Council business park remains offshore

By Dan Peters | 02 February 2021

Labour-run Warrington Council has still not decided whether to bring an out-of-town business park onshore more than three years after being accused of avoiding tax, The MJ can reveal.

The council snapped up Birchwood Park in September 2017 and still holds it in an offshore company.

It has been criticised for not paying stamp duty on the purchase by Warrington South Conservative MP Andy Carter.

Council leader, Cllr Russ Bowden, said in August 2019 the authority had not reached a conclusion over whether to bring the business park onshore or not.

A decision has still not been made and a council spokesperson declined to comment further.

Chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, Rob Whiteman, highlighted the issue of councils using offshore trusts to make property acquisitions.

Mr Whiteman told The MJ that councils taking tax avoidance measures on commercial activity would find it difficult to explain that to the public, adding: ‘Hard-pressed council tax payers and business ratepayers paying tax to a local authority that is avoiding paying its own taxes would be very hard to justify.’

Speaking last year, Mr Whiteman said councils using schemes to avoid taxes while ‘taking taxes from hard-earning families’ created a ‘terrible story for the sector’.

He continued: ‘We are not property investment companies in the city and I think in the odd council there is a mind-set of we’re really commercial and we’re really good at it and we really know what we’re doing.

‘You start to get into casino finance mentality and I don’t think they’ve got the skills to do it.

'I think they’re going to drag the rest of the sector down.

'I think the sector needs to call that out and actually we need to censor ourselves - otherwise we run the risk of losing the [prudential] code.’

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