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Wednesday, 01 October 2014

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Taxing question for PM David Cameron

David Cameron would really rather not have a public fall-out with Gary Barlow.

It’s not that the Prime Minister fears he might sing to him – but, well the Manchester lad’s a rich guy these days, a tax dodger and a Conservative Party supporter. Awkward.

So, does the PM think we should Take That OBE back from Barlow, now he’s been exposed as a deliberate tax avoider?

“I don’t think that is necessary, frankly,” he said.

“Gary Barlow has done a huge amount for the country, he’s raised money for charity, he has done very well for Children in Need. The OBE was in respect of that work and what he has done.”

Ah yes, Children in Need – a tax-funded charity effort, doing an awful lot to raise the profiles and promote the careers of celebrity folk, if I’m not mistaken.

And, like it or not, Barlow is thought of by many as a national treasure – even if he is going out of his way to withhold his treasure from the nation.

It would be hugely embarrassing to strip a treasure of his badge. Especially one whose music has been heard in department store lifts the world over.

Rather too brave a step, I fear, for a government still blissfully unaware of how much anger there is in this country about tax dodgers. Clearly, Mr Cameron either doesn’t know or doesn’t care. Because he is not a stripper.

So what does his attitude signify? Head in the sand? Ears closed to fury? Double standards in matters of tax collection?

All of the above and more. And he isn’t alone. You don’t have to be a Tory to allow one rule for rich friends and another raft of punitive rules for everybody else. You just have to be politically weak.

Abuse of the tax system is possible only if you can afford to buy into schemes able to manipulate it. If your tax is collected via PAYE, you haven’t a chance. You will, like it or not – and it’s unlikely you’ll be impressed – be subsidising pop stars and coffee bars, national treasures and online book retailers for as long as political weakness says you should.

Barlow, Howard Donald and Mark Owen – along with Take That manager Jonathan Wild – are among about 1,000 people who put money into avoidance schemes purportedly supporting the music industry.

They’ll probably have to pay back millions... unless they can find more avoidance methods proving again to be cleverer than HMRC or government. It’s a wearisome continuing outrage. The minute one loophole is closed another is found.

But to hail Gary Barlow as a national hero deserving of an Honour because he has entered into self-promoting charity events, is to display a total lack of nous.. or stubborn arrogance.

Just how does it sum up our Honours system, which is supposed to reward those who have delivered to country or community, above and beyond the call of paid employment or self aggrandisement? In a word – discredited.

A huge amount for the country? How easily a small portion of those dodged millions could have kept a third ambulance in service for Carlisle, funded a few spare bedrooms for old ladies looking forward to seeing their grandchildren, kept a few street lights on, avoided parking meters being used to empty Cumbrian town centres.

Let Gary Barlow keep his OBE. Might as well – it’s meaningless anyway, if he can rip-off Britain and still be classed as a national treasure. Do us all a favour and make him hand his piano back instead.

And while we’re on the subject, I’m thinking of putting a proposition forward to the PM – one I’d like him to consider along with his chaps at the Inland Revenue.

Cut my tax by at least 50 per cent and I promise I’ll give more to the charities that do so much of the work properly collected taxes should be paying for. I will, of course, tell everyone what a good, treasure-like girl I am – by virtue of my selfless generosity.

As for the OBE – don’t bother, thanks. Don’t need one, don’t want one. Couldn’t even shift one on eBay.

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