BUSINESS secretary Vince Cable put himself on a potential collision course with the coalition government yesterday as he pointedly refused to endorse retail tycoon Sir Philip Green’s appointment as a government spending tsar.
Cable, who is currently on holiday, reiterated his hard-line stance on tackling tax avoidance and said he would look at setting up a meeting with Sir Philip, whose family is resident in Monaco, on his return to Westminster.
The news comes after City A.M. revealed on Friday that Cable, who has been vociferously opposed to the use of tax havens, had not been consulted by his government colleagues before Sir Philip was asked to lead a Whitehall efficiency review.
“I remain of the general view that British businesspeople should pay their taxes in Britain,” Cable told City A.M. yesterday. “I’d have thought the point was clear that at a time when the government has an enormous deficit to deal with, we can’t afford to indulge tax avoidance.”
News that the Topshop owner has been appointed to root out waste in the public sector was met with concern by some Lib Dems in the coalition because of his family’s offshore tax arrangements as well as his reputation for enjoying a lavish lifestyle.
The biggest shareholder in Sir Philip’s empire is Taveta Investments, a UK-incorporated company controlled by his wife, a Monaco resident. In 2005, his family saved a significant amount of tax relating to the payment of a £1.14bn dividend through a series of complex arrangements.
Sir Philip refused to talk to City A.M. yesterday after our political editor last week asked him questions about his family’s tax situation.
Sir Philip hit back elsewhere against criticism of his appointment, shrugging off questions about his tax arrangements and defending his ability to make savings for the public purse.
“My family has been a major investor, employer and taxpayer in the UK creating jobs, not destroying them, for many years,” he wrote in the Mail on Sunday. “I knew my appointment would cause a fuss but the only real question is whether or not I am qualified to do the job.”
Sir Philip added that he just wants to get on with the task in hand, claiming that he and his executive team will look for ways to do things ‘better, faster and cheaper’.
“Our job is not about who spends what money where,” he said. “If the government wants to spend x amount on the police force or on health, that’s politics. But by the same token, I don’t see spending £20, £50, or £200m, as politics: it’s business. Whatever the spends will be for – IT, general procurement, real estate – they will not be any different from what we do in our business on a daily basis.”
Cable’s reservations about the appointment came as Liberal Democrat deputy leader Simon Hughes yesterday signalled there would be no pact between the party and the Tories at the next election.
“We want to be in government ideally on our own because evidently if we have a majority we can implement more of our policies and not only a proportion,” Hughes told the BBC.