01 November 2018
What A Relief
Where there’s muck there’s brass.
By Jack Chin
Watching the budget on television is just like that children’s game. “Pass the parcel”. You sit there engrossed as the Chancellor reaches down into his bag of goodies, waiting for something which will benefit you personally to show up. This year it was a long wait. More funding for the NHS? I’m not feeling particularly ill at the moment, thank you. Money for schools? I’m past all that education business. Smoothing of the universal credit? Nice to know it’s there if things go wrong, but not needed just now. Potholes? That sounded more interesting until I realised that the Chancellor was talking about holes in the street. The pothole in the snug at the Dock and Duck is doing perfectly well – or at least it was until the local police started dropping in for a pint. Reduction in income taxes? The wife looks after all that. I was beginning to nod off a bit. No increase in the tax on spirits? It seemed like the moment to slip out for a quick one but then, just as I was about to walk out of the room, I heard it. A really useful subsidy which all householders up and down the land could exploit. The exemption from business rates for public lavatories.
Now many readers will not have attached much importance to that, beyond thinking that with an ageing population, more public lavatories are probably a good thing. But that, if I may say so, shows that they are not in business. To the entrepreneur, change means opportunity and the best sort of opportunity is a relief from taxation.
Those who follow the proceedings of the Public Accounts Committee will know that tax avoidance is the use of a tax relief for a purpose for which it was not intended. If you can set up a scheme to do that and sell it to the public you become a serial tax avoider, which is worse than the common or garden variety, and, nastier still, although it has its compensations, very rich indeed. So, the first step was to work out how could this new relief could be abused.
If in the context of a tax relief, the word “abuse” means “to use for the wrong purpose”, it follows by the rules of Cartesian logic that it is only by working out what is the right purpose that abuse can be detected at all. What sort of public lavatories was Mr Hammond trying to encourage? Well, ones in places like shopping centres, I would imagine. They would certainly be useful. Or maybe those coin-in-the slot jobs on street corners, which spray the inside with disinfectant between customers. Those are useful too, especially if you know where to hit them to get them to flush when one of your friends is inside. That is excellent sport but probably not what the Government was trying to encourage.
The other thing which the government probably did not envisage was that everyone should have a small public lavatory down by the dustbins at the end of their drive. It wouldn’t have to be very expensive. Just one of those plastic Turdises shaped like an old police telephone box which you see at public events and on the backs of lorries. But to the serial tax avoider it would be something else entirely. A vehicle for the new business rate relief.
As I understand the tax avoidance industry, it is usual to split the value of the tax break equally between the person entitled to relief (the householder) and the person who promotes the scheme and arranges its implementation (me). On that basis my profit after deducting the cost of the booth itself ought to be equal to 50% of the business rate which is saved. Assume that rate to be £100 a year and that there are 150 houses in my street. That is a profit for me of £7500. But then there are probably 50 similar streets in the town. That is another £375,000 for me. There are lots of other towns of about the same size elsewhere in the country. Obviously I wouldn’t be able to work them all but I could probably franchise my operation – say around £150,000 for a franchise. You see how it works? Bear in mind that there are some 30 million households in the UK and this could make the profits made by those oligarchs look like petty cash.
So what should I do with all this money as it comes in? Well, normally I put my money in the bank and pay tax on it but that would hardly be appropriate for someone starting a career as a serial tax avoider. No, it would have to go into an offshore company, on some island where the life is slow but the women are fast. Actually, I saw some nice ones advertised on the television in some estate agency sort of program called Panorama. I think the salesman’s name was Bilton or something. Perhaps I’d better get hold of him and ask which he think would be best.
But I don’t want you to think that this is just about the money. No, it’s to teach that Westminster bubble a lesson. No one has criticised the new “loo relief” so in a sense they are all in it together. I would just like them all to wake up one morning and on drawing their curtains see lines of public loos down every street. It would make them all regret their failure to think through the consequences of their crappy measure.