Is your NHS boss a tax avoider? You’ll soon find out

NHS bosses: subject to tax avoidance inquiry

NHS bosses: subject to tax avoidance inquiry

The tax avoidance scandal that shook up Whitehall is soon to spread to the NHS. As reported earlier following the exposure of Ed Lester, the former head of the Students Loan Company, for channelling his salary through a personal service company to avoid  paying national insurance and tax at source. The practice was still going on in Whitehall two years after the event and 125 civil servants who quit have been reported to Revenue and Customs.

 Now the NHS is to face the same scrutiny. Reports in Exaro News and Tribune last week highlighted the issue – with the findings now likely to be sooner rather than later.

An inquiry has been ordered by Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, after Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury requested it.

Some two years ago a lesser inquiry – just into board members of NHS bodies – revealed some 28 out of 84 people were on this bandwagon. Earlier examples included   Robert Clarke, finance director at NHS Professionals, which supplies temporary workers to the health service, was paid at least £534,000 over three years through a personal-service company.

Another former chief executive of NHS Professionals, Neil Lloyd, was paid £631,000 off payroll over three years.

This time the Health Department sounds uncompromising. A spokesman said:

 “Tax avoidance will not be tolerated, and there is no excuse for it in the NHS, or any other part of the public sector.”

The Trust Development Authority, which provides guidance on governance to NHS trusts, is working with Monitor, which regulates the running of health bodies, to carry out the investigation to ensure that the use of off-payroll contracts is in line with guidance.

targeted is anybody earning over £58,200 a year or has been in post for more than six months and being paid through a personal service company.

In my view it cannot come soon enough. Tax avoidance deprives the Treasury of cash that could be used for better public services. Tax avoidance in the cash strapped NHS is actually depriving hospitals and communities of vital cash. All these people also earn a fair whack. They are not those forced to take a one per cent pay rise and see their living standards go down. On the contrary through tax avoidance they get richer on the backs of others.


My Political Journalist of the Year Award: Praise be the Whitehall moles

Revealed: My secret source in Whitehall Pic Credit:BBC

Revealed: My secret source in Whitehall Pic Credit:BBC

Today I am really thrilled to win Political Journalist of  the Year Press Gazette awards for Exaro News -award  last night.

But the real tribute should go to a couple of fearless Whitehall moles who put me on the trail of the story  of massive tax avoidance at the heart of Whitehall.

While journalists must never reveal  their sources, there is at least one good tip from this for journos pursuing questionable deals done in Whitehall.

And it came from first source. He was the originator of the suggestion that senior people in Whitehall had set up  highly complicated arrangements to avoid paying any tax and national insurance. And he had heard a rumour  that one of the most grotesque examples was a recent appointment to the top job at the Students Loan Company. A left of centre character who firmly believed in the ethos of public service  he was worried that Whitehall was being corrupted by the widespread tax avoidance. We now know it is rife.

But rather than leak information which breaks the Whitehall rules we devised a different strategy. Between us we drafted a targeted freedom of information request to the Student loans Company and Vince Cable’s Department for Business  which would make it very difficult for either department to deny. During our meetings at various hostelries across London – I won’t divulge his favourite malt  in case the Whitehall thought police try to trace him- we developed the story.

Sure enough after a suitable interval back came some 60 pages of complicated e-mail traffic between Bis, the Student Loans Company, the Cabinet Office and more surprising, the outside advice from private management consultants – one paper was volunteered because they were worried we would distort their opinions – and even letters from Revenue and Customs approving the arrangement. We spent further hours  at certain hostelries analysing the results which were far worse than he thought. We spent much more time chasing up every conceivable angle before Exaro and BBC Newsnight  were ready to go with the tale.

The result was immediate. Ed Lester, the head of the Student Loans Company, had his tax arrangement stopped and Danny Alexander, chief secretary to the Treasury who had personally approved his salary had to admit he didn’t even spot the tax avoidance. He ordered a Whitehall wide inquiry.

But it was not all over.  The inquiry identified 2500 civil servants on similar deals. But had they gone too far? Enter a new mole from another part of Whitehall.  Seeing Danny Alexander’s letter to George Osborne he was furious. He felt Alexander had caught too many in his net, including genuine freelances  having bona fide reasons for working this way. This guy, a mischievous right of centre social libertarian character who enjoy’s Guido Fawkes blog, decided the world should know before Danny had a chance. Hence another story for Exaro News and BBC Newsnight.

One might feel sorry for Danny – damned if he doesn’t, damned if he does. Except of course while we all suffer his cuts  paradoxically he has never been so wealthy in his life as a Cabinet minister. And he has lots of  dinners with his chum. George Osborne.

Good for him though in ordering the inquiry. But the greatest thing of all is that he couldn’t cover this up even if he wanted to – thanks to the use of freedom of information. No wonder Jack Straw and Tony Blair now regret giving the public and journos the chance to find out what is really going on government.

Exclusive: Top nuclear official loses contract as Whitehall panics over tax avoidance

Office for Nuclear Regulation:First victim of Whitehall cull

The man in charge of  running nuclear regulation has had his contract terminated in the wake of panic across Whitehall following  the disclosure that Ed Lester, chief executive of the Student Loans Company, avoided having tax and national insurance deducted by being paid through a personal service company.

