Such terrible timing from the taxman

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WITH just days to go before the end of the tax year, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs announced plans to shut down its entire IT systems for nearly a week.

HMRC said its network – including those which businesses use for paying tax – would be affected until tomorrow, or Wednesday.

Self-assessment and PAYE agents and customers will not be able to file tax returns for the new tax year until services have been upgraded.

If the shutdown prevents payment on time, it will count as an excuse, but many firms will find it hard to understand why the department has chosen to do a major upgrade to its IT systems at such an important time.

With regards to VAT returns, we would hope HMRC is ready to deal with the fallout for those affected, because we know from our members’ own experiences that once a fine has been issued because of HMRC mistakes, it can take months to sort out.

While HMRC says this is a routine shutdown, and has been planned, it will come as little solace for those businesses which are affected.

The fact it was only announced the week before it happened shows little understanding of the needs of businesses.

HMRC needs to make a commitment to business owners to treat them fairly, and give fair warning of events like this.

Mid-month, over the summer would be fine as there are no major deadlines after 19 July. Or, why not close in February when there are no major deadlines?

Phil Orford, chief executive, Forum of Private Business, via email

There’s still a long way to go

In April 1932, much of the countryside in England and Wales was closed off to the public and hundreds of people risked imprisonment to walk up Kinder Scout as part of a mass trespass to open up the countryside.

Now, in April 2012, we can all enjoy a walk across mountains or moorland, but there are still many beautiful places out of bounds.

So we have launched the Kinder 80 campaign to highlight the places we still can’t walk and the work Ramblers are doing to open up and protect the countryside. Although we have won the right to roam, helped to create national parks and long-distance trails, the journey to make Britain the most walker-friendly nation in the world isn’t over.

Swathes of beautiful scenery are still out of reach to walkers and our Kinder 80 interactive map includes examples in Lancashire at Ulnes Walton, Pilling Marsh and in the Ribble Valley.

We are calling on walkers and countryside lovers everywhere to take pictures of blocked footpaths, broken bridges and areas which remain out-of-bounds.

Our countryside combines rugged mountains and rolling fields, forests and waterways, and it is sad that not all of these scenic sites can be shared.

Ensure that the spirit of the original trespassers lives on; let us know the local places you still can’t walk, and join us in our campaign to open up the countryside.

Go to www.ramblers.org.uk/kinder80.

Nicky Philpott, director of Campaigns and Policy, The Ramblers

Pension scheme in good health

Doctors get a good pension and it is fair they should contribute more into their pension schemes.

However, we already agreed to a reform of the NHS pension scheme in 2008, where doctors accepted the introduction of a tiered contribution scheme where higher earners contribute more than lower-paid NHS workers.

The reformed NHS pension scheme also includes a cost-sharing agreement, where any shortfall will be met by members, not the taxpayer.

Now the NHS scheme is in surplus, delivering around £2bn to the Treasury each year, and is sustainable long term. Therefore, the criticisms made of public sector pension schemes cannot be levelled at the NHS scheme. That is why doctors believe the planned reforms are unfair and unnecessary and that is why the BMA has reluctantly taken the decision for the first time in 40 years to ballot on industrial action.

The Government still has time to rethink its plans and I urge it to do so.

Dr Brian Keighley, via e-mail