Green Shoots

A journey in optimism, ethics and enterprise

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Top Ten Eco-Products for your summer holiday

I’m about to leave the office to travel to watch my first gig of 2011 (OK yes I am being  badly ribbed by the team for going to see the Glee tour). Packing my stuff reminded me of how many cool eco-products are now important whether you’re off to a festival, a weekend camping or just visiting friends. Windup torches, solar chargers and bio-degradeable tent pegs are now among the first things I pack when setting off on a trip away. Here are my top ten must-haves for the eco-conscious traveller.

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Presentation at ECHO Digital Conference June 2011

Gave a presentation at the European Concert Hall Organisations conference at the Sage in Gateshead. You can view it online below or E-Commerce and Concert Venue (4Mb download).

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Channel Islands – tax haven for the masses and no chance of being carbon neutral

There was once a time when only the rich could own sports cars, holiday in St Tropez and save on personal tax by using tax havens. However in our modern age of seemingly believing that everyone has a right to everything, you use credit to own your sports car, Easy Jet will get you to the South of France and most High St online retailers can help you benefit from a tax haven. On the last point even the most financially challenged can benefit from the independent tax arrangements of the Bailiwick of Jersey.

Not convinced? Try buying a CD or DVD online. You’ll undoubtedly find yourself trading with a company based in the Channel Islands. A small piece of tax legislation called low-value consignment relief (LVCR) was designed to save people who are buying low value items across borders in the EU from the differences in intra-EU VAT rates. Generally orders must below £18 to qualify.

So how does it work when you want to buy a DVD? You place the order, the goods are shipped from Jersey or Guernsey and usually delivered by Royal Mail – who run a heavily subsidized postal service to and from the Channel Islands. You the consumer end up saving 15% on the price of the goods and no one really loses out.

Well I don’t believe that’s true and here my reasons why.

First, the whole scheme is a deliberate piece of tax avoidance. There is no reason why the Channel Islands should be at the heart of this trade for any other reason that avoiding tax. The distribution costs of sending good via the Channel Islands are higher. The goods are not manufactured on the islands. Developing schemes to avoid tax is not very ethical is my view.

Second, I believe that as well as avoiding tax, I am convinced that we, the UK tax payer, are actually subsidizing the trade. The Royal Mail runs a flat rate service across the whole of the United Kingdom including the Highlands, Northern Ireland, Isle of Man, the Sciliy Isles and the Channel Islands. If I post a letter from Gateshead to Newcastle first class, it would cost the same to send it to Jersey. The costs to the Royal Mail are hugely different. As citizens in our nation, we have decided that sharing the cost of the mail across the whole country is something we are happy with. Why should Auntie Mabel pay more to send birthday cards around the country? However, subsidizing Tescos to send out DVDs from the Channel Islands just to avoid paying VAT really isn’t a fair use of the system. The nation misses out on the tax revenue and makes a further subsidy to the delivery cost too!

More important than both of these points is the environmental impact of the trade. The DVD you are buying is likely to be making a several hundred mile round trip for no purpose other than to avoid UK VAT. Of course, DVDs being light the impact seems small but the volume of trade is increasing significantly. The following retailers all use Jersey or Guernsey to help you avoid UK tax – Play, HMV, Tesco, Asda, Zavvi, WHSmith, Amazon and Argos. That is a big percentage of online sales and the impacts seem a little more obvious. Hundreds of tonnes of products being shipped needlessly on a roundtrip has a big environmental impact.

On top of the shipping cost there is also lots of needless packaging wasted. Because of the £18 limit, orders for multiple DVDs are split into multiple shipments so as to still qualify for the LVCR. Order 10 DVDs at £15 each and you are likely to get 10 deliveries and 10 Jiffy bags. Even more wasted resources.

Of course the two-faced hypocrisy of the High Street retailers is astonishing. I get made to feel guilty in the extreme at the checkout if I ask for plastic bag because I have forgotten my jute bag. And yet these green-wash retailers are deliberately burning fuel and wasting resources simply to allow their online customers to avoid VAT. I think it is safe to assert that what good Tescos does by putting a wind turbine outside a store, it undoes through its Channel Islands selling.

In March the relative poor islanders of the Maldives took a brave step – they decided to commit themselves to turning their islands carbon neutral. An amazing commitment for a disadvantaged group of people. I would contend that the good folk of the Channel Islands could much more easily afford to go carbon neutral and they could take a good first step by stopping this trade.
So Mr Darling I know you are looking for a little more than £40million a year (my estimate of what the trade costs the UK payer in lost revenue and postal subsidy) but as Tescos are always reminding us “every little helps”.

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