The EUVAT VATMOSS Campaign. Fundraising to attend a VITAL meeting

I may not have blogged about this lately but there’s been plenty going on over these past few months. Don’t believe anyone who tells you that Brussels shuts up shop for the summer while everyone heads for the beach. The emails and calls have been going back and forth as busily as ever.

We now have a chance to convince the EU that they must take decisive action to put a stop to the damage these regulations are doing, at the EU Finance Ministers’ summit in Dublin, 7th – 9th September. As long as we can afford to send a representative to speak up on behalf of everyone so badly affected. The EU VAT Action Team has held off asking for money for as long as possible but now we need financial help.

Let me explain how we got this far…

With the ongoing and invaluable assistance of MEPs Vicky Ford (Con), Anneliese Dodds (Lab) and Catherine Bearder (Lib Dem), we’ve continued to make the case for reform and interim suspension of this legislation which is still proving unworkable and hugely damaging for the digital small business sector. It’s no exaggeration to say that it’s already killing the digital single market at the grass roots level.

Thanks to ongoing pressure from all the campaign’s supporters, through letters and calls, Deloitte have now been instructed to work with us and to accept our evidence as they prepare an impact assessment for the EU Commission.

Here in the UK we’ve been working with senior figures and VAT experts within the accountancy profession and other business organisations, as we continue to collect evidence of the hugely disproportionate costs of compliance, for the sake of paying trivial amounts to the tax man. We’re talking typically under £10. Yes, really.

We’ve also been collecting evidence of ongoing problems with the entire system. Such as small businesses in the UK being hounded directly by other countries’ tax offices over discrepancies which aren’t even their fault, of under £1, €1, and in one case, 5p. Yes, you read that right. The supposed agreement that such queries would be directed to HMRC simply isn’t holding.

Once again, letters and calls from all the campaign’s supporters to their MPs and other representatives have bolstered the EU VAT Action Team’s case. Feel free to continue writing!

We’ve reached the point where EU Commissioners Donato Raponi and Andrus Ansip are convinced this legislation needs a threshold to make the system workable. And while the details of that are worked out, we need an interim suspension for the smallest businesses who’ve been the hardest hit.

Now we need to convince all 28 EU Finance Ministries. To do that, we need to send a representative to Dublin. At our own expense. Welcome to modern participatory democracy – your voice will be heard as long as you can pay to play.

So we’ve set up a Just Giving page, with a target of £3000. If we don’t reach that in a month, every pledge will be refunded. And, obviously, we won’t be making the case for such desperately needed changes in Dublin.

Assuming we can reach that target (and passing it would be good!) the first priority will be meeting the Dublin trip’s costs. After that, we’ll refund the expenses the EU VAT Action Team have been covering out of their own pockets thus far, pro rata.

For instance, my own tally for train fares and other direct costs is now approaching £500. That’s used up most of my own business travel and promotions budget, so if you’ve been wondering why you haven’t seen me at SFF conventions this year, there’s your answer.

(We’re not even trying to calculate the hundreds of hours and thousands of words we’ve spent on this, in meetings, writing letters, briefings and blogposts… And the rigmarole of setting up a bank account has been another saga in itself…)

Once those direct costs have been met, any surplus will be donated to Kiva, a non-profit microfinance company alleviating poverty in the developing world by enabling people to create their own opportunities, meeting their own communities’ needs.

We’ve already demonstrated that a lot of small voices protesting together can have a big impact. Now a lot of small donations could very quickly give us the sum we need to see this campaign achieve the changes to the legislation that all of us so desperately need.

Please give us whatever you can afford, and spread the word as far and as fast as possible.

Many thanks.

(For those of you who prefer to use PayPal, we are looking in to that option and will post an update as soon as that’s available. But as with setting up the bank account, getting a Donations button turns out to be an unexpectedly lengthy and complicated process.)

Edited to Add
If you click through to the Just Giving page, you’ll now see we’re fully funded, thanks to the outstanding generosity of the video games company Rebellion, who are also the parent company of Solaris Books and the comic 2000AD, and as such can see exactly how bad this is for digital creatives.

Since this affects so many people in all three of those areas, games, comics and books, they decided to guarantee we’d be representing the self-starters and independents at that vital meeting!

