First published in The Times as Tax land: it can’t be hidden from the Revenue
Filling the gaping hole in the Government’s finances is, in George Osborne’s words, the “great national challenge of our generation”. Unwise spending cuts and tax rises could sap economic growth; unfair ones provoke political unrest; inaction a market panic.
Faced with a national crisis, who better to turn to for advice than Winston Churchill? A century ago, the great man — who, like the present coalition, was both Liberal and Conservative — advocated introducing a land tax as part of a bold package of fiscal reforms. In his emergency Budget on June 22, the Chancellor should set up a commission to consider how best to implement that recommendation.
Taxing land values would be a fair way to help to plug the budget gap while stabilising — and even boosting — the economy. Land is routinely valued each year as property changes hands. With all the land in Britain worth perhaps £5 trillion, a 0.5 per cent levy could raise £25 billion a year — as much as a five-point rise in income tax.
Neither tenants nor leaseholders would pay a penny; only freeholders and landlords would, with the owner of a large estate paying a higher rate than someone who owns a small suburban semi. The proceeds could be used to cut the deficit and national insurance, creating jobs, boosting take-home pay and stimulating growth. Over time, the aim would be to shift the tax burden off hard-working families and on to idle landlords — as in Hong Kong, where revenues from land taxes keep income tax low, there is no VAT or capital gains tax, and enterprise flourishes.