Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Gary Barlow, Pfizer & some Increasingly Common, but Stupid & Illiberal Ideas

Gary Barlow, formerly of take that invested in a scheme which has subsequently been ruled offside by HMRC. As did Jimmy Carr. Neither of these individuals is a finance professional. They were advised that these schemes were legal, followed advice which subsequently turned out to be wrong.


Upon losing the case with HMRC, the investors in these schemes will get presented with a bill for the tax they avoided. If they pay up, with interest, that is that. No criminal proceedings. Tax is complicated, and there are a lot of grey areas, especially when you have multiple streams of income from royalties, employment, investments and so-forth. This is why people employ accountants to ensure you pay the taxes you owe, and not a penny more.

Calls to strip Barlow by Labour MPs (including from Lady Margaret "the Dodge" Hodge, whose own tax affairs have been called into question) of his OBE are therefore grotesque and vindictive. I am sure this is entirely unrelated to the fact Barlow is a Tory supporter. Tax is not a moral issue. You pay what you owe, and if HMRC and your accountant disagree how much you owe, then the dispute is settled in court. This is what courts are for. Tax should always be seen as a strictly legal issue. Morality doesn't come into it, however much lefties wish to invoke morality to ensure that more tax is paid (by other people).

Almost no-one pays extra tax voluntarily. But you can lefites; put your money where your mouth is or shut up.

Pfizer is attempting to buy Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, and they intend to move their Brass plaque to the UK too. Labour are worried about asset-stripping, amid high-minded waffle about something called "the UK science base". AztraZeneca has about 15% of its people in the UK, and has itself been closing labs, due to the fact it faces a patent cliff. If you don't know what a "patent cliff" is, then you shouldn't be having an opinion on the takeover at all.

It is unlikely anyone buying AstraZeneca would close good, productive labs, especially ones close to a large and internationally respected university like Cambridge, at the hub of a Pharmaceutical and Biotech cluster called "silicon fen". Indeed that lab, in which AstraZeneca has recently invested is one of the things that would be worth keeping. And if Pfizer don't want it, if it's that valuable, it can be sold to someone who does.

The UK listing is another. The US charges tax is a perverse way - money earned overseas, on which tax has already been paid may face further taxes should the company wish to bring profits onshore. Broadly speaking No other countries do this. The US has been able to get away with this for now, because the US is so important. But companies like Pfizer, and Apple whose "problems" with their enormous pile of useless overseas profits will only grow may choose to move their head office to a friendlier regime in order to sidestep this problem.

This means US business will still get taxes charged in the USA. But all other profits will be charged and taxed in the non-US jurisdiction (in Pfizers case, the UK) and the movement of profits for investment will not face US taxes that no other jurisdiction would think to charge. Yes Pfizer is "tax-dodging" but the beneficiary of this is HMRC who're simply less vindictive and stupid than the IRS.

Despite this vast inward investment (£26bn or so) that Pfizer is making in the UK, Ed Miliband invokes fears of "Asset Stripping". Indeed all asset-stripping is, if done profitably, is selling assets to people who value them more. Being against this process is just left-wing flat-earthism. Much like the cant about Gary Barlow's tax affairs.

There's a kind of Hysteria in which anyone who gets into a dispute with the tax-man, or who seeks to quite legitimately reduce their tax bill is seen as a "tax-dodger" and so beyond the pale. It's stupid, it's illiberal and it harms business and prevents investment. A Miliband-led UK will be a great deal poorer as a result.




7 comments:

Umbongo said...

Miliband's not alone. Here's Cameron joining the lynch mob.

Steve C said...

There are so many lefty fools commenting on this that it's hard to know where to start. But I bet almost every one of them has money invested in a pension or an ISA. Tax avoiding bastards...

Jon said...

I think you'll find it's Silicon Fen. Silicone Fen is an altogether bustier location.

Jackart said...

Jon. Thank you.

*Hangs head in shame*

Umbongo, I think the very muted comment Cameron made cannot be fully described as joining the lynch mob.

Charles said...

If the scheme that Gary Barlow entered into was anything like the multiple ones I have been pitched then he would have known that it is very, very aggressive tax planning.

It was always unclear whether it would be approved by the HMRC - and there were plenty of warnings upfront that this would be case.

You then get into the question of whether it is moral: it was clearly legal (if ruled ineffective, as you say, it's not a criminal matter). However, a very wealthy man seeking to pay minimal tax by using dodgy structures doesn't strike me as appropriate behaviour.

ChrisM said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ChrisM said...

Whereas to me Charles, it strikes me as entirely appropriate behaviour. That's the nature of morality, its very subjective.

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