'Hypocritical' Robinson should resign, says poll

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A Majority of voters think Paymaster-General Geoffrey Robinson is wrong and hypocritical to use an offshore trust and should resign, according to a new opinion poll, writes Nick Gilbert.

Mr Robinson has been under fire for being - quite legally - a "discretionary beneficiary" of the Guernsey-based Orion Trust.

Asked in an NOP poll if it was wrong and hypocritical of him to use an offshore trust - although Mr Robinson has insisted he pays all his UK tax and that the trust is not a tax-avoidance measure - 58 per cent of those polled thought he was wrong. Just 25 per cent thought his finances were his own affair.

Mr Robinson, it has also emerged, has close ties to an accountant whose employer makes money arranging tax-effective Personal Equity Plans and PEP-linked mortgages.

The minister recently put forward plans to scrap PEPs and Tax Exempt Special Savings Accounts and replace them with them much less advantageous Individual Savings Accounts. Under the proposals savers would be allowed to invest a maximum of pounds 50,000 tax-free in the new ISAs.

The accountant is Rob Murison, whose main job is as a director of John Charcol, a firm of independent financial advisers.

The company makes its money through advisory fees and commissions and is opposed to Mr Robinson's proposals. "Removing tax breaks does not encourage people to provide for their own future," said Ian Darby, another Charcol director.

In July, Mr Murison agreed to act as one of two directors of Stenbell, Mr Robinson's private company. The minister resigned from the board on joining the Government. The company has played an important role in Mr Robinson's business affairs. He runs the New Statesman, which he rescued via Stenbell. He also used the company as a conduit through which 9.8 million shares in TransTec, the quoted engineering company he partly owns, went to Orion.

Mr Murison, aged 47, explained that he is not involved in Charcol's marketing activities but in back-office functions. "I have known Geoffrey for a number of years from when I worked with him at Triumph Motor Cycles," he said.

Mr Robinson ran the remnants of the old Triumph business when he was chief executive of the Meriden Motor Cycle Workers Co-Op in the Seventies.