Should we listen to Richard Branson on the deficit?

Richard Branson has called for the deficit to be slashed. But should we listen to a tax avoider and evader?

The Evening Standard is reporting that Richard Branson has given the Conservative’s a “huge boost” by calling for the deficit to be slashed. But in this debate should we be listening to a man reported to be a tax avoider?

Branson says today:

“I believe the UK’s record budget deficit does pose a serious risk to our recovery…

“We are going to have to cut our spending and I agree with the 20 leading economists who said we need to start this year. The next government, whatever party that is, must set out a plan to reduce the bulk of the deficit over a Parliament by cutting wasteful spending and must not put off those tough decisions to next year.”

Not just spending cuts, Mr Branson, greater tax revenues will also help close the deficit – including reducing tax avoidance. But Branson has form.

According to Tom Bower, Branson uses “tax-free offshore trusts” while This is Money have reported that:

“British members of the super-rich who live here can minimise their tax bill through trusts in tax havens such as the Channel Islands or British Virgin Islands. If the assets owned by the trust are not held in the name of the individual and any income or capital gains is not returned to Britain, these are usually beyond the reach of the taxman. Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson uses offshore trusts, as does Formula One billionaire Bernie Ecclestone.”

Indeed, during the debate over a possible takeover of Northern Rock, Vince Cable pointed out Branson’s previous record on tax evasion:

“I don’t want to run the man down. But it has now been pointed out that Mr Branson does have a criminal record for tax evasion. Therefore there is good reason to believe that the people who have to stump up the money for his consortium may well not regard him as a fit and proper person to run a public company – let alone a bank and let alone be responsible for £30bn of public money.”

In any case, Branson’s wisdom on economic policy is questionable. In 2005, he said:

“One way of increasing government spending without increasing the tax burden on the poor would be to abolish income tax altogether in the long term. I really think you would raise more money by a very heavy tax on luxury goods, leaving food, water and medicines tax-free, of course.”

In 2010-11, income tax will bring in £144.7 billion. By comparison, VAT at the restored rate of 17.5 per cent, will contribute 74.2 billion. So how should we make up the shortfall, Mr Branson? 50 per cent rates of VAT on that Virgin Cola?

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40 Responses to “Should we listen to Richard Branson on the deficit?”

  1. Political Animal

    RT @leftfootfwd: Should we listen to tax avoider Richard Branson on the deficit?

  2. Martin Johnston

    I should say, on the whole, NO! RT @leftfootfwd: Should we listen to tax avoider Richard Branson on the deficit?

  3. Chris Roberts

    Why the fuck should Branson's views on "the defecit" be listened to. He's a fucking tax "avoider" [sic]

  4. James Hepplestone

    No! RT @leftfootfwd: Should we listen to tax avoider Richard Branson on the deficit?

  5. Ellie Gellard

    RT @JHepplestone: No! RT @leftfootfwd: Should we listen to tax avoider Richard Branson on the deficit?

  6. uberVU - social comments

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by leftfootfwd: Should we listen to tax avoider Richard Branson on the deficit?

  7. Mark

    One problem is that Labour have been appointing the likes of Fred Goodwin as their advisors.

    The more saddening aspect is that Richard Branson’s opinion is seen as a worthy endorsement of the Tories and something to attack for Labour. It shows how empty the election campaign is going to be, at times the two main parties only differ in their celebrity endorsements.

  8. Billy Blofeld

    Surely now it is only hard core Labour activists and the ignorant who can’t see how much damage Gordon has inflicted on the country?

  9. Fony Blair

    Playing the man not the ball again.

    Shock horror – successful international company puts money into off shore accounts. If it’s earned abroad why not? And if it isn’t and he’s not breaking the law then why not? If Labour have a problem with it then change the law!! (I also point out MP’s Labout included who flipped homes to AVOID CGT!)

    Also let’s not forget how much tax is paid as a result of Richard Branson….Income tax from employees, VAT from services, airline taxes…I’m sure the list is endless.

