Unipart in pounds 2m tax scheme

RUSSELL HOTTEN

Unipart, the car spares and components company, put almost pounds 2m into special accounts so directors could avoid likely tax rises on high earners should the Labour Party be elected, it emerged last night.

The money was put aside six days before the 1992 general election, and was drawn upon by the directors over the next three financial years, ending in March 1995.

Unipart, which has paid pounds 80,000 to the Conservative Party over the past two years, said the scheme would not be reintroduced because Tony Blair was not promising to hit high earners. Other senior staff were also believed to have been granted similar schemes as a "hedge" against the election of a Labour government.

The schemes were not uncommon at other companies, and were reported in the Unipart accounts, though the reasons were not given. But at a time of increasing concern about directors' remuneration, news of the Unipart schemes could come at a sensitive time. Shareholders are said to be split over a bid from the company's former owners, Rover,thought to be around pounds 300m. The bid has been rebuffed, but a higher one is now expected.

Unipart said that since the Conservatives were re-elected, no one benefited from the arrangements. The four directors were chief executive John Neill, managing director Frank Hemsworth and two others, Tony Mourque and Muir Moffatt. Mr Neill currently earns pounds 490,000 a year, and the others between pounds 190,000 and pounds 330,000 according to the latest annual report.

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