Nick Clegg vows to tackle tax avoidance and excessive pay
Nick Clegg has signalled his new year priorities, emphasising his determination for the Liberal Democrats to remain at the forefront of the battle against excessive executive pay, and saying he wants the budget to contain measures to clamp down on tax avoidance.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4′s Today programme, Clegg said he was determined to target the “wealthy elite or large businesses that can pay an army of tax accountants that can get out of paying their fair share of tax. They treat paying tax as an optional extra in which they can pick and choose the taxes they pay.” It left millions of hardworking families angered, he said.
He promised the next budget would contain a general tax avoidance rule to stop people playing the system.
The Treasury had received a report, he disclosed, showing a general anti-avoidance rule was feasible, adding: “I am not going to write George Osborne’s budget, but I very much hope we can make progress on that in the budget.”
He claimed the Liberal Democrats had led the debate on irresponsible capitalism, or what he dubbed crony capitalism, a phrase also used by Jesse Norman, the Conservative MP. He said the government must be just as tough on bankers’ bonuses as it was last year.
Clegg trailed plans for greater openness and transparency in the provision of executive pay. Specific proposals are expected in the next month after a formal government consultation, which has just ended.
Liberal Democrats are looking at the dilemma of whether greater transparency will drive down pay or instead lead to an upward spiral. He pointed out that in April thousands of people will see themselves lifted out of tax as a result of lifting the personal tax allowances.
Clegg was speaking on a day when the Liberal Democrat website Liberal Democrat Voice revealed a YouGov poll showing three-quarters of people who voted Liberal Democrat at the last election had deserted the party, even if many had not firmly moved to a new political base.
He denied the party had overseen a set of economic reforms that had left the poor worse off, as the Institute for Fiscal Studies has claimed. He argued such assessments represented only “a snapshot” and did not include key measures such as extra help through the pupil premium for children from poorer backgrounds, or free childcare for the poorest two-year-olds.
He also promised to lead a new debate on Europe, saying Britain could still influence the direction of the EU. He asserted: “You do that by standing tall and speaking out loud and clear from the heart of Europe.”
Clegg confirmed that he had not planned with the prime minister for Britain to be left in a minority of one at the December EU summit, saying he was not told until after the event what the outcome was.
“No one planned for an outcome that left Britain in a minority of one,” he said “Clearly it was not an outcome I welcomed at the time,” pointing out 3m jobs were best protected when the UK had a strong negotiating voice at the heart of the EU. He added that he now wanted to focus on rebuilding bridges.
He revealed he will be hosting a meeting of fellow Liberal EU leaders and commissioners in London next Monday to map out a new competitive future for Britain and Europe. “Austerity alone is not going to fix the European economy; we have to combine fiscal discipline with a plan for more jobs and growth.”
He insisted he was not starry eyed about the European Union, saying he wanted to see reform.
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