James Daley

By James Daley

Barely a month seems to go by without news of yet another tax evasion scheme being brought out into the daylight by HMRC. With each one, there's usually a list of celebrities or businessmen who are accused of tax dodging. Jimmy Carr, Gary Barlow and David Beckham are just three that spring to mind - and today it was the turn of a string of high profile politcians to join the celebs in the dock, with former chief whip Andrew Mitchell topping the bill.

I have to confess I have a little sympathy for those who are caught up in these schemes. Britain's system of taxation is one of the most complex in the world. As a consequence, a whole industry has been built on finding loopholes for people to pay less tax. Many of these are entirely legitimate. And naturally, in a system where there are lots of different tax breaks and competing sets of rules, there are acres and acres of grey territory, where a case can be made to both pay tax and to not pay tax.

If you're lucky enough to be sitting on a decent amount of money, you've got to put it somewhere. And even if you want to pay your fair share of taxes, you probably don't want to pay any more than you have to - especially if others are managing to legitimately pay less. So you put your trust in a financial planner and accountant to make the tough decisions for you.

Supporting British films or tax dodging?

The tax evasion scheme that has been exposed today was a film investment plan. There have long been generous tax breaks for investing in films - but in this particular case, the accountants have been called out for exploiting the system.

Although I couldn't help scoffing when I read Andrew Mitchell's statement saying that he had put his money in the "Ingenious Film Partners" scheme because he wanted to support British film, it's quite possible that he's being genuine. Even if you don't buy that line, it's hard to believe that he - along with others such as Michael Grade and Lord Waldegrave - were actively instructing their accountants to put their money in tax evasion schemes.

While it is the investors who are publicly embarrassed for participating in these illegal schemes - it's about time that their accountants and financial advisers were named, shamed and exposed as well. Surely there are some big name firms that sit behind some of the advice that has been given to such a high profile set of investors.

Although they might claim that they were just doing their job - the accountancy profession has to show some moral leadership too. Clearly a scheme that gives its investors £90,000 in tax relief in return for a £36,000 investment is not something that the exchequer is going to sanction. Even if it is technically legal, it's clear that tax breaks for the film industry were not designed for this purpose.

That's not to say that Mitchell and the rest of those who invested in the Ingenious scheme should not have paid a bit more attention to what was being done with their money. If you take up public office, you need to be sure your affairs are in order. You lose all credibility as a politician if you're breaking the rules yourself.

But for the celebs, it's unlikely they had a clue where their money was being invested. Their accountants and advisers should shoulder the blame, and maybe some of the cost as well.