Lib Dem fury at coalition job for 'super-rich' Green

Senior figures voice dismay at billionaire being asked to lead Whitehall spending review

Sir Philip Green, one of the richest men in the UK, signed the letter supporting the Tories
Sir Philip Green, one of the richest men in the UK, signed the letter supporting the Tories

Liberal Democrats who campaigned on a manifesto promising a clampdown on the super-rich have expressed dismay at David Cameron's decision to ask Sir Philip Green, a billionaire, to "hand out P45s" to poorly paid public sector workers.

Senior party figures are furious that Sir Philip, a retail tycoon who owns the Bhs and Topshop chains, will lead a review of Whitehall spending before George Osborne wields the axe in the autumn. The fashion mogul has a reputation for lavish birthday parties – one rumoured to have cost £5m – and a complex tax arrangement which sees his Monaco-based wife, Tina, named as the owner of his company Arcadia. All of this sits uneasily alongside the sort of cuts that many fear will hit the poor hardest.

Vince Cable, the Lib Dem Business Secretary, a fierce critic of tax loopholes, was not consulted about the appointment. Mr Cable declined to comment specifically on the appointment, but said yesterday: "We want people to pay their share of tax."

The row threatens to overshadow Nick Clegg's first week "in charge" of the country as Deputy Prime Minister, including a speech on Wednesday on social mobility. Andrew George, Lib Dem MP for St Ives, criticised having "someone renowned for personal excess lecturing poorly paid public servants on austerity and handing out P45s".

He added: "It looks like a public relations own goal by David Cameron. Philip Green is better qualified to advise the Treasury on stamping out tax avoidance; if he were appointed to do that I think a lot of people would understand. One could avoid unnecessary public sector cuts if we ensured those who should be were paying tax."

Sir Philip last week defended his tax affairs, denying his wife was a tax exile and insisting his companies had paid £300m to £400m in taxes on profits in five years. "I'm a UK taxpayer. I work here every week. We employ 45,000 people in the UK and we have got a £500m payroll."

However, Richard Murphy, the director of Tax Research UK, estimates that Sir Philip saved £285m in tax by paying a £1.2bn dividend in 2005 directly to his wife. Mr Murphy said: "I'm not disputing for a moment that Sir Philip Green is a first-rate retailer of cheap fashion... But, with the very greatest of respect to those who appointed him, what do they think this has to do with the appraisal of government spending?"

Lib Dem policy documents claim "big business and the super-rich get special loopholes and the rest of us end up paying more". Mike Hancock, Lib Dem MP for Portsmouth South, said the Government had to tackle spending but he questioned whether Sir Philip "is the right character to do it, and whether he is tarnished by the baggage he brings with him". He added. "[These businessmen] are supposed to have the magic bullet. It will be interesting to see what they say in six months' time."

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in