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  • Ian Ritchie : Scottish Business Insider

Chancellor launches attack on the Entrepreneur

JIM MATHER, the Scottish Government's minister for Enterprise, has declared that he wants to see more entrepreneurship in Scotland. This is a fine aim and, since in a previous life Jim personally started a technology company, built it up and successfully sold it off, he is the first enterprise minister who has actually 'been there and done that'.

He knows what he's talking about.

So he will undoubtedly be dismayed by the actions of others, outwith his control, who are making it much tougher to start up businesses these days, including the UK Treasury and Bank of Scotland.

The UK tax system in the last few years has been remarkably entrepreneur friendly.

Capital Gains Tax, due on gains made on investments such as buy to let property and stock market shares, was set at 40 per cent - the same as the upper rate of income tax.

But for those who invest in risky start-up businesses there is encouragement in the form of the Enterprise Investment Scheme, which gives relief against both capital gains and income tax and eliminates tax entirely on gains made if and when the company is successfully sold.

And for the individual entrepreneur, 'taper relief' has meant that the capital gains bill when they finally sell their company is reduced after one year to 20 per cent and after two years to 10 per cent.

It has all worked very well and encouraged wealthy business angels to invest in start-up businesses, while encouraging entrepreneurial individuals to give up their stable career and stake everything on a relatively risky start-up business - they have been rewarded with a very attractive prize, a 10 per cent tax bill.

But the Chancellor, Alastair Darling, has thrown a huge grenade into this system in his autumn spending statement to the House of Commons. He has decided to eliminate 'taper relief' completely and to unify capital gains tax for all gains at the new rate of 18 per cent. This means that the entrepreneur will see his final tax bill rise by no less than 80 per cent.

It also means that the angel investor, who was previously getting relief on 40 per cent gains will now only have an 18 per cent gain to shelter.

Many may well find that an investment in a new company is now too risky to take on as the benefits may no longer be enough to justify the chance that they might still lose their investment.

It also means that Westminster has shown that it couldn't care less how it is that you make your capital gain. The entrepreneur who has taken an enormous risk to start a company is to be treated exactly the same as those who make their money on relatively safe buy to let property deals.

Meanwhile, Bank of Scotland has restructured its operations and along the way has eliminated its highly regarded emerging business team. For many years Bank of Scotland has been the bank of choice for start-up businesses, due largely to the specialist knowledge of its emerging business unit. Now it is to be dismantled and companies will have to take their chances with their local bank manager, who is unlikely to have much experience in lending to risky early stage firms.

It seems a shame that both the UK Treasury and Bank of Scotland have demonstrated that they don't seem to care much about entrepreneurship, especially at a time when the Scottish government has declared it a priority.

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