Ian Spectre was sitting in his new office in the Treasury. The office itself had become vacant following the death of James Fortescue-Simmonds. He started thinking about his favourite book.
He liked “A Christmas Carol” up to a point, but Dickens had got the ending completely wrong. Too much emphasis was put on dreams which bear no relationship to real life. If Spectre had been taken in by a series of dreams he had had 35 years ago he would probably now be living in a monastery. Spectre’s favourite book was of course “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, George Orwell’s vision of a world that resulted after world war three. Spectre believed that this utopian vision could become reality without the need for a war. After all wars cost too much money.
Orwell had come up with The Ministry of Truth. Spectre’s equivalent was The Office for Tax Simplification. Orwell divided people into party members and proles Spectre had civil servants and customers.
Some 7 years ago Spectre had come up with the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS). The idea behind SEIS was that a rich customer would invest money in a new company run by a person with no business experience who had come up with a hopeless business idea. The new company would then employ people currently claiming benefits (thereby saving the government money). The employees would be paid high salaries from which PAYE would be deducted (and paid to the government). The employees would then spend their net wages on highly taxed expenses such as cigarettes and alcohol (thereby bringing even more money to the government). Eventually of course, the company would become insolvent. But then there would be another rich customer and another person with a hopeless business idea.
But rich customers would need to be persuaded to invest so Spectre came up with a number of tax breaks. The principal breaks were:
- a 50% tax credit for the rich customer on the amount invested; and
- a write off of any net loss (after the 50% tax credit) against income.
The idea was working well although the new companies were taking longer to become insolvent than Spectre had initially thought.
Craig Warwick headed Long Tunnel Investments. LTI had been formed 7 years ago to take advantage of SEIS, a tax advantaged scheme brought out by the government to match investors with budding entrepreneurs. Craig vetted every investment opportunity that came across his desk and on average LTI would market one in ten of those opportunities with a steady stream of investors. LTI had been remarkably successful.
That morning Craig had a meeting arranged with a 72 year old man who wanted investors for a new business idea. The gentleman arrived at 10.00 am and was greeted by Craig’s receptionist. “Would you like a drink?” she asked “A cup of Earl Grey and a plate of cucumber sandwiches please” replied the septuagenarian. She brought him a cup of coffee and a plate of biscuits.
Craig stepped out to greet the gentleman and invited him into his office. The gentleman explained that he had a senior position in The Family Business and would almost certainly get the top job when there was a vacancy. While they chatted generally Craig noticed that the gentleman kept referring to himself by an odd nickname, “Wun”.
After the exchange of pleasantries Craig got down to business.
“Okay Wun, Tell me something about your business idea”
“Well,” said the gentleman “my business will be called ‘How to Talk to Plants’ and it will do what it says on the tin so to speak”. The gentleman handed Craig a business plan hand written on a single A4 sheet of paper. Craig looked incredulously at the single sheet of paper purporting to be a business plan. “What are you actually selling” he asked.
“It will be a booklet explaining how to talk to plants which will be accompanied by a CD with soothing music” replied the gentleman.
“Do you have a web presence?” asked Craig.
“Oh no” replied the gentleman. “The Family Business employs a lady who cleans away any webs as soon as they appear”.
Craig brought the meeting to an end, “listen Wun, I’m going to have one of my best guys stress test your business plan and I’ll come back to you in a couple of weeks”.
As he was leaving, the gentleman thought to himself, “Why doesn’t Craig call me Sir like everyone else does. One is not amused”.
Sunil Patel, an NHS Trauma Consultant had arrived at the offices of Warr & Co for a pre-arranged meeting with Joyce Lever.
Joyce was a smartly dressed 35 year old woman who had joined Warr & Co as a trainee accountant after graduating from Cambridge with a double first in Mathematics and Philosophy. She had passed all of her accountancy exams first time and had been promoted to Partner two years ago. Her favourite book was The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith. She particularly like the four Canons of Taxation he had postulated about. They were:
Subsequent economists had added to this list the following five Canons. These are:
Adam Smith, she thought would certainly have endorsed these additional Canons if he were alive today.
As Joyce talked with Sunil about the problems he was facing with the Pension Annual Allowance Charge she wondered how Adam Smith would square this charge with the Canons of Taxations. She had doubts about Equality and Certainty, but the real problem was with Simplicity. It took all her mathematical skills to understand how the Pension Annual Allowance worked, what hope did this medic who dropped maths at “A” level in favour of biology have?
