Thursday, 10 December 2009

Boris Johnson gives free pass to foreign embassies on "Congestion Tax"

Boris Johnson gave up any pretense that he will reclaim unpaid congestion charges from foreign embassies yesterday, as he openly referred to the charge as a tax.

Earlier this year, the new US Ambassador refused to pay up millions owed in unpaid congestion charges and fines.

His refusal rested on the claim that the charge is a tax

"Our policy on the congestion tax is a long-standing policy decided on by Washington. The US government's position is that this a tax and therefore is prohibited by various treaties."

Boris Johnson officially disagreed. According to his spokesman:

"The mayor is deeply disappointed that it seems they may not choose to do so. The congestion charge is a service, not a tax, which is paid by the majority of embassies and millions of Londoners. There is simply no excuse for the American embassy to continue to ignore this responsibility to its host city and the mayor will continue to press this point to their representatives."

So how is he continuing to "press" this vital point about it not being a tax?


"I have asked Transport for London to begin the legal process to remove this charge with all convenient speed...

"we can lift this tax within fourteen months at the absolute outside and hopefully earlier than that."

Comments which he later retracted.

And then again just yesterday:



Comments which were supported by his Assembly Members:


So what exactly does this alleged "pressing" of the US ambassador involve I wonder? Does it involve hosting parties for him perhaps?



Very funny and appropriate I'm sure. Just not particularly pressing.

19 comments:

Appealing of Ealing said...

"...by repeatedly referring to it as tax"

He refers to it as a tax because he's honest, and that's what it is. If there's a law or an agreement that says foreign embassies don't have to pay tax, then the USA and the rest of them are perfectly within their rights to not pay the congestion tax. The congestion tax is devisive, inequitable and grossly inefficient -- nobody should pay it.

AdamB said...

Er, how is it honest to pretend to do one thing and then to say another? That's a very strange definition of honesty.

Tom said...

"That's a very strange definition of honesty."

He's a very strange libertarian, Adam. It's almost as if he reckons it's ok to say one thing and do another because you feel like it.

"The congestion tax is devisive, inequitable and grossly inefficient "

Oh give it a break with the self indulgent whining. a) You live in a city, b) cities can't live with unrestricted car use, ergo propose a better way of reconciling a) and b) than active road pricing if you can think of one or bugger off back to Ealing.

Anyway, Boris thinks road pricing is a Tory idea.

AdamB said...

Andrew Boff just replied on Twitter

"@AdamBienkov In Stockholm it's called a tax and british diplomats don't pay it."

Of course I can understand why it would be a hard task to persuade the few embassies who don't currently pay up to do so, but I find it harder to understand why the Tories seem so keen to encourage no embassies to do so.

barry rochford said...

It seems to me that Washington has told London what the policy should be. Now that's very unusual, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

"He refers to it as a tax because he's honest, and that's what it is"

For a Thatcherite you do harp on.

Road space in London during the day is scarce. We can either ration this scarce space by forcing people to queue to use it. Or we can charge for it.

I don't understand why roads should be any different to water, rent, bus rides, food or any other goods.

Whatever happened to the market being the most efficient way of allocating resources?

Appealing of Ealing said...

"For a Thatcherite you do harp on."

I'm not a Thatcherite, though she made a much better job of the economy than the present bunch of muppets.

How much are Thatcherites supposed to harp on?

I've no problem with charging for a scarce resource if it's done right. Charging one road user to subsidize another (more likely to vote for you) is not right.

I propose to start charging in Hackney and Islington, or the major roads through Newham. They seem to feature a lot on the traffic news. Good idea?

Appealing of Ealing said...

"Of course I can understand why it would be a hard task to persuade the few embassies who don't currently pay up to do so, but I find it harder to understand why the Tories seem so keen to encourage no embassies to do so."

It's not about persuasion, or what you can get out of people. It's about a rule.

AdamB said...

"It's not about persuasion, or what you can get out of people. It's about a rule."

Which is why the vast majority of embassies abide by that rule, and why the Mayor of London shouldn't give them a reason not to.

prj45 said...

Livingstone frequently refers to that bloke what advised Thatcher as being the originator of the concept of personal charges for access to things. I presume Boris thinks this was his idea (to point out that the charge wasn't actually Livingstone's idea)?

AdamB said...

You're assuming that Boris had a point, other than to not answer the question (which in this case was about ticket office closures I believe)

But yes he was referring to Sir Alan Greengross. Youtube cut that bit off the end.