So now, if you can add your contribution, however much that might be, we can hopefully send a second delegate to provide administrative and moral support to our speaker at the conference!

And please keep spreading the word!

Brussels update. Now we need action from Westminster.

I’ve been following the debates on EU VAT and the digital single market in the European Parliament last night and this morning.

They now accept these new regulations are causing massive problems. However their timetable fortaking meaningful action is measured in months at best and years at worst.

We need immediate help for UK businesses. That means an Extra Statutory Concession to suspend this fiasco.

Please help the EU VAT Action campaign make enough noise to convince every government minister and MP to support this.

You don’t have to be running an online business to have your say on this. It hits everyone, buyer and seller alike. (See my previous post for links to articles on how far-reaching the damage is)

This is a very handy online resource to help you write to all or some of your local, national and international elected representatives at once – the ‘Write to Them’ website.

You can find details of your MEPs here.

MPs in UK Parliament

Scots – find your MSP
Northern Ireland – your MLAs
National Assembly for Wales – members

Consider contacting your local press and media, as well as national newspapers and broadcasters. One letter or email will probably get filed as trivial. A whole batch of letters or emails on the same topic suggests there’s a story to be had – and the UK’s relationship with the EU is very much a hot topic at the moment!

Why it’s a vital week for another round of email and letters about EU digital VAT

Today and tomorrow, the European Parliament will be debating –

– the problems they’re now aware of, relating to the new regulations on cross-border digital sales now needing to be taxed at the VAT rates applied in the customer’s country rather than the sellers.

– the impact this will have on hopes for a digital single market across Europe.

Since most companies are avoiding the many and varied problems with this new system by blocking sales outside their own country, ecommerce across Europe looks to be massively set back.

Thanks to 6 months of intensive lobbying, the EU Commission and various coalitions of MEPs now recognise the need –

– to review and revise these regulations to make them fit for purpose

– to establish a turnover threshold below which businesses are exempt from the frankly ridiculous costs and other burdens of compliance.

This really is a tremendous achievement when you consider that when this news broke last November, we were being told not to worry, the VATMOSS system had it all sorted out and everything would be fine…

HOWEVER the EU Commission are still talking in terms of a review process leading to new proposals which will take at least 2 years to see meaningful change.

The MEPs who’ve been most active supporting this campaign are making it clear that such delay is unacceptable with digital traders already forced to restructure their businesses or shut up shop.

What we need is an interim suspension while that review process is underway.

The more voices that support them, the better the chances of getting that suspension.

Please contact your MEPs – and if you get a stupid form letter full of Treasury waffle, send a reply straight back saying that’s unacceptable!

If we don’t get any immediate relief from the European Commission, then we need the UK Parliament to act. There is provision in law, and precedent, for an Extra Statutory Concession to save UK businesses from the destructive effects of this legislation.

Even though Parliament’s not yet sitting after the general election, MPs are in their offices, sorting out their priorities. You can help make sure this issue is high up on your MPs agenda. And if you get a stupid form letter full of Treasury waffle, send a reply straight back saying that’s unacceptable!

This is a very handy online resource to help you write to all or some of your local, national and international elected representatives at once – the ‘Write to Them’ website.

You can find details of your MEPs here.

MPs in UK Parliament

Scots – find your MSP
Northern Ireland – your MLAs
National Assembly for Wales – members

Consider contacting your local press and media, as well as national newspapers and broadcasters. One letter or email will probably get filed as trivial. A whole batch of letters or emails on the same topic suggests there’s a story to be had – and the UK’s relations with the EU is very much a hot topic at the moment.

There’s a whole lot of information available over at the EU VAT Action website now.

The damage done to consumers by all this

Discrimination caused by these new rules

Why some simple IT solution is not going to appear, now or in the future.

Why selling through 3rd party marketplaces isn’t an answer

The EU VAT Action Team’s impact study

How to tackle the European Union if you’re used to living in the SFF universe…

A few not entirely serious observations on my trip to Brussels this week – but I’m not entirely joking either.

1. Familiarity with the apparently M.C. Escher-inspired architecture of SFF convention hotels will make the European Parliament building much less daunting.

