Friday, 15 October 2010

Philip Green's efficiency review

Sir Philip Green has submitted his review of government efficiency to the Prime Minister. His report catalogs a litany of wasteful government procurement. But it names no names and its recommendations are superficial and obvious. The report is 33 pages of banality and this blog doubts that the government will do much more than file it and move on.

Sir Philip Green, frequently seen with super-model Kate Moss

Sir Philip, billionaire owner of Top Shop, Burton's and loads of other clothing stores, and wanna-be owner of Marks & Spencer, is best known for his ingenious tax avoidance. (More about this in a little while.) But Sir Philip doesn't seem to know how to make things happen in government. All his report really said was: central government is hopelessly wasteful, which we already knew. (Local government is also wasteful, but Sir Philip didn't look into them.)

What he needed to do was, not say: you're bad, the end. He needed to write a detailed transformation plan to transition HMG from wasteful to efficient. He needed to list departments to be closed, jobs to disappear, contracts to be re-negotiated or just plain cancelled, buildings to be sold, areas of endevour to be abandoned, and he needed to work out the consequential legislative changes required. It was a big task, but he tossed it off in a couple of months and produced 33 pages of trivia.

However his report did contain one interesting chart; a pie chart of where the government spends our money. So I'll reproduce it here.

HMG: What the money is spent on

It's quite rare to see public expenditure broken down by type rather than by function. The biggest item, benefits and grants at £270bn looks ripe for the plucking. A tasty chunk could probably be carved out of pay as well.

So Sir Philip hasn't rescued us from the fiscal abyss. I guess he's more used to being a front man and hires clever people actually to run his businesses.

And finally a word on his tax situation. Sir Philip's wife, the Lady Cristina, is widely reported as living in the tax-haven of Monaco. The press seem to be of the opinion that Sir Philip has his wife own all his assets to avoid tax, but this doesn't have to be the case. Remember, under UK law there is no tax on transfers between a husband and wife. So if Sir Philip owns something and wants to sell it without paying capital gains tax all he has to do is: give it to his wife; she sells it, and gives him the money. If Sir Philip has power of attorney for his wife then he could sign all the paperwork and she wouldn't even know that for a few seconds she was a billion richer than normal.

So this is Sir Philip's true genius: persuading his wife to live two thousand miles away!

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