Big brother is watching your car: tax office to get new powers to snoop

The tax office is to be given new powers to check car owners have paid road tax by scanning every car on the Dutch roads and comparing the number plate to a data base, RTL reported on Friday. The measure is included in the government's tax plans for 2019 but was hidden away under 'other fiscal measures', the broadcaster said. The tax office will make use of footage taken by speed cameras and cameras used to monitor road conditions using technology known as ANPR. There are some 800 ANPR cameras monitoring Dutch roads. ANPR technology allows officials to record the number plate, the date, the time and the location of every car passing by. The tax office will then process this to find out who has not paid their road tax. It expects the measure to raise €10m a year. The tax office used to use the ANPR system to try to catch company car drivers who were breaking the rules on private use, but was forced to stop after the courts ruled this was illegal. Approved The Dutch privacy watchdog Autoriteit Persoonsgegevens told the AD that the new proposal had been approved. 'The tax office has been very clear about why they want the images and why it is necessary,' the spokesman said. 'It is still not allowed to check the private use of company cars.' However a tax office spokesman said that research is underway into using the ANPR system to collect information about lease car drivers' whereabouts as well. Tax inspectors already use cars fitted with special scanners in an effort to track down people who use their company cars for private business. Festivals, out-of-town shopping centres, sports events and other popular destinations are targeted in particular.  More >

Hundreds of village schools face closure

Education council Onderwijsraad and the government could find themselves at loggerheads over a new pupil number norm introduced this year, RTL Nieuws reports. Over 900 primary schools in the Netherlands would have too few pupils if the new standard were to be applied, and an unknown number of schools would face closure, RTL found. The new rules say schools must have a certain number of pupils to remain viable, depending on the number of children in a given municipality. That means that in Amsterdam a primary school must have at least 195 pupils while in a smaller municipality such as Epe or Delfzijl 50 pupils would be enough. The government has pledged to support small schools but the education council is in favour of closing those with 50 or fewer pupils because they are vulnerable to problems such as teachers falling ill or a lack of contact with children of the same age. Small schools can also combine up to four different classes in one schoolroom which is difficult for the teacher, the council claims, and are also relatively more expensive. Financial support Small schools already receive extra government financial aid and this will be upped as of this year. ‘Small schools have a crucial function in small communities,’ education minister Arie Slob said when he outlined the measure. Figures published in 2015 show around one in four Dutch villages have no school. The problem is most acute in the northern province of Friesland, where 185 villages have no educational facilities. The average distance from home to primary school used to be just under one kilometre but has now stretched to 3.4 kilometres, meaning young children can no longer cycle on their own.  More >

Medieval bits of parchment were recycled

A search in the archives of Utrecht and the city’s university library by master student and medievalists has unearthed hundreds of fragments of medieval parchment which had been used to mend books, cover documents and recycled in various other ways. The fragments, some no bigger than a stamp, others comprised of several pages, tell of such diverse subjects as religion, eating habits, poetry, medicine and astrology. Among the more spectacular finds are the only known written text by Christian theologian Novatianus from the 9th century and medieval music scores that have never been played. The Novatianus document is the oldest in the Utrecht archives and unique because Novatianus’ work is only known in later print versions. Incredibly, to the modern eye, the text was not very carefully treated. It was used to bind a document around 1550. According to curator Bart Jaski, who mounted the exhibition Perkament in Stukken (Parchment in pieces), ‘sustainability is nothing new. (..)To us these are cultural treasures but then they were just something to be recycled, he said in an interview with broadcaster NOS. Sustainable ‘Parchment is hard wearing and was used for flyleaves to protect the inside of books from the leather and metal that was often used in bookbinding.’ Bits of parchment that were written on or damaged and so no longer useful were also used as a cheap way of binding books, a practice known as maculature, latin for spot or macula. Research The exhibition is the result of years of parchment hunting by students and lecturers. They found a text by pope Gregory used as a cover for a bill for beer, Bible fragments to cover an annual account and music scores in a book on theology. In total, 38 of the finds have been brought together in a book compiled by Janski. ‘We don’t have that many written documents from the Middle Ages, perhaps a few hundred. The fragments that we have found dating from the 11th and 12th centuries are like pieces in a puzzle. We are the detectives, comparing them with later texts from the 15th century. We can then see the changes that were made and find out things we didn’t know,’ he told NOS. A piece of parchment from the 11th century used to bind a number of bills four centuries later, for instance, holds a description of how holy German emperor Henry III gave a huge candelabra to the Dom in Utrecht where his father’s entrails were buried. ‘It says how much the candelabra cost, it was pounds of silver and gold , a big investment. We didn’t know this. These tidbits of information are very useful because we really don’t know much about that time.’ Parchment in Pieces is on until January 6 at the Utrecht archive.  More >