Paul Brown, interim chief operating officer of the newly formed Office for Nuclear Regulation,has been told that his contract will not be renewed next month provoking  extraordinary anger among professional organisations representing freelances.They fear the whole situation is getting out of hand and that there could be a witch hunt in Whitehall against anyone who has a personal company.

The full story is published on the investigative news website .But the essence of the dispute is that Whitehall panic – generated by the decision of Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury,checking 4000 senior civil servants pay arrangements could lead to the wrong people being asked to go.

The difference between Ed Lester’s arrangement, now moved to PAYE for his £182,000 post, and Paul Brown’s post, is that Ed Lester seemed to have only one job and was getting paid holidays and a £28,000 pension contribution,normally associated with a full-time post.

Paul Brown’s company,Operations Improvements Ltd, seems to be a tailor-made vehicle to offer his services for a string of jobs including previous posts at the Health and Safety Executive and the Forensic Science Service. His Linked-In site also shows he does mentoring and emergency work as a director.

The irony of all this is that Ed Lester who has had to accept a PAYE arrangement has kept his job while Mr Brown seems to have become the first senior man in Whitehall to lose his.

PCG, the organisation which represents some 20,000 freelance contractors and professionals, also has a WordPress blog where Chris Bryce,chairman of PCG, outlines the arguments for  not treating everyone the same.The blog is at  for those who want to read it.

Paul Brown is barred by his existing contract from speaking about this, but friends tell me he is furious about the decision.

Last night (Friday) it became clear that a second senior official, Jon Seddon, the finance director of the nuclear agency, had also had his contract terminated.

Update: Whitehall tax avoidance – more evidence on the way

Since this blog  revealing the Exaro News ( and BBC Newsnight investigation into the tax arrangement ministers approved for  Ed Lester, chief executive of the Student Loans Company, I have received a number of calls and e-mails suggesting this practice is more widespread than  just Whitehall. Danny Alexander, chief secretary to the Treasury, has rightly ordered a Whitehall wide review to find out the scale of the arrangements, which he appears to have unwittingly endorsed. It looks like Mr Lester  will have to pay tax in the way everybody does when they hold down a full-time equivalent job – through PAYE.

Some 2500 people has so far viewed this blog on top of millions who would have seen it on TV, on the radio  and read it  in newspapers from the The Guardian to the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail.

 I am now gathering more information to continue this investigation and would like to thank a number of people who have already contacted me. However if you know of a similar practice where you work  you can contact me direct on my e-mail All information will be treated in confidence and all sources – like the original tip-off – that led to the exposure – will be protected under the journalist’s code of practice.

Also if you know of consultancy firms  who make big charges for supplying these people  to the government and the public sector and then help them arrange how to avoid paying their full tax, let me know. Their fees are coming out of your taxes.

 Help stamp out people ripping you off by using your taxes from your hard-earned cash – by avoiding pay their fair share of tax – and stop HM Revenue and Customs having one rule for the workers and kid glove treatment for those with the money to exploit every loophole possible.

Exclusive: Whitehall tax avoidance “scam” revealed

Flashy Student Loan Co HQ where Ed Lester works without being taxed at source. Pic courtesy BBC

Civil servants could be able to avoid legally paying tens of thousands of tax while working in Whitehall. An investigation by Exaro News and BBC Newsnight based on documents obtained by me through a Freedom of Information request has revealed an extraordinary personal tax deal negotiated by the Student Loan Company for its £182,000 a year Whitehall boss, Ed Lester. The deal is £140,000 salary,£14,000  bonus, £28,000 pension and £28,000 expenses for flight and Glasgow flat.

Documents released by the SLC and the Department of Business,Innovation and Skills reveal that Mr Lester, chief executive,pays no tax or national insurance at source but instead the SLC pay a consulting firm called Penna who pass the gross cash to a personal service company run by Mr Lester and a partner. This arrangement was approved by HM Revenue and Customs and the deal was signed off by David Willetts, the universities minister, and Danny Alexander, chief secretary to the Treasury.

As a result instead of paying tax at the top rate of 50 per cent – the company is likely to only have to pay corporation tax at the government’s new lower small company rate of 21 per cent and minimal national insurance. Mr Lester has declined to discuss the matter with Newsnight or Exaro News.

Full and extensive details are revealed in a series of articles on the Exaro News website ( – behind a pay wall but if you register  it is free for a week – or you can see the film about it on BBC Newsnight.

The investigation has forced Mr Alexander into ordering a  Whitehall wide inquiry to find out how many civil servants are benefitting from the same secret deals.  The reason is that ministers  DONT’ KNOW  and it looks like in Mr Willetts’ case DON’T CARE.  Alexander personally examined each top pay contract and now admits he missed the tax implications of this particular deal.

Whatever his inquiry reveals this arrangement looks to me on a par with all the recent scandals involving banker’s bonuses and Sir Fred the Shred’s stripped honours. Basically you as a taxpayer are paying the state to negotiate a deal for a very highly paid  official to avoid tax. This can’t be fair, right or decent to millions of low paid public and private sector workers who are paying a big whack in tax and can’t set up personal service companies – effectively to avoid paying tax. It also has the added insult that the man who has got this deal is pursuing every single student in the UK to make sure they pay every penny back of their student loan.