Belfast Telegraph

Top Shop boss Philip Green is just the guy to give lessons on public spending

By Eamonn McCann

Want a good reason for telling Sammy Wilson to naff off when he rambles on about the need for everybody to take their oil over job losses and cuts in services? Philip Green.

And here’s another reason: Davey Hartnett. Add in Johnnie Connors and it’s case closed.

Top Shop boss Green was last month appointed ‘spending tsar’ by David Cameron, tasked to come up with new ways of slimming down the public sector payroll, cutting out waste, cracking down on spongers etc. No better man.

Five years ago, Phil reorganised his own spending in such a way as to ensure he could maintain the £32m yacht Lionheart, the £27m private jet, the solid gold Monopoly set featuring all his own London properties, the mansion in Monaco and so forth.

Phil lives during the week in a London hotel, nips over to Monaco in the Gulfstream G550 for weekends with his wife Christina, and, perhaps, a game of tennis with good pals Prince Albert, Mohamed Fayed, Michael Winner or Simon Cowell etc.

For his son's Bar Mitzvah in 2005, Phil spent £4m on a week-long wing-ding for more than 200 guests put up in sumptuous Riviera hotels. Entertainment by Andrea Bocelli and Destiny's Child.

His own 50th was celebrated in Cyprus — a three-day toga party at which guests were serenaded by Tom Jones and Rod Stewart.

For his 55th, he invited 120 buddies to a bash at Stansted airport, then — surprise! — flew them 8,500 miles to an ‘eco-spa’ in the Maldives.

Of course, I could go on. But I don’t want to indulge the sour minority of begrudgers among Telegraph readers . . .

Five years ago, Phil put his business interests in Christima’s name. Simultaneously, she moved to Monaco, where, naturally, she pays no UK tax.

So far, dividends of £1.2bn have flowed gently into her Monaco account.

Of which not a penny has been frittered away on schools, hospitals, winter fuel allowances and fripperies of that sort.

Chancellor George Osborne assures us that Phil is a “no-nonsense” guy who will make certain that everybody does their bit to curb excess and help the public finances. Yup.

Phil can be comfortable about the Monaco arrangement being legit because he finessed it at one-to-one meetings with Davey Hartnett back in 2005.

Davey is the top tax man at HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) who told the BBC at the weekend that he had no need to apologise for his department having made such a hames of the tax system that 1,400,000 ordinary families have been landed with unexpected demands for around £1,400 each.

On the very day last month when Philip was appointed spending tsar, Davey made the front page of the Financial Times with his thoughts on tax collection in an age of austerity. “Tax office to soften stance on avoidance,” read the headline.

“HMRC is packed full of intelligent people,” mused Davey. “But we are sometimes too black and white about the law.”

Pursuing people for technical breaches of obscure tax laws was a dampener on business, he reckoned.

Davey did not have in mind the sort of cold-hearted villains who, given half a chance, would defraud the social security of literally hundreds of pounds. Parasites like that deserve all they get. But wealth-creators like Johnnie Connors . . . well, they are a different proposition altogether.

Johnnie was a senior official and good pal of Davey’s at HMRC until three years ago when he moved to the private sector with Vodaphone as head of tax affairs. Last year, the two old friends met to discuss difficulties arising from the phone company’s tax arrangements.

For the past decade, Vodaphone revenue generated in the UK has been channelled into a subsidiary company, Vodaphone Investments Luxembourg (VIL). This income has been subject to Luxembourg tax at 1%. By last year, €15.5bn had passed through VIL’s books. However, a court ruling last year cast doubt on the arrangement.

In response, following direct discussion between Davey and Johnnie, HMRC officials cut a deal with Vodaphone for a once-off payment of €800m, plus £450m over five years.

Meanwhile, the number of HMRC officers chasing down tax fraudsters has been drastically reduced as spending in the area has been slashed from £3.6bn three years ago to £1.9bn last year — part of the spending cuts made necessary by the dire state of the public finances. Readers might think it appropriate to keep all this in mind as we discuss with neighbours and friends whether to take whatever medicine and accept whatever pain Sir Philip prescribes or, on the other hand, to tell Sammy to catch himself on.

Belfast Telegraph

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