AM Online

Chancellor takes the soft option

It is ironic that in recent editions of the AM business briefings that we have centred on good cash management and housekeeping in order to run your business in the most efficient manner.

Clearly, Gordon Brown should have taken note of some of my colleagues' advice – given that in his pre-Budget statement he has taken what many commentators see as the soft political option of raising debt rather than raising taxes or cutting back on expenditure.

So what did he concentrate on in his proposals and were they what we expected?

Most people anticipated that there would be changes to National Insurance, restriction on pension tax relief, increases in VAT and an ever increasing move to 'green' taxes on fuels and waste.

However, what we got was neither one thing nor another – it was more about funding short-term gaps in the public purse while trying not to alienate the middle Englanders who are seen as being the persons most likely to influence the next general election.

Many retailers will fit into this category, but in discussing this point with a number of different people over the last few weeks in running up to the pre-Budget statement, it is apparent that what is actually required is some form of incentive for businesses in terms of investment or growth.

In fact Brown's statement did increase National Insurance and fix personal allowances for the coming year at their current level, thereby raising the burden of taxation without changing the rate.

However, for anyone looking for serious change, once again it has been more of a refinement. In essence, after the comments above, it is not surprising that no significant changes were made.

So are there still areas of opportunity out in the tax world at present? I am happy to say that a number of circumstances still exist and some are highlighted here.

  • Entrepreneurs – the possibility of realising the goodwill locked up in your business now and paying a low tax rate on the way
  • Corporate groups – to generate capital losses to shelter capital gains.
  • Remuneration planning – the opportunity to introduce a medium-term incentive plan to substantially reduce National Insurance and produce a low-tax result
  • VAT-recovery– VAT is now considered to have been retrospectively overpaid in the light of the decision in the Marks and Spencer case. This is of particular relevance to retailers who have benefited from retrospective claims in respect of demonstrator vehicles. Pure taxpayer error should not be disregarded when considering the merits of a claim.
  • Property – consider undertaking property development projects before the measures outlined in the November 2002 Queen's Speech, regarding local authority powers to charge development gains, expected to come into effect next year.
  • Wealth preservation – consider the use of trusts to remove investment assets that do not qualify for inheritance tax business property relief and capital gains tax holdover relief from your taxable estate.
On a day-to-day level it is difficult to see how any of us can influence the Chancellor's objectives. I will therefore end on the note on which we entered this analysis – and say that good day-to-day management will deliver the required efficiencies. That leaves the Chancellor to worry about whether “prudence” needs to be shown the door or welcomed back with open arms.

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