(Radisson, Heathrow – Sheraton, Boston – (the old) Ashling, Dublin, I’m looking at you…)

Yes, we did get spectacularly lost but only the once, so I gather that actually makes us more legitimate as campaigners, not less.

Mind you, when you are wandering round the EU Parliament and wondering how exactly to find a way out, it’s probably best not to think too much about the similarity between that institution’s logo and the one from er, The Prisoner…

eu-logo

prisoner

2. The SFF convention rule of 6/2/1 is a good one to adopt. That’s six hours sleep, two meals and one shower in any twenty-four hours.

Those two meals may well end up being a working dinner and a working breakfast. And I do mean working – not just some excuse for a feed at the public’s expense.

Our first event on Tuesday was Clare Josa presenting our findings to the European Internet Forum, thanks to the support for our cause from Vicky Ford and Syed Kamall, both UK Conservative MEPs. Clare was one of five speakers invited to talk about barriers to European hopes for a digital single market to 90-plus people from the European Parliament, the Commission and businesses which will be directly affected. They all had interesting and relevant things to say and everyone was listening, not just eating.

There’s a whole corridor of dining rooms in the European Parliament where all sorts of these dinners were going on, getting people together. The following morning they were full of different groups of people having breakfast, swapping information and making plans about mutual concerns before heading off for a full day’s work in their respective offices.

On Wednesday we were guests at just such a breakfast, hosted by Eurochambres, where Clare presented our case again to a different group of MEPs and Commission officials. Talk across the croissant and coffee cups immediately turned to the nuts and bolts practicalities of getting this issue onto the official agenda, who to enlist in which Commission offices and across the different political groupings. Catherine Bearder, Lib Dem MEP had already done a lot of work on making sure this was being raised as a cross-party and international issue, to counter any idea that this is a purely Tory concern being raised for domestic political consumption. Nothing could be further from the truth.

3. Think Vulcan not Klingon.

European politics isn’t two-party-confrontational. Think infinite diversity in infinite combinations. Table thumping and shouting, or expecting any kind of ego-stroking, will get you nowhere, not least because it just wastes time and no one has that to spare. The MEPs and their staff who’ve been helping us will be tackling upwards of twenty issues simultaneously at any one time.

One reason we’ve got so far and so fast with this is we have all our facts and figures prepared to show the damage being caused by this unworkable system and we let that information speak for itself. We weren’t there to play the blame game but were focused on working towards solutions. So were all the people we met.

And Clare’s presentation wasn’t far short of a mind-meld. There wasn’t a digital projector available so none of the speakers at our various meetings could be tempted to try Death by PowerPoint but the way Clare made our case was as far from that as it’s possible to get. She invited our audiences to imagine themselves as digital entrepreneurs setting up a successful business in 2014 and then took them step by step through the shock of discovering the successive costs, complexities and outright impossibilities now demanded by these new regulations. The sound of metaphorical pennies dropping around the rooms was deafening!

4. It can help to be a hobbit who just wants to get back to The Shire.

As well as being asked about the EU VAT issues, we were both asked at various times about ourselves, our wider involvement in politics, our plans…

Well, we just want to get this sorted out so we can go back to running our own businesses. It’s as simple as that.

Which isn’t to say it would have been a particular problem if we had said we had plans to set up some digital microbusiness organisation or had political party ambitions ourselves – but it does make life much more straightforward when the people you’re dealing with realise you don’t have any other agenda they should (perfectly reasonably and legitimately) be taking into consideration.

5. Just go with the plot-convenient co-incidences.

Another reason we’ve got so far so fast is I happen to live in the UK Prime Minister’s parliamentary constituency. So I was able to make a constituency surgery appointment to brief my MP, David Cameron, personally about the problems this new regulation has created. He got it. We’ve found this time and again over the past few months – whenever we’ve been able to make the case in person, that penny drops within minutes.

Establishing this connection has opened doors for the campaign and got us invaluable practical support, not least for this trip to Brussels. No, I can claim no credit for this. There is no time travel involved which might explain why I moved to Witney in 1985 just to set this up!

And no, this absolutely isn’t a party-political issue. We’re dealing with the Conservative party at the moment because they lead the current ruling coalition in the UK. We’ve also had great support from the Greens and from the Lib Dems in Europe, notably Catherine Bearder who just happens to be based in Oxford, so I met her as well and once again, that penny-drop moment as we talked has made all the difference.

