Paying tax — which many of us have been doing this week before HMRC’s 31 January deadline — is a citizen’s duty, not an act of virtue. But for the very rich it is also a choice, since with the help of expensive advisers they can duck it or pay very little of it by using complex avoidance devices and offshore havens. So if they stay onshore and pay up, we should salute their good citizenship — if only to encourage others like them who might lighten the tax burden for the rest of us.
In that context I was pleased to see two of this column’s controversial heroes of modern capitalism in the Sunday Times list of the UK’s 50 highest taxpayers. The Coates family of Stoke-on-Trent, who have reaped a £5 billion fortune by converting their betting shop chain into the online gaming giant bet m365, take second place on the list, behind low-profile sportswear tycoon Stephen Rubin; you might recall my remark that the tax on the Coateses’ wages of gambling sin must be paying for most of their local NHS provision. Sure enough, the £156 million they handed over last year equalled three-quarters of the running costs of the Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent NHS Trust.
Damehood surely can’t be far off for chief executive Denise Coates. And there must be a gong soon for No. 20 and the high street’s last hope, Mike Ashley of Sports Direct (£30 million tax paid), who is reported to be looking at possible rescue bids not only for HMV but also for Patisserie Valerie. Both are at least as worthy as Sir James Dyson at No. 3 (£128 million), who is moving his HQ to Singapore, and Sir Jim Ratcliffe who looks out of place at No. 5 (£110 million) since it’s his company, Ineos, that pays the tax, Ratcliffe himself having announced shortly after he was knighted that he was moving to no-tax Monaco.