    Typical Left Wingers…..not focussing on the big picture (fixing this bloody mess in the country) but rather complaining about a few million here or there off shore from a private company. I bet you lot would rather see succesful companies fail.

    Also the more you tax people the more they look to avoid it….share the burden don’t focus on a few high earners to make yourselves feel better.

    Every time I pop by on this blog it’s just comical!! I do hope none of you ever end up as MP’s voting on economkic policies…..but sadly I fear you are a lot of wannabes who might end up doing just that.

  10. Fony Blair

    Oh and whilst I’m no defender of Virgin I think if you read his autobiography you will find the tax evasion charge came about through importing records and not paying hte VAT on them when he was aged 17 or 18 basically running a mail order business. He has apologised and said it has taught him to follow the law in business from that point forward.

    We all make mistakes eh Will? Spliff anyone??

    If I had a choice between Branson running a bank (he already set up Virgin Money and the award winning one account) and Vince Cable it certainly wouldn’t be Mr Mansion Tax.

    As for you comment on VAT….I’m sure as an economic illiterate you would suggest 50% VAT. As for Income Tax read up on the laffer curve.

  11. Guido Fawkes

    Krugman is a mate of Brown’s and his Nobel prize was for his work on international trade. His views on fiscal policy are not particularly insightful or more valid than any other newspaper columnist.

    Everybody who has any money uses offshore trusts – Lord Myners, Lord Drayson, Lord Paul – because Labour’s high taxes drive them away.

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  13. Anon E Mouse

    Will – (re.Fony Blair’s remarks): Noticed how things in life keep coming round and round?

    You may want to tell Shamik that to wrongly accuse people of racism because they disagree with his silly opinions about a sheep may not be the wisest course of action in life…

  14. Will Straw

    Thanks for the comments:

    Fony – I start from the principle of fairness. You may call it the way of the world (“shock horror”) but I don’t want to be lectured about the state of Britain’s finances by a man who doesn’t pay his fair share of taxes. Sure, Virgin have created lots of jobs (they’ve lost a lot as well) and paid a lot of taxes and, of course, I don’t want them to fail. But Branson (and others) haven’t paid their fair share.

    Guido – Krugman may have won his Nobel Prize for his trade theory but, as you know, he is a trained macroeconomist and still teaches at the Woodrow Wilson school at Princeton. Branson is not an economist. And I would have thought that Krugman has enough integrity to publish those comments because he believes them rather than to help out Gordon Brown. And I’m not sure the motivation for offshore trusts is Labour’s high taxes. Until the 50p rate there had been no change in the top rate since the 1980s. I would have thought it’s more down to the low rates in those jurisdictions.

    Anon – I dont follow.

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  16. Henry

    It’s interesting that George Soros – who is a bit more sophisticated the Branson – was warning at the weekend about the danger of a double dip recession if fiscal stimuli are removed. But I suppose he’s a dangerous lefty too.

    Is Branson jumping on the Tory bandwagon – as he did with New Labour (rather belatedly) in 1997?

  17. Anon E Mouse

    Shamik – If I think it’s racist that’s my business. If I think it’s not racist that’s my business. You advocate a world where peoples thoughts are effectively controlled by the state. Providing I break no laws who cares what I think?

    You say: “It’s not a question of whether or not the sheep is an immigrant, it’s the equating of immigrants with animals that is offensive. Look at the caption.”

    No the caption (which I presume you wrote) reads “…portrays-immigrants-as-animals”.

    That animal is a sheep Shamik so by definition not an immigrant.

    Why do you think is is an immigrant? Is it because without your spin it wouldn’t be a story?

    Perhaps, since we’ve changed threads now, you’d like to justify smearing another man’s wife for doing her job… You said: “We’ve got more on her, and the way the Express operates, to come. Watch this space…”. Charming Shamik.

    Are you sure you haven’t applied for Damian McBrides job now it’s vacant?

