Monday, 7 February 2011

David Cameron's new spin doctor and his tax avoidance plan

David Cameron's new chief spin doctor runs a legal tax "avoidance" scheme to manage the £150,000-a-year earnings of his television presenter wife.

Craig Oliver
Boss of the BBC World Service, Craig Oliver was the Prime Minister's surprise choice to take over the running of the Downing Street publicity machine last week Photo: REX
The arrangement, which may have helped the couple save more than £100,000 in tax, is similar to those recently criticised by the Prime Minister as a "problem" for the British economy.
The disclosure is set to embarrass the new Downing Street Head of Communications days after he was appointed as a "safe pair of hands" to replace Andy Coulson, the controversial former News of the World editor, in the £140,000-a-year post.
The little-known boss of the BBC World Service, Craig Oliver was the Prime Minister's surprise choice to take over the running of the Downing Street publicity machine last week.
A former editor of the BBC Ten O'Clock News, the 41-year-old has also held senior positions at ITV.
But it is his role helping to manage the finances of his more famous wife, Joanna Gosling, 40, that is now set to bring his appointment under scrutiny.
Last year Mr Cameron tried to justify his unpopular decision to increase capital gains tax by highlighting the problem of legal tax avoidance.
He said: "There is a problem at the moment. We are finding that a lot of people turn income into capital to evade the tax system, and we are losing about £1 billion because of that."
This kind of avoidance scheme is apparently what Mr Oliver has been running for his wife Miss Gosling, a regular presenter of Saturday evening and late edition's of the BBC Weekend News on BBC One and rolling news channel BBC News 24.
The couple, who have been married for 14 years, live in a £1.2 million house in Chiswick, west London, with their three young children. They brought the house for £862,000 in 2004 from Mark Pougatch, the sports presenter.
For the past five years Mr Oliver – whose annual BBC salary was between £60,000 and £100,000 – has also been paid a small salary to serve as company secretary of his wife's television company Paya Limited, through which her income as a freelance presenter is apparently paid.
The couple set up the company in 2005 with the help of accountant Nicholas Ridge whose firm specialises in helping clients, including television producers, "to make sure their tax bills are kept as low as possible".
Its accounts show that almost £150,000 a year has been paid into the "television and journalism" firm. If Miss Gosling earned this money on a PAYE basis she would have to pay around £52,000 a year in tax and National Insurance.
But paying it though the company transforms this income into "turnover" which can be used to cover various expenses, including such items as running a car and an office, and also paying her husband a salary of £2999.97.
Tax experts last week estimated the arrangement reduced Miss Gosling's annual income tax bill on the £150,000 of earnings to as low as £29,800 – which would amount to a saving of up to £22,000 a year, and potentially more than £100,000 since the firm was set up.
The tax savings are based on the firm's turnover up to 2008. After that the Olivers switched to making less-transparent "abbreviated" disclosures to Companies House, which are allowed for small firms.
But despite no longer showing the firm's income, its most recent filings for March 2010 disclose that it had more than £33,000 in cash in its bank account.
The Conservatives have previously been highly critical of the BBC for allowing its top presenters to class themselves as freelancers to avoid paying thousands of pounds in income tax.
Presenters including Jeremy Paxman, Fiona Bruce and Emily Maitlis set up service companies to channel their earnings, allowing them to make large savings on the amount of tax and national insurance they have to pay.
Critics say the BBC presenters do little work to justify their freelance status, as contractual restrictions bar many from working for other broadcasters or being paid for speeches in case they compromise their impartiality.
While in Opposition, Jeremy Hunt, now the Conservative Culture Secretary, criticised the arrangements, saying the freelance payments were BBC staff salaries "in all but name".
He added: "The BBC should be transparent about the salaries it pays, and it is not acceptable to hide that by paying someone as a freelance."
Number 10 sources said last night that the Prime Minister's comments about people avoiding tax were mainly aimed at very higher earners such as hedge fund managers.
In a statement released through Downing Street last night, Mr Oliver said: "The reason Joanna created a company is that she was told a number of years ago that the BBC was making it a condition of employment for freelance news presenters.
"I have not received a salary for the role of company secretary since the tax year 2007/8.
"I have already declared this to the Cabinet Office, and will relinquish the position of company secretary on taking up the post of Director of Communications."
A Whitehall source said that the "down side" of the employment arrangement which the BBC imposed on freelance presenters was that the presenters – including Mrs Oliver, who has had three children – received no maternity pay, sick leave, holiday pay or other benefits enjoyed by people employed on the BBC staff.

