Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Not the budget....

Hundreds of articles, blogposts, commentaries and critiques will be published in response to George Osborne's second budget. This isn't one of them.

It's not that I have nothing to say or that the budget is unimportant but that my tuppence worth of comment is of little matter. If I say I like this and hate that it will change nothing and serve little to advance those things I want to see done (or more often, not done).

Instead I want to remark on the important matter of philanthropy - hence the picture of the gates to Foster Park in Denholme. The park was a gift to Denholme from William Foster in 1912 - hence the name - and the gates and railings were given in the 1920s (to mark the coming of age for William's son). The Foster's were, of course, the dominant employer in the village and having gained so much from the place chose to put some of that back.

I suppose we could get all sniffy and say that the Foster family could afford all that generosity, that their riches were built on the back of workers in Denholme and that they really were obligated to "put something back". But that's really the point of it all - poor people may be generous with time and kindness but only the wealthy are able to be so generous with cash or land (or both).

Today, when we want parks, halls or playgrounds we turn to the modern patron of all that is good - the government. And the result of this new tradition is that old philanthropy is pushed aside. The developer is not minded to pass over part of his profit to local beneficiaries when the government - through "section 106 agreements" or other impositions - has already extracted large sums from his pockets. And the businessman is less likely to make the sort of gifts that William Foster made when he sees an ungrateful government taking vast taxes and imposing ever more onerous and expensive regulations.

Philanthopy died as a result of government not because the character of wealthy people changed. And that government with its "progressive" taxes and special imposts on the rich says to such people: "your riches offend us, you are not welcome, just leave your cash for us." So the rich don't give - not in the manner of enhancing their local place. There are a few real benefactors - Barrie Pettman in Patrington, for example - but mostly the rich have turned their back on such giving. Fed up with the sniffy response of government, annoyed by ever higher taxes, the wealthy no longer play the part they played in times past.

For philanthropy to work, we have to celebrate wealth and success - to recognise that the modern day Fosters are there and should be encouraged, supported and smiled upon. And their generosity encouraged rather than scorned.

For philanthropy to work we have to allow space for giving and, above all, treat the wealthy as a national treasure rather than a group to be enviously taxed until they depart to warmer, friendlier shores.


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