Sunday, September 25, 2011

One ironclad job during austerity: Britain hires extra tax collectors to police the super-rich

Let the audits begin.

As the U.K. tightens its belt during economic uncertainty, a senior government official said Sunday he was hiring more than 2,000 extra tax inspectors to make sure that Britain’s wealthiest feel the squeeze.

The British Treasury’s Chief Secretary, Danny Alexander, told the Sunday Independent newspaper that his priority was “making sure that those with broadest shoulders bear their fair share of the burden.”

Alexander said a 100-member “affluence team” would be in place in less than a month to keep an eye on the country’s wealthiest taxpayers — the estimated 350,000 people whose personal wealth exceeds 2.5 million pounds ($3.95 million).

The British government’s crackdown on tax evasion has already netted more than 2 billion pounds ($3 billion) a year, Alexander said, predicting that figure could rise to 7 billion pounds ($10.6 billion) a year by 2015.

Britain is going through politically painful series cutbacks aimed at restoring order to its finances after the Labour government, in power for 13 years, saddled the country with billions in debt. The public sector has been slashed and unemployment has risen — as has anger at the government over austerity measures such as tuition hikes that have tripled the cost of higher education at many British universities.

Alexander’s Liberal Democrats party — the junior partner in Britain’s coalition government — has a strong left-leaning constituency and many are unhappy over the party’s partnership with Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives. Approval ratings for the Liberal Democrats have plummeted, and its leaders are under pressure to air their differences with Cameron as they hold their annual party conference this weekend in Birmingham.

So with Tory lawmakers talking about cutting taxes for some of the country’s wealthiest, the Liberal Democrats are quickly burnishing their socially conscious credentials. more