Brown wrong on tax claims, say Tories

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Gordon Brown was yesterday accused of making false claims about the number of businesses given Government help with their tax bills.

The Tories said the Prime Minister had repeatedly insisted that 300,000 firms have benefited from a scheme which allows them to delay payments to HM Revenue and Customs, when the real figure was actually 160,000.

Shadow Treasury chief secretary Philip Hammond has written to Mr Brown calling on him to set the record straight. The intervention comes after the Prime Minister admitted last week he wrongly claimed defence spending had risen in real terms every year when he gave evidence to the Iraq Inquiry.

During the same Prime Minister's questions, Mr Brown told Tory former minister John Redwood that "300,000 small businesses have been given direct, cash flow help by the Government amounting to £5bn over recent years".

But the Conservatives pointed to a Commons written answer from Business Minister Pat McFadden which said that "160,000 businesses have been able to spread £5bn in business taxes through allowing businesses more time to pay their tax bill". The party claims Mr Brown is "double counting" because many of those firms have signed multiple agreements, bringing the total number of deferrals to 292,000.