Spread­sheet Phil... I’m count­ing on you to save my date nights

The Mail on Sunday - - Comment - Rachel John­son

OH DEAR. Last week’s l ovely ‘ din­ner and movie’ with my hus­band did not end well. While we drove to the cin­ema, he asked me for the nth time if I’d done any­thing about my pen­sion yet (‘no’). Then he asked if I’ve bought an ISA this year (‘no’).

Over din­ner, af­ter I’d sobbed through Call Me By Your Name, he asked why I never seem to have any money (‘I don’t know’), and then he said: ‘You can’t call your­self a proper fem­i­nist and adult if you don’t save money and man­age your af­fairs! You are wil­fully col­lud­ing in your fi­nan­cial de­pen­dency.’

In the end it wasn’t date night but fight night. I am a proud, in­de­pen­dent woman, so I could never tell him the ter­ri­ble truth to his face, but I can ad­mit it here.

He’s right. It all bores me rigid. I can’t pay at­ten­tion to my own fi­nances, let alone any­one else’s – which brings us to the Par­adise Papers, the lat­est dump of doc­u­ments that show how the rich get richer by gam­ing the tax sys­tem.

So what did we dis­cover about the fi­nan­cial life­styles of the rich and fa­mous? The Queen’s ad­vis­ers in­vested £10 mil­lion of her vast for­tune in a coun­try where she hap­pened to be Sov­er­eign.

Lewis Hamil­ton, t he rac­ing driver, leased a jet from him­self and did not pay the VAT he was not obliged to pay on this as­set.

Gary Lineker used an off­shore firm to buy and sell a hol­i­day pad in Bar­ba­dos, and, drum roll… Lord Ashcroft is a non-dom!

In fact, the only gen­uine ‘reve­la­tions’ to em­anate from this non­event of a scan­dal is that St Bono of U2 owns part of a shop­ping cen­tre in Lithua­nia and that the stars of Mrs Brown’s Boys are paid so hand­somely by the BBC that they si­phoned £2 mil­lion into an off­shore tax ac­count, one tech­ni­cally known in the trade as ‘a Jimmy Carr’.

We were all sup­posed to be very cross that rich in­di­vid­u­als and pow­er­ful cor­po­ra­tions were fail­ing to dis­charge their debts to so­ci­ety by pay­ing full whack. Na­turelle­ment, politi­cians of the Left mounted their high horses and blamed the un­fair­ness of the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem. Bernie San­ders said some­thing at­tack­ing the ‘in­ter­na­tional oli­garchy’. Jeremy Cor­byn said some­thing sim­i­lar about the ‘su­per-rich elite’.

But to my mind there was only one truly shock­ing as­pect in all these 13 mil­lion doc­u­ments. All of what was re­vealed was le­gal.

It may be morally ques­tion­able to use off­shore jig­gery-pok­ery to re­duce your tax bur­den, but ladies and gentle­men of the jury, it’s not il­le­gal. One of the rea­sons I’m not on top of my own fi­nances is be­cause I pay an ac­coun­tant to do my VAT and tax re­turns.

One, it’s be­yond my level of com- pe­tence to do them my­self, and two, the tax sys­tem in this coun­try is, to use a tech­ni­cal term again, a joke (the tax bi­ble Tol­ley’s weighs in at 21,602 pages and no sin­gle per­son can un­der­stand more than a tiny por­tion of it).

AS I T hap­pens, t he Bud­get is com­ing up, so here’s my thought for Philip Ham­mond. It’s no good politi­cians whin­ing a bout t he le­gal avoid­ance strate­gies such as those used by Ap­ple, Nike etc t hat cost gov­ern­ments s ome £183 bil­lion a year, ac­cord­ing to the Or­gan­i­sa­tion for Eco­nomic Co-op­er­a­tion and De­vel­op­ment.

Leg­is­la­tors must do some­thing about the sys­tem in­stead. In the UK alone, the tax sys­tem is ten mil­lion words long. No­body un­der­stands it. That’s why it’s not work­ing. So for Pete’s sake, Spread­sheet Phil, make the tax code so short, sweet and sim­ple that even I can un­der­stand it.

Our econ­omy will grow and the deficit will shrink. Get this right and you never know… we can even make date night great again.

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