A Private Function is a favourite film in the RPS household. It’s set in a snobbish small Yorkshire town at the start of the 1950s and features three of my great loves: vintage clothes; food; and, pigs.
It also has a line that has passed into our common family usage. It is uttered whenever something has not arrived when eagerly expected.
‘Still no news from Kuala Lumpur.’
Well, on the RPS job front there is still very definitely, ‘No news from Kuala Lumpur.’ I’m beginning a new application cycle this week though and I do think I am getting better at it. But I’m conscious of the clock ticking down so I’m also giving various other things a go.
One of these was a free workshop on interim management. I had vaguely thought about this as an option and saw the advert and thought, ‘What have I got to lose?’
So taking some of my flexible time I snuck off to a discrete hotel venue together with a couple of colleagues who had also seen the blurb. We were ushered into a smallish meeting room set out in theatre style.
The inevitable powerpoint slide was up on the screen. And, as my eyes got used to the dim lighting it became possible to pick out familiar faces from all sorts of organisations that I have had dealings with over the years. Clearly great minds think alike.
The series of talks kicked off. Now you may be thinking he’s going to be rude in a minute. I’m not. What followed was an interesting afternoon with facts, figures and lots of new stuff. I love facts, figures and new stuff.
Did you know, for example, that the interim market is worth about £2 billion a year? And that around 30% of it is handled through intermediaries like our hosts? Or that it has grown by anything up to 30% a year up until the recession and even then it has at least kept growing albeit at only 3-5% a year.
The presenters were upbeat but realistic. They particularly stressed three things: having something distinctive to offer; having a competitive day rate; and, protecting your reputation. A longstanding interim manager gave a warts and all picture of the life and stressed the same things. The organisers then warned about the dangers of hooking up with agencies without a track record or membership of the trade association: the Interim Management Association.
The session took an interesting turn for me when a representative from a specialist accountancy firm got up. His firm deals exclusively with interims. We had already been told that the most tax efficient and preferred way to work in this field was to set up a company. But it was only when he really got into his stride that several things dawned on me.
The first was that I may find myself owning my very own business. For a non-commercially minded bloke in his late 40s that’s a turn up for the books. The second was that this would require all sorts of new thinking from me, marketing for example – exciting and terrifying all at the same time. The final thing was that the operating assumption of the accountant and the folks running the workshop that tax is more a matter of interpretation than dealing with absolutes.
I was raised to think that tax is the price citizens pay for living at peace with our fellow citizens in a just society. Well it turns out I’ve been a fool. A tax bill is merely the result of a battle of wills fought between the taxpayer (or their representative) and the over-mighty HMRC. Doughty freedom fighters wage war to keep innocent pounds and pence out of the clutches of the evil Revenue men and women. My head started to hurt. I was at the edge of paradigm shift, thinking entirely new thoughts.
The last time I had struggled this hard with a concept it was reading Lord Wei’s blog about the Big Society.
It began to dawn on me that I was being exhorted to believe that working for me would entail less days at the coal face yet more money in the bank. But, of course only if you could achieve your billable days target.
Pay yourself a minimum salary at the threshold for being liable to tax the man cried. Anything else pay as dividends. While you’re about it make your partner or spouse a shareholder and use their tax allowance too. Whatever you do minimise what you pay the tax man.
In my weird and wonderful recent existence I have encountered many oddnesses and novelties. But this was all deeply troubling. I had never bracketed myself with mighty oligarchs but here suddenly I was being tempted into their marina. Me? A tax avoider? Who’d have thought it?
Since the event I have been wrestling with my instincts. The good angel on my left shoulder whispers ‘do your bit, pay the tax’, while his colleague on my right says, ‘screw it, keep the cash.’
My reveries were interrupted by an excellent article in Public Finance magazine by Richard Murphy a tax expert not much enamoured of our government. He made the point that tax avoidance – the legitimate minimisation of your tax bill using all sorts of ruses – costs the country billions. In fact as I read his argument if we spent more time (and money) closing these loopholes and ruses down it would save more that the proposed changes to benefits.
Which, in a roundabout way, takes me back to my blog about the undeserving poor. It looks to me that if there’s any merit in the concept of ‘undeserving’ then it applies equally to the egregious exploiters of these sorts of ruse at the other end of the income scale.
The undeserving rich, eh? They’re always with us.