Another useful coincidence is the presence of Nicholas Whyte in Brussels. Those who know him in SFF circles are probably vaguely aware that he’s worked in and around (though not actually for) the European Parliament and Commission in various roles for a good few years. This means he’s been an invaluable source of practical information and support as we’ve begun to engage with European legislation policies and procedures.

Personally, I wouldn’t have had the nerve to head off to Brussels without his encouragement. When he first said, ‘you’ll need to come over to the Parliament—’, the squeak in my voice as I said, ‘really?’ probably startled passing dogs…

6. Settle in and prepare for further developments and surprises in the next film/series/book in the franchise.

We’ve made a tremendous amount of progress. This problem is being discussed at the highest levels now. There’s still a great deal of work to be done. Space stations and battlestars aren’t quickly or easily manoeuvred.

But even the smallest person can change the course of the future. And the more people who join in, the more change we’ll see.

(Some background for anyone coming late to this story – I am part of a grassroots campaign group EU VAT Action which is pressing for review and revision of the new EU VAT regulations on cross border digital sales which threaten tens of thousands of small businesses and are already doing untold damage to any hope of a digital single market to benefit customers and sellers alike.)

Mr Smith went to Washington. Ms McKenna’s been to 10 Downing Street.

For a SF and Fantasy novelist, I’m spending a remarkable amount of time being an activist at the moment. Well, it needs doing.

You’ll recall I met David Cameron, the UK Prime Minister to discuss the problems for small businesses created by the new EU digital VAT regulations on cross border sales? As a direct result of that meeting, the PM’s office set up a meeting for Clare Josa and me, on behalf of the EU VAT Action Team, with his special adviser Daniel Korski of the No.10 Policy Unit.

The full report – and guidance on useful actions for everyone affected – is here.

To summarise, the UK Government now realises just what horrendous difficulties these new regulations have created. Countries creating wonderful systems to handle collecting the new taxes and paying them to each other is not the slightest use to the digital sellers whose businesses are now so horribly complicated by the need to locate and appropriately tax their customers at the initial point of sale.

They’ve also acknowledged how vital it will be to have end-user input into any discussions about any proposed technical or other implementation solutions. We’re already following up on that.

The people we need to convince now are the EU Commission and national finance ministries across Europe. Okay then…

EU VAT Action will be rolling out assorted calls to action with a particular focus on Europe. I’ve also met with Catherine Bearder MEP this week, and spent an extremely productive hour and a half going over all the key issues with her and getting her invaluable input on how best to get our voices heard in Europe. Subject to final confirmation, key EU VAT Action team players will be heading for Brussels in the week commencing 16th March.

So we’re definitely making progress.

And what’s No.10 Downing Street really like? Well, I’d say it’s a stately home devoted to the day to day business of government, if that makes any sense at all. Lots of people coming and going, all very focused, in elegant and historic surroundings.

There’s a really interesting history available here, including photos. Yes, I did get to meet Larry the cat – who is the most aloof feline I have ever encountered, and for those of us who know cats, that’s really saying something.

There was a fox as well, trotting about and sniffing at doors first thing. I saw him when I glanced out of the window, when we’d just arrived and were going through the security check. Oh yes, says the friendly copper, he often comes over from the park for a look around…

Talking of coppers, the constables who guard the famous door are clearly a dab hand at taking good photos with any sort of camera or phone they are handed. So that’s quite a snap for the family album.

jules-No.10

And here’s a picture of the cat.

cat

The EU VAT Action Campaign – recent and upcoming events

Last Monday saw the EU VAT Action team represented for the first time at the HMRC Working Group meeting to discuss implementation of the new VATMOSS system. You may rest assured that we highlighted the ongoing problems which microbusinesses are having with compliance, 3rd party platforms and the VATMOSS system itself, not to mention the widespread failures in European implementation.

Since he’s my constituency MP, I was also able to meet David Cameron last Friday, aiming to make sure he realises what the current problems are as well as their wider and longer term implications. It was a positive and constructive meeting, with every indication that the PM understands the seriousness and complexity of this issue.

