Media monitor: the return of tax avoidance

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The five best titbits from the last week of news – including tax avoidance, the Conservative Party Conference, exemptions on Real Time Information (RTI) and proof that eating insects isn’t good for you. AAT‘s Steven Perryman sifts the headlines

1. Tax: A taxing time for celebrities. And Bear Grylls.

Just when you thought you had seen the back of the Jimmy Carr-inspired tax avoidance headlines, The Times have been at it again. This time no stone was left unturned or, indeed, no sea beds either.

TV adventurer Bear Grylls was among those getting ‘the Carr treatment’ with reports of him and a host of proper celebrities investing £110m in under water treasure hunts, allowing them to avoid tax on millions of pounds. Sleeping in camels and drinking the water from their waste clearly pays better than you think.

Even Gary Barlow (AKA the Queen’s best mate) stood accused. No, not of throwing a stage-managed hissy fit on the X Factor, but of being among 2,000 people who tried to shelter a total of £1.2bn from the taxman between 2004 and 2008.

This very subject – and other tax-related wonder – will form the subject of the next issue of Accounting Technician, which comes out at the beginning of November.

2. HMRC: Right time for Real Time Information (RTI)?

RTI – HMRC’s new online system to lodge details of employees’ income at or before the point when wages are paid – rolls out from next April. It was therefore worrying to learn that according to KPMG 66% of businesses have yet to start planning for the change.

What of those who have? Accountancy Age reported this week that employers with religious objections to electronic communications are to be exempt from the online filing. As a result, those groups will continue to file their returns on paper via the simplified PAYE deduction scheme.

Watch out for a blog right here next week on RTI.

3. Politics: Conservative Party Conference closes silly season

Party conference season is always a slog. Summer has ended, the Olympics are over, and the nights are drawing in. Three weeks of rhetoric, hyperbole and sycophancy is just what we need! This week it was the Conservative’s turn.

All eyes were on the two big guns (Boris doesn’t count): George Osborne and David Cameron. Osborne, in his usual ‘nervous Best Man’ style, did his obligatory fire-fighting act. Most notable was the introduction of his shares-for-rights scheme – a baffling notion that seems ripe for The Thick of It treatment.

Then it was Cameron’s turn. His speech ticked all the boxes you would expect and came loaded in the inevitable ‘good news, bad news’ form. First we had the Olympics, Paralympics, Games Makers, Military (forgot the Police, Dave, but never mind). Then we got to the deficit.

Despite the International Monetary Fund’s rather ill-timed judgement that the UK economy will shrink by 0.4% this year, Cameron, as expected, came out fighting. ‘The truth is this we are in a global race today and that means an hour of reckoning for a country like ours – sink or swim, do or die,’ he argued. He’s not wrong. Only this week right here on AAT Comment, Public Finance’s Mike Thatcher argued that the coalition could be on borrowed time as a result of its deficit reduction mantra.

As for Boris? He called David Cameron a broom.

4. Technology: 4G – so last month

An ‘iPad mini’ that will resemble Google’s Nexus 7 tablet? A Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini that will resemble the iPhone 5? The only person winning in these battles are the IP lawyers. One result of the proliferation in smartphone and tablet use, of course, is a 3G network that is creaking.

We can be thankful then that 4G is coming to the UK from the end of this month, and looks set to revolutionise our mobile data experience. Users can expect an internet speed akin to what they get at home.

Now, although these technologies only come along every decade or so, it was interesting to read this week that academics at Surrey University have won a £35m investment from mobile operators to research 5G. Who said modern technology moved too fast?

5. And finally: eating insects isn’t good for you

There were a few contenders for the ‘and finally’ story this week. The Bedford couple who thought they had bought an innocuous shrub from a car boot sale, only to discover the plant blooming in their garden was in fact cannabis, was a worthy contender.

But the man who died shortly after winning a cockroach-eating contest in Florida took some beating. With I’m a Celebrity merely weeks away, minor celebrities across the land will have read the story in a cold sweat. And Bear Grylls, obviously.

Steven Perryman is AAT’s Editorial Manager.

Steven Perryman is AAT Comment's former Content Editor.

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