Woman with money

Maybe you've heard of it. It's the one where a bunch of too-clever-by-half wheeler dealers get caught out for tax dodging, and then start crying and blaming each other.

The proceedings inside Parliament's Committee Rooms are not known for producing outstanding satire, but there are always exceptions.

Earlier today, various BBC presenters including Kirsty Lang and Liz Kershaw were giving evidence on the widespread use of Personal Services Companies (PSCs) within that organisation. These companies have been increasingly scrutinised by both the press and HMRC over recent years because of well-heeled professionals using them as vehicles to minimise their tax exposure. It's a shame that the rest of us aren't permitted to offset the cost of our lunch or our daily commute, but I digress.

However, according to both Lang's and Kershaw's accounts, the situation at the BBC was entirely different. The Digital, Culture, Media & Sport Committee heard tales of the taxpayer funded broadcaster forcing its presenters to set up such companies in order to avoid paying National Insurance on their salaries. It's unclear to what extent the presenters themselves benefited from such arrangements, but I've never heard of a Personal Services Company being formed to increase tax liability. If Christa Ackroyd's tax bill of £419K is anything to go by, then we're talking about a lot more than a couple of lunches and a few train tickets here and there.

The BBC stands accused of using these service companies as a way of bypassing normal workers' rights such as sick leave, with one presenter stating, on the record, how she felt forced to work through almost an entire course of chemotherapy. These poor, downtrodden public servants paint a picture of a tyrannical corporation that has driven some of its familiar faces to the brink of suicide.

The highlight of today's show was when the BBC's Paul Lewis said "this isn't a story of well-paid presenters trading through companies to avoid tax." Although I'm pretty sure he knows what kind of PAYE take-home is needed to run up a £400K tax bill. It's funny how the BBC's money guy suddenly got all shy about hard numbers on the presenters' side, yet he was pretty outspoken about the £10 million tax the BBC has allegedly sidestepped.

So, if I'm following the plot correctly, the taxpayer funded BBC forced these presenters to set up Personal Service Companies, and as a result both parties paid a lot less tax, but that was only the intention of mendacious BBC executives. Any favourable tax conditions enjoyed by the presenters were entirely incidental and forced upon them against their will. Poor souls.

No doubt that Christa Ackroyd would much rather have paid the lion's share of half a million pounds to HMRC in exchange for the security of sick leave, and it's just a shame that the BBC declined to tell its side of the story to the committee today.

Now that really would've been a punchline!

Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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