While we are definitely making headway convincing the UK government, we still need to convince the finance ministers and key officials in other EU member states that this same trouble is heading their way. They just don’t know it yet because their own digital businesses don’t even know about the new regulations, still less about how impossible the law is to work with!

We need as many non-UK responses to the EU VAT Action survey as possible, as soon as possible.

Please spread the word. We’re already compiling country-specific reports from the data we do have – and the picture in the Netherlands for instance, is horrifying.

We want as many people as possible to contact the EU Commission’s Taxation Department with a personal complaint and also to submit comments to the OECD’s current consultation on implementing this sort of taxation.

Sounds daunting? We’re putting together clear guidance on how to go about it and on Thursday 12th February, we’ll be having a major online push to inspire as many people to act as possible.

On Wednesday 11th February I’ll be part of a Google Hangouts live online event at 7pm GMT organised by the The Alliance of Independent Authors to discuss the new regulations, VATMOSS and associated issues.

I’ll be particularly focusing on the campaign and the actions everyone can take to help. The more voices raised, the better the chances of being heard!

If you can’t make that particular time, you’ll be able to access a recording afterwards – check back for linkage in due course.

And I am really, really truly planning to post something NOT about bloody VAT here soon!

An interesting debate about Amazon and a quiz about EU VAT

I have a lot on this week, so here’s a couple of things to muse on in the meantime.

Is Amazon a Hero or a Monster? This question was debated with strong feelings on both sides recently. It makes for interesting reading.

My answer? Amazon is neither – and casting the debate in these all or nothing terms actively obscures the key issues. Which may well be why Amazon are so keen to present the picture as so black and white. Because Amazon is, as far as I am concerned, an example of unfettered capitalism. So the buyer really should beware… are the short term gains going to be worth the long term losses?

Meantime, over at the EU VAT Action website we have a shiny new quiz! If you think you’ve got a sound grasp of the issues, see how well you get on? If you’re still trying to work out why people are so stressed about it all, see how you get on?

If you are caught up in this and looking at the various solutions now on offer, ask whoever’s offering it some of these questions. Because we’re seeing quite a few semi-compliant solutions cropping up which may be a short term fix but could pose problems in the longer term.

Mid-month update

I don’t suppose you’ll be in the least surprised to learn that campaigning against the new EU VAT legislation on crossborder digital sales continues to take up a lot of my time. We are now collecting evidence on just how unworkable the supposedly simple system is – and that is thankfully getting the attention of various MEPs and MPs. Updates here, from EU VAT Action and here on the other blog I started to handle this issue.

Since all this means making noise about other things like the representation of women in SFF is taking a back seat, I’m particularly pleased to see this on Marianne de Pierre’s blog

So here’s the thing guys… I need your help. I began my Research Masters on Future Feminism today, and I’m compiling a list of contemporary female SF authors (not fantasy, not YA, and not straight SF romance) who have been published in novel length work since 2000.

I’d love to hear who your favourite female SF (post 2000) author is so I can add them to my reading list. Please leave the names in the comments section and I’ll add them to my main list. I’ve made a solid start, but there are many more! I’ve alphabetised by surname.

Do check out the blog and see if you can add to the list?

In other news? Well, I’ve had a short story accepted for an anthology and am currently turning that from a draft into a final version thanks to the editor’s helpful feedback. It’s nice to be tackling some fiction again!

In between times, I am working on prepping the texts of the Aldabreshin Compass novels for their ebook editions. We’re also briefing an artist for cover art. The plan is to get all four done at once so we can release them in alternate months later this year. I’m also seriously considering writing some related short stories as re-reading the books has tempted me into tugging on a few lingering loose threads…

Once that’s all underway, I’ll turn my attention to getting the River Kingdom novella ‘The Ties that Bind’ out as an ebook as well as a collection of the short stories I’ve written in that setting.

Meantime, the novel I wrote last year is doing the round of agents… Reactions so far remind me just how subjective this game is. I’ve had ‘thanks but no thanks’ responses like ‘Aspect A is great but I’d really be looking for more Aspect B’ to set against ‘Aspect A is lacking for me, though Aspect B is very well done’. Plus the always baffling ‘I really like Aspect A and Aspect B… but I don’t quite love the whole thing enough to represent it…’

So on we go…