Joyce explained an idea she had come up with “Look” she said, “there’s an investment scheme called SEIS, if you invest in them you get a 50% tax credit. If, when they mature you make a profit, the gain is tax fee, but if you make a loss, you deduct that loss from your income and reduce your Pension Annual Allowance Charge. If you invest in a portfolio of SEIS companies, it’s likely that some will succeed and some will fail. It’s a win win”.
“Ok” replied Sunil. “Where do I get one of these SEIS things?”
I can’t give investment advice” said Joyce. “You need to speak with an IFA”.
Sunil was in the canteen at Fawkes Memorial Hospital with his friend and colleague Steve Jones a Consultant Anaesthetist. Sunil went over his meeting with Joyce. “So yesterday afternoon I went to see an IFA having had root and canal treatment in the morning” said Sunil.
“And how did it go?” Steve asked.
“Well, I much preferred the morning session” Sunil said. He continued “when I told him I wanted to invest in SEIS he said they were very high risk and I should invest in an ISA instead. When I said I wanted a portfolio and that ideally some of the investments should go bust he looked at me as if I was crazy, thanked me for wasting his time and brought the meeting to an end.
Sat in her office, having had a 10 minute phone conversation with Sunil, Joyce was now on the phone to Craig Warwick at Long Tunnel Investments. She explained the problem Sunil was having and asked if he could help.
“Look” Craig said “just like you I can’t give investment advice, but if Sunil could get a few of his colleagues together I’d be happy to do a presentation for them at FMH to tell them about what we do at LTI. If they like what I have to say they can apply personally for our SEIS Scheme online bypassing IFA’S. But just tell me again, why do you want me to include a company that’s guaranteed to fail?”
Joyce explained again, they ended their conversation, and Joyce set out arranging a meeting between Craig, Sunil and 5 of Sunil’s colleagues.
The Septuagenarian was enjoying a cucumber sandwich when a call came through on his mobile phone.
“Wun, it’s Craig from LTI. Good news, we’ve decided to back ‘How to Talk to Plants’. You need to go to Warr & Co at 10.00 am tomorrow for a meeting with Joyce Lever”.
“But The Family Business has its own accountants” the gentleman replied.
“Never mind that” said Craig “that would create a conflict of interest, so you have to use Warr & Co”.
The next morning the gentleman turned up at Warr & Co’s office at 10.00 am precisely. Joyce came to reception to greet him.
“Nice to meet you Wun” she said ”come this way”.
Craig had briefed Joyce about Wun and so as soon as she and Wun had sat down, a trainee called Jack Phillips knocked on the door and walked in with a pot of Earl Grey tea and a plate of cucumber sandwiches. Jack’s jaw dropped as he glanced at the gentleman. “Sir” he said bowing slightly, “it’s a great pleasure to meet you”
“Yes, yes said Joyce, get back to your work now”.
Joyce explained to Wun how Warr & Co would help him with the business both in terms of routine accounting and marketing. All the time she was thinking about how best she could get through the £50,000 that Craig had raised to kick start the business.
As the meeting concluded, the gentleman said “I was very impressed with Jack Phillips, the young man who brought the tea and sandwiches. I would like him to be my point of contact”. Initially horrified by the suggestion, Joyce remembered that this business was meant to fail “No problem Wun” she said “now I’ve got a busy day so if you don’t mind we’re done now”
The gentleman left and Joyce started going through her post. She quickly spotted her copy of Taxation Planning. She opened the plastic sleeve and gently shook the magazine over the bin to get rid of all the useless marketing leaflets hidden inside. That was how she came up with a marketing plan for ‘How to Talk to Plants’.
Two weeks later Ian Spectre was talking on the phone to Brian Jenkins, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury.
“Look Ian, the Today programme on Radio 4 are making a fuss about the Pension Annual Allowance Charge. They want me to go on the show tomorrow and answer questions about how it impacts on NHS consultants. I’ve said I’m not available but will let them have a prepared statement. Put something together for me in the next hour”.
Spectre started to put pen to paper to see what he could come up with.
We are aware of the problem ………
“No” he thought, “It isn’t a problem”.
We sympathise with the position…..
No, I don’t sympathise with anyone”.
The government and the whole country recognise and appreciate the work of the dedicated staff who devote their lives to help others by working within the NHS. By its very nature that the tax system is necessarily complex and so we keep it under review to ensure fairness not just to those working in the NHS but all taxpayers. The Pension Annual Allowance charge is there to address the conflicting needs of providing decent pensions and protecting taxpayer’s funds. We estimate that only 5% of those working in the NHS are affected by this charge.
“That’s better” thought Spectre, but something was niggling him. 5% was about the right figure but it might come across the wrong way. So he changed it to 0.5% and the statement was read out on the Today programme the next morning.
