Friday, February 10, 2012

Tax has always been for the little people

David Hencke examines the tax "efficient" measures adopted by Ed Lester, chief executive of the Students Loans Company, and the extent to which they must have been approved the then Cabinet Secretary, Gus O’Donnell.

Sadly, there is nothing new about people in important public-sector jobs benefiting from such arrangements. Chris Horrie and Steve Clarke wrote in their Fuzzy Monsters: Fear and Loathing at the BBC, published in 1994. about an investigation conducted by Chris Blackhurst of the Independent:
Blackhurst replaced the receiver. It was not surprising that the BBC's hierarchy was proving difficult to pin down. He had been calling the Corporation's press office for days, asking for confirmation of a story he had been sitting on all week: the Director General of the BBC was not on the staff of the Corporation. He was paid as a freelance through John Birt Productions as a way of keeping his distance and avoiding tax ... 
A few minutes later the fax machine near Blackhurst's desk began churning out the confirmation he needed. The statement said freelance arrangements were commonplace in the television world and John Birt had worked as a freelance for more than 20 years. "The same contractual arrangements that operated when he was director of programmes at LWT applied when he joined the BBC as Deputy Director General," it said. BBC HELPS ITS CHIEF TO AVOID TAX. It caused immediate outrage. 
Blackhurst was jubilant. He had hit a raw nerve. Many of the BBC employees who read his story had recently been forced to accept short-term contracts while being taxed as full-time employees. But the Director General, the architect of changes aimed at abolishing still more staff jobs, was evidently allowed to have it both ways.
Tax, I fear, has always been for the little people. And as for John Birt... it was when Tony Blair appointed him as his "blue-skies thinker" that it became clear he was losing his touch.

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