Back in the early parts of 2008, bankers and corporate financiers would tell you that they’d never been busier. This was meant, of course, to show that the credit crunch wasn’t really as bad as all that. In fact, it just showed that entrepreneurs knew that their CGT bill would go up by 80 per cent if they waited until after April.
One of the year’s first such deals was Tadcaster’s finest, Jim Walsh, who sold his licensed trade data business for £3.8m.
This unheralded deal was soon to be followed by some high-profile disposals – at Pret A Manger, Tyrrells Crisps, LK Bennett and the bed store Dreams. All of these quality owner-managed businesses were flogged off prematurely just so that the Treasury could raise £700m, the kind of money Alistair Darling spends without blinking these days in a desperate bid to kickstart the economy.
The CGT debate, and entrepreneurs’ furious reactions, was one of the biggest business stories of January/February. And it was probably the moment (although there were plenty more to come) when Labour probably lost the small business vote.
The other big stories of early-2008: the hilarious tale of Derek Conway’s family, the Tory MP who appeared to have most of his idle relatives on the parliamentary payroll; Gordon Brown and his business entourage heading off to China and India, prompting all manner of rumours about whether he and Sir Richard Branson were hatching a deal for Northern Rock; how to get benefit from/stop your employees wasting their time on… Facebook; and, of course, non-doms, those pesky foreigners bringing their business skills and money to the UK and then resenting being asked to pay to pay for the privilege of staying here.
Over in the House of Lords on January 7, in a debate on apprenticeship, Lord MacDonald of Tradeston attributed Britain’s slow economic decline to “an innate conservatism” that esteems the “gentleman landowner above the entrepreneur”.
Plus ca change…