Monday, November 22, 2010

When Irish Lights Aren't Smiling

Twenty odd years ago, when I was working for the British Ports Federation, I was unsuccessful in a campaign to persuade the government to abolish so-called "Light Dues". It was a campaign supported by the port authorities and ship owners. These were the dues paid to Trinity House to pay for lighthouses. Astonishingly, then as now the British Government also sends Ireland a huge wad of public money (currently between £6-8m) to subsidise Irish lighthouses. No-one can really see any reason why this subsidy should be given to the Irish, and in light of current events it seems even more absurd.

• ‘Light dues’ are charges made to shipping companies trading with the UK for use of lighthouses, buoyancy aids etc as they navigate British waters
• Under the previous Government, light dues rose substantially, decreasing our national competitiveness (the charges were far higher than in many other countries)
• Had the previous Government scrapped the Irish subsidy, no increases to light dues would have been necessary – but they refused to scrap it still.

Mike Penning, the shipping Minister, has promised to scrap the Irish arrangement (and has told his Irish counterpart so) and is beginning to formalise arrangements this week. This is a fantastic step from someone who is turning out to be an excellent Minister.

What the government giveth...

21 comments:

DespairingLiberal said...

So in your original campaign, who was going to pay for the lighthouses, navigation markers, etc, if the ship owners didn't? Not clear what you were advocating - are you saying the taxpayer should pick up the bill or else that we should do away with lighthouses and navigational aids?

JMB said...

I can understand getting the Irish to pay their own contribution to Trinity House but how would Trinity House and the NLB be paid if light dues were abolished?

Brian said...

After being bunged £7billion by George Osborne, I'm sure the Irish government will take a £7million cut stoically.
As HMG is borrowing £150 billion per year to live outside our means, wouldn't it have made sense for Ireland to borrow the money itself with the UK acting as guarantor?

Tapestry said...

Irish banks owe British banks GBP 200+ billion. The lighthouses seem like the small fry.

David said...

Oi Despairing Illiterate Liberal: READ the post. The responsibility would be that of the IRISH taxpayer/government not us. IT would be their responsibility to get it back from the ship owners. We also provide RNLI lifeboats and regularly send rescues helis because the Irish ones are too small or lack range to do anything useful.If the Irish keep claiming to be independent yet take money off us to run the rescue and maritime services every other nation pays for themselves, are they really an independent nation. Are they heck! Most of them live and work over here as well. AND they vote yet we can't vote in their elections unless we jump through endless hoops and residency rules!

Tristan said...

Iain, you spearheaded a fine campaign whilst working with Nick Finney OBE before he founded the Waterfront Partnership. Thankfully, the Independent Light Dues Forum, has been taking up the fight in the absence of contemporary trade association lobbying to ensure that shipowners calling at the UK get a fair crack of the whip. Hopefully, you are right and this state aid will be confined to the past in the next few weeks!

Tristan said...

JMB, Why do we need Trinity House, CIL or NLB? The MCA could take on their functions. stripping out three layers of management and reducing the burden on teh light dues payer...

JMB said...

"Why do we need Trinity House, CIL or NLB? The MCA could take on their functions. stripping out three layers of management and reducing the burden on teh light dues payer..."

Not sure where the three layers of management are and not sure that the MCA would operate the system any cheaper (they would obviously want paying for the service). I suspect that they might just contract the operation out to someone and so lose all the expertise built up over the years.

JMB said...

"Oi Despairing Illiterate Liberal: READ the post. The responsibility would be that of the IRISH taxpayer/government not us."

I presume that Despairing Illiterate Liberal was referring to lighthouse, buoys etc around the British coast. The light dues pay for the total cost of Trinity House and the NLB.

DespairingLiberal said...

Iain doesn't make it clear David - he makes it sound as if his original campaign was against all Light Dues payments, eg, the ones for Britain. Who then would pay them? Typical Tory - anyone should pay for public services except the businesses who use them. But there should also be no taxes. Perhaps the lighthouses should be materialised out of thin air?

JMB said...

"We also provide RNLI lifeboats and regularly send rescues helis because the Irish ones are too small or lack range to do anything useful."

The RNLI operates in the whole of British Isles including Ireland so Irish lifeboats are the same sizes as all the others around the coast. The RNLI is not funded by either government.

JMB said...

It sounds as if the Light Dues come from all shipping in the waters around the British Isles and pay for all the lighthouses and buoys which seems fair enough. I have not seen anything to suggest that the UK is subsidising the Irish.

http://www.trinityhouse.co.uk/about_us/financial/index.html

DespairingLiberal said...

I expect the Irish lighthouses were paid for by Britain in the Victorian and Edwardian periods and it just continued as Ireland was poor and it made sense for British naval and merchant marine to have it set up that way. Looks like with Ireland poor again, we may be coming full circle.

All that remains is for Ireland to resurrect the Pund and go back to the good old days when the Bank of England in reality determined what happened over there. Oh and which actually still was the partial reality even under the Euro, as many banking deposits in Ireland were and are in UK banks and many of those tricky loans made by "Irish" banks were in fact underwritten by RBS, etc. Makes you wonder what on earth the alleged "independent Ireland" was really all about.

Victor, NW Kent said...

If there is no money who will be the Keeper of the Eddystone Light?

How will M& S be able to do their fashion ads?

No, let's keep the whatsit.

Tristan said...

Thanks JMB/GLA insider. The subsidy is detailed here as well as the government commitment to end it in November 2004. Perhaps they're all wrong?!

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200910/ldhansrd/text/100205-0003.htm

Sceptical Steve said...

The RNLI and all the search and rescue groups throughout the country (funded largely by public donation and manned by volunteers) are charged a significant fee by Ofcom for the use of their radio frequencies. Now that really is an insult and something that we should be campaigning to reverse!

Sandy said...

The Irish Helicopters(s) are a regular feature of rescues in Northern Ireland. Irish lights and nav. marks have historically been essential for British shipping in the Irish Sea and approaches from America. GPS has largely made them redundant though. Just saying...

Alan Douglas said...

"Under the previous Government, light dues rose substantially, decreasing our national competitiveness (the charges were far higher than in many other countries)"

So another G Brown stealth tax then, on top of the actual dues.

I bet most of what is taken is spent on collecting it, hence a possible reason for campaigns to abolish ?

Alan Douglas

Dave's Mate said...

There is a plan to charge recreational yachtsmen and 'boaters' light dues, they are currently exempt under a certain size of vessel.

Not sure how it would be enforced, but I am sure someone could come up with a self-financing bureaucracy!

FF said...

Presumably the UK government raised a levy on UK shipowners on behalf of the Irish government. The levy is pays for lights that their ships benefit from.

Is there a problem with this?

Andy Boal said...

There is a VERY good, in fact excellent reason why the UK subsidises the Commissioners of Irish Lights. Who do you think happens to be responsible for the lighthouses etc in Northern Ireland? They don't come free and they are in the UK...