Employed SGP chief claims jobless benefit

The new chairman of the fundamentalist Christian party SGP has been claiming the special civil service unemployment benefit alongside his salary for 12 years, the Volkskrant reported on Friday. Peter Zevenbergen is the paid director of a college in Rotterdam but his salary is below his earnings as an alderman in Alblasserdam, a post he held up to 2006. This means, by law, that he can claim the difference from the taxpayer. The 62-year-old currently claims €1,450 extra a month from Alblasserdam council under the wachtgeld system and can continue to claim this amount until he retires, the paper said. He was entitled to such a generous package because he was alderman for 10 years and was over the age of 50. The question was raised in Alblasserdam council four years ago and the mayor made a moral appeal to Zevenbergen to stop the claims, the Volkskrant says. But the SGP chairman says on the party's website that he is acting 'in line with the letter and the spirit of the wachtgeld ruling'. Phasing out or stopping the extra payments now is not an option because the rules mean he would have to pay back the entire amount, the statement said. Nevertheless, he has now asked independent experts to look into the issue. Benefits MPs, ministers and local council officials who lose their job are entitled to 80% of their salary for one year under the wachtgeld system. Subsequent payments which can last up to retirement age, are made at the 70% rate. Former politicians who get a job which does not pay as much as being an MP, alderman or minister can claim top-up benefits, as Zevenberg has done. In May it emerged that one former MP has been claiming benefits for over 16 years while one former junior minister has been given €465,000 in payments over five years. In total 178 MPs, 18 ministers and 15 junior ministers had claimed wachtgeld, over the past five years, averaging €93,000 each.  More >

PVV councillor under fire for petrol post

A councillor for the anti-immigration PVV in the Groningen town of Delfzijl has stepped down after being heavily criticised for saying on Facebook that fires at refugee centres should be put out with petrol. Emil Smeding responded to an article on the website of local broadcaster RTV Noord about a fire in the big refugee centre in Ter Appel. 'Put it out with petrol,' Smeding said, followed by an angry emoji. RTV Noord said it had removed the message 'as we do with other messages with the same sentiment'. PVV-Delfzijl!! Topkandidaten olv lijsttrekker Emil Smeding! Succes op 21 maart!#StemPVV — Geert Wilders (@geertwilderspvv) January 24, 2018 Smeding, the only PVV councillor in the coastal town, told the broadcaster later in a reaction: 'I did not see anything wrong with it because I did not attack anyone personally. In addition, Facebook is such as rubbish medium.' He has since apologised, RTV Noord said. Next week councillors in Delfzijl are due to discuss a covenant in which they pledge to treat each other with respect and integrity. It was drawn up after a row in which a VVD councillor called another a nazi.  More >

Solar power stalled by weak networks

The  Dutch electricity network is unable to cope with the growing amount of solar power in the country and this may hamper the growth of this alternative source of energy, the NRC reported on Friday. NRC paper says the government has pledged subsidies for some 5,000 megawatts of production capacity in the coming years which would double the number of solar panels. But network operators Liander and Enexis told the paper they have already had to limit, or stop, the amount of energy they are processing, a measure that affects some twenty solar farms. The problem lies with 15 substations which have reached maximum capacity. Increasing that will take two to five years, which could hamper the growth of solar power in the Netherlands. In less densely populated areas, such as the northern provinces, the network cables are ‘thinnest’ and particularly vulnerable, the operators say. They also have the lowest land prices and space to build solar power farms, which are proliferating there. ‘These networks are now handling big volumes. (..) and if the sun shines all solar farms will generate more and create peaks in volume as well,’ Daan Schut, network development manager at Liander, told the paper. Subsidies A complicating factor is that the subsidies depend on a solar farms being productive within three years. ‘If we fail to get a connection to the network in time the subsidy is off,’ solar farm developer Gerben Smit told the paper. Smaller solar power projects, such as solar panels on roofs of businesses, are also facing delays when it comes to feeding electricity to the network. Roland Pechtold, solar power projects director at GroenLeven, says the problems will be even bigger next year. Some dozens of megawatts of electricity would not be fed to a network, he said. ‘And one megawatt would be enough for a thousand households.’ Network operators have said they want more say from the government about where solar power farms are going to be built, so they know where the network needs strengthening. It also wants assurances that a change to the infrastructure is profitable. For the moment network operators are connecting as many solar farms as possible, with restrictions as to the amount of energy they can offload until the capacity problems can be solved, the NRC said.  More >

Schiphol flights cancelled due to storm

Schiphol airport is warning passengers that flights will be delayed or cancelled on Friday because of a westerly storm. Dutch flag carrier KLM said on Thursday evening it had cancelled 100 return flights as a precaution, after the KNMI weather bureau issued a code yellow weather warning for the west of the country. 'We know now that not all the flights will go ahead,' a spokesman told broadcaster NOS on Thursday evening. The cancelled flights are for European destinations and passengers will be booked on other flights, the spokesman said. The KNMI expects winds of up to 85 kph to batter the mainland on Friday morning, but says they will be stronger over the Wadden Sea area.   More >