BUSINESS secretary Vince Cable, a vociferous opponent of tax avoidance, was not consulted over the appointment of Sir Philip Green to lead a review into government efficiency, City A.M. has learned.
In the past, Sir Philip has been associated with sophisticated tax planning arrangements in the UK and offshore locations to produce tax savings on behalf of non-resident members of his family.
Cable, who is one of the government’s lead contacts for the business community, yesterday reacted with surprise on learning that the Top Shop tycoon had been asked to help the coalition root out waste in Whitehall.
“There’s a lot I could say on this, but I’d better miss this one out,” he told City A.M. “I’m tempted to comment, but I think I’d better not.”
Prime Minister David Cameron has appointed Sir Philip to lead an external efficiency review into government spending. He is being asked to examine government spending over the last three years and to identify potential savings, before reporting his findings to the cabinet office ahead of the comprehensive spending review in the autumn.
Francis Maude, minister for the cabinet office, said the coalition was “extremely fortunate” to have Sir Philip on board, thanks to “his commercial experience and… his fantastic track record of managing large organisations”.
A spokeswoman for Cable insisted it was perfectly normal for the government to appoint a high profile businessman without consulting the business secretary. “Sir Philip hasn’t been recruited to advise Vince. If they consulted him on every appointment, they’d never get anything done.”
But other Whitehall sources said there were “obvious contradictions” due to the Liberal Democrat position on tax avoidance. City A.M. understands that some Lib Dem MPs are considering voicing their opposition to the appointment today.
Sir Philip, the tycoon behind Top- shop owner Arcadia, has in the past drawn criticism for his tax arrangements. Arcadia’s biggest shareholder is Taveta Investments, a UK-incorporated company that is controlled by Sir Philip’s 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. Yesterday, Sir Philip dismissed questions over his tax arrangements, telling City A.M: “What difference does it make if I live on the moon – the real question is whether I’m qualified to do the job.”
Sir Philip was knighted for services to the retail industry in 2006, when the Labour government was in power, and is well-known for donating significant amounts to charity.
A spokeswoman for Topshop owner Arcadia said: “It is fully disclosed who Arcadia’s largest shareholder is and has been known in the public domain since 2002. There were no dividends paid last year. The company pays UK corporation tax and Sir Philip Green is a UK tax payer.”