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Bank boss warns Cameron on tax
The head of Goldman Sachs has cautioned politicians against subjecting companies to public opprobrium for responding to incentives in the tax system.
Prime Minister David Cameron spoke out on Thursday against some forms of "aggressive" tax avoidance and said he would use Britain's presidency of the G8 to ensure that individuals and businesses "pay their fair share" and to push for greater global transparency about the ownership of companies and the movement of assets.
In an apparent swipe at cafe chain Starbucks, whose failure to pay corporation tax in the UK over three years sparked widespread outrage, Mr Cameron said that it was time for businesses to "wake up and smell the coffee" about public anger at tax-avoidance practices, which in some cases raised ethical issues.
But chief executives at more than 30 of Britain's biggest companies have warned against publishing more details of their tax affairs, according to the Daily Telegraph.
And Goldman Sachs chief executive Lloyd Blankfein said that holding people up for criticism for their tax arrangements risked "criminalising every right-thinking person who organises his or her affairs in a sensible way".
Goldman Sachs came under fire earlier this month for considering deferring bonus payments to allow staff to benefit from the forthcoming cut in the top rate of income tax from 50p to 45p. The bank decided later not to go ahead with the scheme.
Mr Blankfein said: "If all of a sudden, in addition to the rules that generate certainty for people, the signposts become so amorphous and so loose and so subject to second-guessing, you're making everything uncertain and it's very hard to organise your affairs in a sensible way. I'm not saying that you are exculpated from any pressure merely because you meet the rule of law - we've never said that, we don't live that life.
"But I would say 'are you going to hold people up to public opprobrium because a house they could have sold in January instead they sell in May because there was a profit to be made on that house because the selling price was higher than the purchase price?'. If you do that, you are going to criminalise every right-thinking person who organises his or her affairs in a sensible way."
The Daily Telegraph reported that more than half - 32 out of 52 - of FTSE 100 bosses who responded to a survey by Conservative MP Stephen McPartland raised concerns about the issue.
Asked about business concerns about the PM's comments on tax avoidance, Mr Cameron's official spokesman said: "The Prime Minister set out his views very clearly in his speech yesterday. The point the Prime Minister was making was that there is nothing anti-business about businesses paying the right amount of tax."