Tuesday 3 February 2015

Boris is right, sadly

London’s mayor has inflamed some with his claim that the directors of Boots have a duty to their shareholders to pay as little tax as possible.  But actually, he’s absolutely correct in what he says.  Company directors do indeed have a duty, placed on them by company law, to act at all times in the best interests of their shareholders, and maximising profits whilst minimising taxes is entirely consistent with that.
It is, though, the wrong question to be asking.  The right question is whether things should be that way, and why the law of the land puts the interests of shareholders above those of the rest of us.  There’s nothing immutable about company law, and no fundamental reason why it cannot be changed to rebalance the responsibilities of directors.
Boris isn’t the right person to be raising such a question of course.  I wouldn’t expect him to, and he’s unlikely to surprise me by doing so.  But there are others who could and should be asking the question, and thinking about how the law can be changed.  In that context, the spectacle of Miliband wringing his hands and limply telling the bosses of Boots that they should pay more tax is more than a little weak and pathetic.  And it tells us that he’s more concerned about getting a headline or two than he is about changing anything.

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