Two days later Spectre took a call from a very angry Brian Jenkins.
“Look Ian” he said “The BBC have been going over the statement and they’re querying the 0.5% figure saying it’s a lot higher. There are murmurings in the Cabinet. We can put them off for a while, but sooner or later I’m going to have to get a Junior Treasury Minister to go on the Today programme and tell them we got it wrong. We might have to ditch the Pensions Annual Allowance Charge. That would be a disaster”.
Spectre thought “I need a distraction” as he opened his copy of Taxation Planning. Although this journal was meant for accountants he liked to read it to see what they were up to. The tax breaks the government introduces from time to time are there to demonstrate fairness. If they’ve take advantage of too much they become loopholes and need to be closed.
As Spectre tore through the plastic sleeve a leaflet fell out. He stopped just before throwing it in the bin and saw it said ‘How to Talk to Plants’.
“Could this be the distraction I need?” he thought. He picked up the phone and ordered 1000 copies. These would be distributed to the team in the Office for Tax Simplification and to Treasury civil servants. There were of course plants in government offices that needed to be talked to. Then he sent out a memo to department heads saying that to relieve stress civil servants should spend the first 30 minutes of each day talking to plants. Each team member would soon have their own book and CD of soothing music to help them. More orders were placed.
Three days later, Spectre summoned the Director General of the BBC handing him a copy of ‘How to Talk to Plants’ he said “we’re using this book in the Treasury to help relieve stress. Our team members spend the first 30 minutes of each day talking to plants. I want you to order 5,000 copies, one for each of your employees and do the same”.
“No” said the DG bluntly “we’re accountable to our licence payers and that would be a waste of their money”.
“I must remind you” said Spectre “the very existence of the licence fee is under review here at the Treasury. I have a lot of influence”.
The DG backed down and placed the order.
News spread and soon other organisations were ordering the book. There were rumours that there was a loose connection to The Family Business.
Unannounced, Jack Phillips almost ran into Joyce Lever’s office interrupting her conversation with a venus fly trap.
“The book’s gone viral” he said, “turnover is up to £1m and it’s only been on sale for one month”.
“What a disaster” thought Joyce, “this is the business that was supposed to go bust. What am I going to say to Sunil?”
Joyce picked up the phone and called Craig Warwick to explain the bad news.
“Don’t worry about that” said Craig, “I’ll sell the business. Sunil will lose his 50% tax credit, but his £10k investments will get him something like £100k and that will be tax free”
The next morning, Junior Treasury Minister Barnes Stevens, was appearing on the Today programme to talk about the Pension Annual Allowance Charge. Humphrey Johns was there to grill him. However, as they exchanged pleasantries they discovered that they both enjoyed talking to cacti and they spent the 10 minute slot arguing about whether the Pincushion cactus or the Ball Cactus was the best listener.
Later that day, Craig Warwick was engaged in a transatlantic call to Ged Zebo the head of the online retailer Blue Nile, negotiating the sale of ‘How to Talk to Plants’. He then briefed Wun.
The deal was done and Sunil duly got his £100k. Sunil had also invested £10,000 in each of three other companies A, B and C.
Company A failed company resulting in a loss net of the tax credit of £5,000. Sunil’s income before that loss was £114,000. Tax relief on the loss amounted to £3,000 and because his income came down to below £110,000 he avoided an annual allowance charge of 40% on £4,000 saving £1,600 Tax. Total tax relief against the £10,000 cost were £9,600.
Company B was sold at cost. Sunil had invested £10,000 and claimed a £5,000 tax credit. He had also re-invested a gain on the disposal of a buy-to-let property deferring £2,800 capital gains tax. Half of the £10,000 gain crystallised on the sale of company B but that gain was covered by his annual exemption. So his cost net of all tax reliefs was £2,200 and he got £10,000 back.
Company C doubled in value. Sunil had also re-invested a £10,000 gain, so as with company B his cost net of tax relief was £2,200 but for this investment he got back £20,000.
Some time later, Sir Craig Warwick was in his office reminiscing about his childhood. On his tenth birthday his parents had given him an invisible dog. Of course, there is no such thing as an invisible dog. What he got was a stiff lead with a collar. He would take it to the park and it looked like he was walking an invisible dog. Other kids of the same age also walked invisible dogs. And, just like real dogs when two invisible dogs were in the same vicinity they would run over to each other. Real dogs showed no interest in invisible dogs and invisible dogs showed no interest in real dogs.
“Another crazy idea that worked” though Sir Craig.
After three months people stopped taking to plants and with a shrug of his shoulders, Ged Zebo wrote off his investment. Invisible dog leads are still available on the Blue Nile website.