Last week the coalition government announced that Sir Philip Green, the owner of the truly awful high street chain, Topshop, has been given the role of ‘efficiency tsar’. The Socialist Party website notes that,
Sir Philip has been very efficient – at making money! Along with his wife he is listed in the top ten of the Sunday Times Rich List, enjoys a £4.1 billion fortune and lives in the tax haven of Monaco.
But from his private yacht on the Med, Green said he had “no idea” what savings he could deliver.
Green knows a lot about one thing: tax loopholes. Lib Dem backbenchers were quick to pounce,
Roger Williams, Lib Dem MP for Brecon and Radnorshire, said that while Green was “very capable”, the reports of his tax arrangements should be “looked at” by HMRC and the Treasury.
“We are very keen that artificial arrangements are minimised,” he told the Guardian today. “What it brings home to me and my constituents is that rich people can arrange their financial affairs with a great deal more latitude [than poorer people].”
Green denies any wrongdoing. But then, he would deny any wrongdoing.
The government have talked about how they are going to hire credit rating agencies to track down ‘benefit cheats’. They also complain how much money is being overpaid to claimants (a fiction to be sure) when their own kind avoid paying tax through a combination of creative accountancy and depositing their wealth in offshore accounts. The money lost through tax avoidance and evasion is much higher than any money lost through benefit fraud.
The Guardian’s Michael White notes,
As such he is the coalition’s first own goal. Tory newspapers were offended, City eyebrows raised and backbench Lib Dem MPs scandalised. Green is a brilliantly successful British entrepreneur, but his family tax arrangements are very complicated and he would not get elected to the kind of Tory club to which David Cameron once belonged
There also comes a stark warning, White says that “the failure rate is high” and reminds us that
Most of Gordon Brown’s outside “goats” – Digby Jones and co – left within a year. TUC and CBI leaders recruited to government have rarely succeeded. The skillset is different: persuasion matters more in politics. The same goes for UN goodwill ambassadors and other “celebrity diplomats”, most of whom implode. Bono and Bob Geldof are rare exceptions. Green may yet surprise everyone, but wise MPs will not bet on it.
A peerage for Green in the New Years honours list? Probably.