Winston Churchill, as chancellor of the Exchequer in the 1920s, asserted the right of the citizen ‘so to arrange his affairs as not to attract taxes enforced by the Crown so far as he can legitimately do so within the law’. Most people who are in a position to do any tax planning today would probably subscribe to a version of that view.
But when we heard that the comedian Jimmy Carr had been receiving his earnings by way of an offshore trust that gave him an effective tax rate of around 1 per cent, and that Starbucks had used transfer pricing and royalty payments to minimise UK profits so effectively that it had paid only £8 million of tax to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) on its lucrative, fast-expanding business since 1998, our sense of fairness was offended. As another comedian, Frankie Boyle, tweeted after Carr’s career-threatening tax embarrassment: ‘Look at it as a children’s hospital buying you a pool table.’
Tax and its avoidance are emotive topics, and one that often engenders double standards: I plan my tax affairs prudently – as it were – but they are blatantly cheating their fellow citizens. What’s clear is that in a time of austerity, when incomes are pinched and public services reduced,