Yvette Cooper doesn’t do figures

Yesterday was an Opposition day in the Commons, when the Conservative party was able to chose the topics of debate. We used the second half of the day to highlight the robbery at the petrol pumps, and to demand a reduction in fuel duty. The government responded by announcing it would not be going ahead with the 2p a litre increase scheduled for the autumn, though this was more likely to be response to the Glasgow by election than to our Parliamentary pressure.

During the course of the debate the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Mrs Yvette Balls (nee Cooper) showed a marked reluctance to share any figures with us. The Government’s number cruncher in chief was apparently unable – or unwilling – to answer the following questions:

1. How much revenue will be lost by cancelling the forecast 2p tax rise this autumn?
2. What has been the increase in total revenue from oil and oil products since the budget over and above budget forecasts, resulting from higher oil prices?
3. By how much has the pump price of fuel risen since the Budget as a result of tax?

Mrs Balls is an intelligent woman. She would have expected us to ask these basic questions in a debate which majored on the issue of tax revenue from fuel duty, VAT on fuel and North Sea taxes. As the government’s chief number cruncher these should be a pretty elementary part of her brief. We must assume that when she announced the cancellation of the 2p tax rise she not only knew how much this would “cost” the Treasury, but would also know how much extra revenue they are gaining anyway. It is pathetic that she was unwilling to tell us these basic figures despite frequent probing, showing just how “political” these Ministers are. Don’t they realise that it merely makes them look shifty that they refuse to answer such basic questions or supply the rudimentary information Parliament needs for a proper debate on these topics? Far from protecting them from unhelpful comment or criticism, it intensifies the criticisms and the anger of the public. They have come to end of the Spin show, yet pretend it is still going down well with the taxpayers.

Our guesses of the answers did not get challenged in the debate. We ventured that the government had enjoyed a windfall of more than £500 million in the first six weeks of the new financial year from oil taxes, and suggested the revenue loss this year from taking away the extra 2p would be around £550 million. The government is clearly better off on oil tax account with the price rises and their impact on VAT and North Sea taxes, even after the 2p cancellation.

The Opposition was right to ask for a cut in Fuel Duty now. It would cut the inflation rate, show the government was getting the message of how people are suffering, and would help the lower paid especially. This government seems to take the Marie Antoinette approach to travellers. To all those who are finding it is now too dear to run a car thanks to higher VED and higher fuel duty, they say “Let them go by taxi”. It is their own erstwhile supporters they are hitting most by high petrol prices and ever higher VED. It is going to take another revolt or two by Labour backbenchers to get the message through to Mrs Balls.


  1. Mark Wadsworth
    July 17, 2008

    You could have used the estimates prepared by The British Chambers Of Commerce!

  2. Toby
    July 17, 2008

    I happened to watch the debate on BBC Parliament yesterday and I have to say that Mrs Cooper made Mrs May look like an amateur. Contary to the claim that she doesn't do figures, it was Cooper's use of statistics which underlined her superiority.

    The fact that the Conservatives had done a u-turn on support for the fuel price regulator policy also came out and skewered Mrs May.

    Reply: What nonsense: you must have been watching a different debate. Yvette Cooper was debating with Mr Hammond not Mrs May.

  3. Acorn
    July 17, 2008

    John, I was hoping you were going to give us the answer to the three questions.

    Last year, about 26 billion litres of diesel and 24 billion litres of petrol flowed out of the pumps. So a 2p a litre duty increase would be £1 billion for a whole year. Add the Vat on the duty, call it £1.175 billion. Petrol was selling for 41.4p /litre yesterday, diesel about 54.8p /litre. If I remember correctly, these are twice the price they were a year ago. So that is an additional £2 billion of increased Vat receipts, due to the fuel price rise alone. There is a bit more Vat to come from the increased supplier margin. Don't you just love "fiscal drag".

    The question of North Sea oil revenue tax and corporation tax is too difficult for me. If you have a look at the Budget 2008 document, you get an idea of what Darling was planning to get.

    You need Tables C6; C9 and C11 of Chapter C of the FSBR bit of the Budget 2008.

    Check out the "vehicle excise duty" line on Table C6.

  4. mikestallard
    July 17, 2008

    I was idly listening to the political BBC show at 1 p.m. today. The head of the army, Sir Jock Stirrup, was incisive, frank, clued up and purposeful. Even I could understand what he said despite the American jargon.
    Then the SATs business happened. Yvette Balls’ husband had presided over a monumental mess. There seemed to be no end to it. The Labour Government has arrogantly allocated to itself all the external testing in schools and now it cannot even mark Primary School tests.
    Mr Balls, natch, was not available to appear on the show.
    Rest assured that Mrs Balls and her lot are recognised for what they are: Labour in melt-down.
    We, the public, have already noticed.

  5. David morris
    July 17, 2008

    “Let them go by taxi”.. many independent private hire drivers locally are dropping out of the business due to being unable to make money with rising costs (most of which just cannot be passed on to business customers). And to add to that the latest wheeze is for some bright spark to introduce a “Private Hire NVQ” which (unless you have less than basic educational qualifications) will cost every driver £600 to attain. It is expected many councils will make this NVQ mandatory within a couple of years!

    Labour – good for small business indeed !

  6. adam
    July 17, 2008

    while you are at the chamber of commerce website you should also check out the red tape figures, I dont recall exactly but it is something outrageous like a 600% increase in eight years.
    How long can the country cope with this Labour-EU tag team and their ladder climbing licences and private hire NVQs. Its more like a mafia extortion racket than a government.

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