  18. Richard Blogger

    I think that Branson’s support for the Tories is more sinister than you suggests.

    Lansley’s plans for the NHS is “any willing partner”. The intention is to create a marketplace of new private health providers and people will be able to use NHS funds to get treatment at these new providers. To help this market get going, the Tories’ public health policy specifically states:

    “To encourage a new market in innovative public health solutions is opened up in every part of the country, we will require local public health directors to ensure that an increasing proportion of contracts are awarded to providers from the private and voluntary sectors.”

    Note the phrases “we will require” and “an increasing proportion of contracts”. This is privatisation.

    It is no secret that Branson wants to start up a healthcare corporation of his own (his daughter is a junior doctor). Branson wants a Tory government because he knows that he could get a big chunk of NHS funds from it. Disgusting!

  19. Anon E Mouse

    Will – My point was that if people keep bringing up past events then as I posted here:

    “And I repeat again, these types of postings could be used in the future where time that should be spent forwarding a message may be wasted trying to justify unjustifiable postings.”

    Could come back to haunt you. That was all.

  20. Shamik Das

    It really is like banging your head against a brick wall! The caption is the caption in the cartoon, it’s obvious that is what I meant.

    Clearly it’s up to you if you think racist cartoons are funny. Your choice.

    On the Express journalist, you’re confusing writing relevant facts about people and hidden agendas with smears. Not one word in the article on the Express is untrue.

  21. Anon E Mouse

    Shamik – You’re still doing it. I do not think it’s racist, what race is being offended Shamik? Sheep?

    Since you are clearly “outraged” Shamik have you reported this matter to the Press Complaints Commission? Has anybody?

    The only person who makes the assumption that it is about immigrants is you.

    The caption in the cartoon does not mention immigrants Shamik – you do.

    And for thousands of years we have had a society with a multi cultural mix of peoples since the Romans, Saxons, Vikings, Normans, French, Dutch, Africans, and on and on.

    So I ask again Shamik. On what basis do you say a sheep is an immigrant?

  22. Tim Worstall

    “but I don’t want to be lectured about the state of Britain’s finances by a man who doesn’t pay his fair share of taxes.”

    Hmm. As Paul Krugman doesn’t pay taxes in the UK then we’ll have to leave him out of it then. And Joe Stiglitz. Jeff Sachs…..quite a lot of people really.

  23. Will Straw

    Anon – I don’t think Shamik is the only person to find offense from the Mail piece. Liberal Conspiracy also ran the story (a little before us) and it elicited a huge response:

    Tim – Stiglitz and Sachs, to the best of my knowledge, pay a fair share of taxes in America. They are also highly skilled economists who have a valid opinion. So are the 20 ecomomists in the Sunday Times letter. Branson is not and nor do I think he has a moral leg to stand on when he has avoided paying taxes in the UK.

  24. Liz McShane

    Anon – Re The Daily Mail cartoon – it is clear that they are using the sheep as a metaphor for an immigrant – it is not literal. As you well know the DM is not renowned for being tolerant or inclusive.

  25. Anon E Mouse

    Will – I don’t care who ran it before. Why do you think it depicts an immigrant Will?. A sheep is a native species to these shores and furthermore our whole society is based on immigrants and always has been.

    The lefts hatred of popular right wing papers looks petty and mean – especially when Shamik attempts to suggest I am racist which I most certainly am not. I won’t even mention Gordon Brown and The Daily Mail…

    Agree with you on Branson though – wasn’t it Kelvin McKenzie who said “If Branson is the answer then you’re asking the wrong question”

    Liz – I don’t care for The Mail myself but I ask again. Why do you believe the sheep represents an immigrant? I think it’s racist to suggest it does…

  26. Liz McShane

    The sheep is being used metaphorically not literally and it came after a story relating to immigration (I can’t remember exactly what it was but will check later). It’s no coincidence.

  27. Anon E Mouse

    Liz – I understand that it’s not literal – please let me know what the coincidence is.

