Tax

Jim Pickard

It probably seemed like a great idea to David Cameron when he criticised Jimmy Carr’s tax affairs during a round of TV interview in Mexico. His comments – attacking the immorality of avoidance – chime with the public mood. People don’t like to find out that others aren’t paying as much tax at a time of austerity, unemployment, spending cuts and so on.

But the Cameron stance quickly unravelled within minutes of him uttering the words on Wednesday afternoon. First question was why the prime minister criticised a single comedian and not those closer to home (Sir Philip Green, Lord Ashcroft, etc) whose tax affairs have been questioned in the past.

Second question was why the PM attacked Carr but not Gary Barlow, the cuddly Take That singer who supported the Tories before the last election. Asked about Barlow on Wednesday, he said something vague about having not reached his computer yet. By today, it was a matter of no comment.

During a press conference today Cameron sought to shift into reverse gear, saying it was everybody’s right to arrange their tax affairs efficiently and that he wouldn’t provide a “running commentary” on individuals’ tax. Yet the genie is already out of the bottle. The spotlight will now be on members of Cameron’s family, his friends, his donors and his MPs; who else has been a little too efficient in Read more

Jim Pickard

Allegra Stratton at the Guardian set the ball rolling yesterday on whether the Lib Dems are planning a new type of mansion tax – albeit under a different name.
The proposal is being kicked around by senior Lib Dem figures (such as Richard Reeves, policy wonk to Nick Clegg) but is meeting resistance from Tories. It is also unpopular with other Lib Dems such as David Laws (who is playing a key role in co-writing their “Tax 2020″ document). That’s right: Laws does not want it.
Wealthy FT readers in big houses may rest easy for a while longer.
Here’s our news take on it:
Owners of £1m-plus homes would have to pay capital gains tax when they sell up under attempts by senior Liberal Democrats to revive their “mansion tax” proposals.
At present CGT is paid at 28 per cent when a second home is sold but main residences are exempt from the levy.
But Lib Dems are considering whether sellers could be forced to pay the duty on any profits beyond a £1m tax-free threshold – a policy which could bring in billions for the exchequer.
Treasury officials have had discussions with experts in the property industry to find out how many people live in multi-million pound homes and where they are located.
However, the proposals are likely to meet fierce resistance from Tory ministers given that many Conservative voters live in homes worth more than £1m.
Vince Cable, as opposition Treasury spokesman, was forced to revise his original “mansion tax” proposal – an annual levy on big homes – after the Lib Dems realised that it would harm many of their suburban voters in south-west London.
The business secretary’s attempts to revive the mansion tax as a device to

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Jim Pickard

Alan Johnson has seemed assured and capable since taking the job of shadow chancellor – despite joking that he would need to read an economics primer to get up to speed. (In fact none of the last four chancellors have had proper economics backgrounds).

But his maiden voyage this morning was not the most awe-inspiring of occasions, taking place at the KPMG offices just off Fleet Street. There were only 20 or 30 people in the audience, all of which seemed to be either journalists or accountants from the host company. Read more

Jim Pickard

It was worth listening to Today this morning if only to hear Lord Ashdown under siege over the issue of Sir Philip Green and his tax status. The Lib Dem peer was asked about how the government could seriously talk about battling tax avoidance given the recent hiring of the retail tycoon as an efficiency czar: As the interviewer asked:

“If this government was really serious about tax avoidance it would not have employed, would it, Sir Philip Green, who is also accused of avoiding taxes, perfectly legally…but there he is, advising the government on waste. If the Lib Dems really had power in this government he wouldn’t be there would he?”

Ashdown said he would not criticise the appointment. He then rattled off a list of the many changes achieved by the coalition (pupil premium, tax breaks for low-income families, etc). It was as if he didn’t want to discuss the tycoon at all.

But the Lib Dems do seem to be facing both ways on the issue of tax at the moment. Yesterday Danny Alexander announced a new £900m to spend on tackling the issue. But how does this square with hiring Sir Philip? Read more

Jim Pickard

It turns out that Sir Philip, the government’s new efficiency czar, didn’t like the Today programme asking him uncomfortable questions last week. The retail tycoon was asked, among other things, about the tax status of his wife – who owns Arcadia. (She is resident in Monaco).

In an opinion piece for the Mail on Sunday today Sir Philip explains a little more about how he can advise Whitehall in the coming months. There’s also a little thinly-disguised threat against the BBC: Read more