While other chains look poorly, light tax burden helps Boots stay healthy


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The Independent Online

Alliance Boots has shrugged off complaints about its tax affairs and showed it is resisting the recession and the wider slump on the high street.

The drugs giant behind the famed chemists saw sales up 18 per cent to £23bn in the year to March, while profit soared 10 per cent to £693m.

Boots, based in Zug, Switzerland since its £11bn takeover by private equity in 2007, pays only around £60m a year in tax.

That is about a third of the rate of tax paid by retail rivals such as Tesco, leaving the company open to criticism that it is not a good corporate citizen.

Its chairman, the Italian billionaire Stefano Pessina, recently complained that the UK obsession with tax was bad for business. His finance director, George Fairweather, insisted yesterday that the company did the right thing.

"You've got to put it into perspective," he said. "We are investing in the business and paying down debt."

Asked why Boots paid less than other high street chains, he replied: "It is not for me to comment on the tax of others. We pay all of our taxes."

The UK arm saw sales hold steady at £6.3bn. Total sales were down 0.2 per cent while like-for-likes slipped by 1.1 per cent.

However, with sales falling, it appears even the traditionally resilient health and beauty markets are coming under pressure.

The health division was much weaker, with revenue dropping 2.4 per cent to £891m.