Tom said...

"Sir Alan Greengross"

*Ding*. Now I get what the blond buffoon was on about. I'm still nearly sure I read that road pricing in London was considered as early as about 1972 when the Ringways started unravelling, as the only logical alternative to radically reshaping the city around fast roads (which you can't now do, therefore you need road pricing, end of argument).

Much of London is gridlocked tonight, by the way. Burst water main in the Blackwall Tunnel.

"she made a much better job of the economy"

Total ignorance of history there, look up the disastrous first three years of monetarism (clue: check the opinion polls in about January 1982). Three million unemployed ring any bells? Then we throw in the Lawson boom and bust and really, Maggie's great economic achievements don't amount to a hill of beans. Do you ever actually, you know, get outside your own head ever?

The only reason Thatcher even got a second term was General Galtieri.

Appealing of Ealing said...

"bugger off back to Ealing"

"Total ignorance of history there"

It doesn't really encourage discussion when you answer back in abusive terms like that ...not that you've any genuine interest in other people's arguments. Probably most of the good ones are beyond you.

Anyway chum, your abuse, (and especially yours), doesn't bother me at all. For one, you're not very good at it. Maybe one day I'll be kind enough to show you my teeth. And if I do, Tommy: please don't whimper.

Anonymous said...

"I've no problem with charging for a scarce resource if it's done right. Charging one road user to subsidize another (more likely to vote for you) is not right."

What if the roads were privatised, and we charged one road user to place into a billionaires pocket? I assume that would be far better?

Anonymous said...

And "I propose to start charging in Hackney and Islington, or the major roads through Newham. They seem to feature a lot on the traffic news. Good idea"

Great idea. Won't happen with this Mayor though. He - like you - only believes in free markets when this benefits his class an his voters. Communism is efficient for roads apparently.

Tom said...

"And "I propose to start charging in Hackney and Islington, or the major roads through Newham. They seem to feature a lot on the traffic news. Good idea""

Yes, since the residents of those areas a) have lower car use than average and b) have to put up with the pollution. It's a progressive, socially and environmentally aware policy, actually.

Damian Hockney said...

You make a good point about the fact that the Mayor faces two ways on this issue. So did his predecessor. Both know that the C-Charge is a tax but gain political capital from posturing - the former Mayor describing the US Ambassador as a chiselling little crook for not paying...no doubt his view of Obama now?!). When the charge was increased by 60% for the provision of no extra services, it became finally clear that on the standard definition it was a tax and not a charge. A definition that the UK relies upon internationally in deciding what to pay and what not to. So the USA stopped paying. Followed by the large EU nations. I repeatedly challenged the then Mayor to take proper advice on this specific issue and publish it. My understanding was that if the USA was faced with a clear ruling that it was a charge and not a tax, then the USA would pay it. It did not surprise me that the Mayor did not take the advice. It would have given the wrong answer. Tolls for roads etc are different – they are a charge and not a tax because they are constructed in such a way to make it credibly appear that the income is paying for the upkeep and construction. Hence most embassies and high commissions pay these. To open the whole question of international taxation and immunities is OK and there is a case for doing that, but it has to made clear that that is what the argument about the C-Charge and diplomats does. Unless this is addressed, the question will simply go round and round as a nice little political football. The argument is crucial – it indeed played a big role in the change of wording of the Stockholm version – it changed on legal advice from ‘charge’ to ‘tax’…so it is now called the ‘Congestion Tax’. Which, I’m afraid, is what it is here in London as well. BTW the idea that They do if you count the huge number of embassies and high commissions that have no cars and say ‘yes we pay’! Which is the majority. The non-payers count for well over half of all the diplomatic cars. And also, very importantly, our real government the EU agrees it is a tax. That is why so many EU embassies stopped paying after the price rise and after a series of meetings to agree. Those paying do it by and large for political reasons, or because they already have/are considering introducing a similar tax.

prj45 said...

"no doubt his view of Obama now?!".

Why, is Barack Obama the US Ambassador now?

Damian Hockney said...

prj45, no but US ambassadors are political appointees. When the new president is installed it's all out and all change...the recently appointed US ambassador is a chum of Obama and if you look at the stories about the C-Charge both here and in the US, he has directly asked the White House about the Tax situation of such charges. The current administration has the same perception of the tax as Bush administration does (on proper legal advice, which is what I challenged the former Mayor to both seek and publish).