    I only went off Shamik’s article which does not make that clear. As it stands alone as a cartoon I do not accept it applies to immigrants when our country has had a multitude of various cultures forever…

  28. Anon E Mouse

    Liz – Irrespective of how you and a minority of others choose to see it I simply do not agree it applies to immigrants. If it was an animal that is not native, for example an elephant, then the charge may stand but not with a sheep.

    Furthermore the Daily Mail has stories about immigration at least once a week so I disagree there as well. I don’t like the Daily Mail, not just because of the Gordon Brown connection but because the stories are all of a similar ilk.

    But guess what Liz. I choose not to read it. I also didn’t like the Daily Mirror when they printed bogus pictures of our troops allegedly urinating on Iraqi prisoners – especially when there was a war on. But guess what Liz. I choose not to read it.

    Considering the PCC ruling yesterday on the Stephen Gately case and the Daily Mail, I think the tide is beginning to turn towards common sense in our country. As that judgement says just because someone is offended doesn’t make it illegal.

    My advice Liz is not to read the Daily Mail and if that cartoon had been racist and I don’t think it is, it wouldn’t have been printed.

    Personally I don’t like the suggestion I may be racist because I disagree with the conclusion of an article – now that IS an attempt to clamp down on free speech…

  29. Liz McShane

    Anon – you really have lost me now! I think any animal would have had the same impact & caused offence. To me it’s saying that immigrants are not/less than human.

    Anyway we should really continue this on a different thread as we are going off on a major tangent!

  30. Anon E Mouse

    Liz – I agree on changing threads! Shamik brought this here.

    The animal does not represent an immigrant. That’s it.

    It’s just an over the top point on Labour’s thoughtless multi cultural policy in this country and nothing more.

    Lighten up – it’s just a cartoon…

  31. Shamik Das

    “Shamik brought this here.”

    Not that it matters, but you’re wrong on that point:

    Just out of interest, what papers do you read (if any)?

  32. Liz McShane

    Anon – whether it’s a cartoon or not is not the point. It’s the message / point that it is conveying.

    Lighten up…? that’s what the DM probably thought when they wrote the anti-Jewish immigration headlines back in the 30s when they seemed to be in denial about the industrialised genoicide that The Nazis were about to unleash.

  33. Anon E Mouse

    Shamik – The Times (by subscription, it’s cheaper) delivered to the house, I like old fashioned stuff so get papers, eggs, orange juice and milk delivered every day. I read The Guardian online but no tabloids…

    Liz – I disagree the message from the cartoon is racist and it seems it is from “open mouths into closed minds…”

    (No offence Liz) and I agree on the Daily Mail but that cartoon is NOT racist and if it was why would it be regarding immigrants when the society we live in has been multi cultural forever? Why immigrants? Am I a half immigrant?

    You are reading something into it that is simply not there…

  34. Anon E Mouse

    Shamik – Papers and milk everyday, eggs and orange the missus arranges…

  35. Liz McShane

    Anon – because the DM is famous for not liking immigrants!!!

  36. Anon E Mouse

    Liz – I agree with you 100% but the cartoon does not reflect that in this case.

    If it did can you imagine the who hah in the press?

  37. Barry

    ‘Should we listen to Richard Branston on the deficit?’

    More to the point – should we listen to Gordon Brown on the deficit?

    One is a convicted tax evader many moons ago. The other a confessed expenses fraudster (where is is first home by the way?), has been in receipt of ‘illegal’ donations from David Abrahams (illegal in that Brown said they were, and said the donations would be returned), a chancellor who deluded himself that there would be no more boom n bust, a chancellor who kicked the foundations from under the pension industry, looked the other way while stoking a house price bubble, fiddles with the measure of public sector debt, convinced himself that debt = wealth and that spending = investment.

    Dickie has done far, far less damage to the taxpayer than Brown. The vast bulk of any money Dickie will ever take off me will be by my choice rather than by force.

    And he has a spaceship.

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