Police bodyguards to be issued with stun guns to protect the Royals from protesters

Police officers protecting the Royal Family are being issued with controversial taser stun guns following the attack on Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, by student protesters last year.

Police bodyguards to be issued with stun guns to protect the Royals from protesters
Tasers have a range of 21 feet and can be also used to deliver an electric shock to an assailant at close quarters Photo: ALAMY 
The officers are to be given the "non-lethal" option to supplement the conventional firearms that they carry at all times while guarding VIPs.
Members of the Diplomatic Protection Squad, who guard the Prime Minister and other dignitaries, will also be issued with the stun guns which fire a dart into a suspect which can then deliver an electric charge of 50,000 volts.
The move follows widespread criticism of the actions of police bodyguards and their commanders after the Royal couple were attacked as they were driven through central London during violent tuition fee protests in December.
Armed protection officers remained in their vehicle and police outriders did not dismount from their motorcycles as the Royals were surrounded by as many as 20 demonstrators, chanting "Off with their heads" and "Tory scum".
One window of the Rolls-Royce carrying the couple was smashed, the Duchess of Cornwall was poked with a stick.
Paint and dustbins were also thrown at the vehicle as it travelled down Regents Street on the way to the London Palladium for the Royal Variety Performance.
The image of the Duchess of Cornwall open-mouthed in shock as her limousine came under attack led to a review of the way the Royal Family is protected.
Asked whether the highly trained officers had considered opening fire on the protesters, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson said they had shown "enormous restraint".
But privately senior Metropolitan Police officers admit that they had been "virtually powerless" on the night the Royal couple were attacked.
The senior Royal protection officer on duty, Inspector Bob Fulton, was in the backup car cut off from the Royals by the crowd.
Police firearms rules prevented him from drawing his weapon, a standard issue 'Glock' pistol, unless "strictly proportionate" to protect the Royals from "violence which poses a real and immediate risk to life".
The rules, drawn up by the Association of Chief Police Officers and amended last year, meant that even "pointing or aiming" a weapon at another person counts as "use" of a firearm.
Now, after a review of the Royal Protection Squad's procedures, commanders have been told to use the option to arm officers with X26 Tasers to allow "informed decisions on firearms deployment".
It is understood a new Strategic Threat and Risk Assessment suggests the weapons should be regularly issued to close protection teams. Tasers have a range of 21 feet and can be also used to deliver an electric shock to an assailant at close quarters.
Until recently, S014, the royal protection squad, had 20 Tasers but had only been issuing them to officers at "static protection posts on Royal premises". It is understood the squad had opted out of issuing the stun guns to officers on close protection duties.
Diplomatic Protection officers from SO16 had also been using the weapons for "static protection posts and mobile patrols around diplomatic premises in Central London".
Now new police guidance says that "the availability of less lethal weapons and tactical options are intended to provide officers, including those issued with conventional firearms, with a 'differentiated use of force and firearms'.
"Less lethal weapons will, where appropriate, be deployed alongside conventional firearms and other less lethal technologies and options available to firearms officers."
Last night a Scotland Yard spokesman confirmed "all armed units" in the Metropolitan Police now had "access to this less lethal option".
The spokesman added: "A decision was made that carriage of Taser when required should no longer be an option."
Last night former Royal Protection Officer Inspector Ken Wharfe, who was in charge of the security of Diana, Princess of Wales, and Prince William and Harry when they were children, questioned the thinking behind the decision to deploy Tasers in this way.
He said: "The Taser is ideally suited for dealing with disturbed people in a domestic environment. "Carrying a Taser will lead to confusion about which weapon to use.
"A Taser will just complicate issues and it is another piece of equipment which somebody has got to handle. When you are in a protection environment you want the least amount of kit possible."