ire this time is Gordon Brown – fair game you might say, lots of reasons not to be too keen on him, including his support for the bloke who lives next door.
But Gordon has come under fire from the farmers for his headline-grabbing tax on gas-guzzling 4x4s. An outrage, farmers are the innocent victims caught in the crossfire as the Chancellor targets mums using Chelsea tractors for the school run.
Poor old farmers, first BSE, then foot and mouth, now this – is there no end to their suffering. Yes, well, perhaps it's a little hard to sympathise with someone complaining about a tax hike on 4x4s no matter how essential they are to farming.
Because I'm fairly sure that when Gordon Brown was making his budget speech he didn't say that he was declaring war on clapped-out old Land Rovers with a bit of Hessian sacking covering a hole in the seat and a distinct odour of sheep-muck.
No, what he actually said was that he was introducing the new Band G for new cars. So what we're talking about is the likes of the BMW X5 Sport, a snip at £62,640.
Yes, the FUW are absolutely right, 4x4s are the only way you can get around some farms in Wales. I'm just not sure that the 4x4 you do it in has to be the same as the one driven by Sol Campbell.
Maybe it's just me, but I'm thinking that if you can lash out £62k on a car, £210 car tax is a mere drop in their over-large fuel tanks.
And anyway, correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't a farmer's 4x4 a working vehicle, and so therefore isn't every last tappet, cog and wheelnut tax deductible?
You and I have to watch our cars sitting on the drive depreciating with every shower of rain. For a farmer all he has to do is write it off against his tax, so you'll forgive me if I don't extract my hanky just this once to dab at a moist eye.
The problem is that Gordon's tax hike grabbed the headlines, but it actually did nothing to solve the problem of these over-sized tanks polluting the air around every school in the land.
For the people stupid enough to buy them as a fashion item, £210 means nothing when they are prepared to spend £30-£60k on a 4x4 which will never be sullied by mud.
As one green campaigner pointed out, the hike of £45 for these cars will not even fill their petrol tanks, so its hardly going to worry their owners.
I don't think anyone can argue that this isn't a very tough time to be a small farmer, a farmer with a small farm that it, not a farmer who is small.
Everyone sympathises with farmers being ripped off by huge supermarkets who drive down prices and then fleece their customers.
No-one can argue that BSE and foot and mouth were not devastating. But car tax, really, come on, everyone pays it, no-one loves it, but not so many of us can use the car we pay it on as a business expense when dealing with the taxman.
The FUW should pick its battles more carefully if it doesn't want to waste what public sympathy its members still enjoy.

THINK about this – you buy a house, it's a modest affair, but you manage to get planning permission to convert it into a much bigger nicer house and then someone comes along and offers you a lot more money for it now it has got planning permission.
What would your response be if the original owner came around asking questions about how you managed to profit from it so much more than he did.
I know that Alex Hamilton is not exactly flavour of the month in North Wales given his dealings with Wrexham FC, but his deal for the depot in Mold just looks like a good bit of business to me.
If Flintshire were stupid enough to sell an asset that they could have got more for if they had granted themselves planning permission for it, then they only have themselves to blame.
But let me take a wild swing a guess that when this sorry mess is investigated no-one from Flintshire will be taking any blame at all.
One of those things, slipped through our hands, could have happened to any ham-fisted local authority guv.

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