In detail: the true tales of Micro-man
As Gordon Brown prepares this week's Pre-Budget Report few will notice his secret alter-ego Micro-man moving quietly behind the scenes. All are familiar with his public identity as the "iron chancellor"; a being with astonishing political powers and a limitless capacity to take offence; a man who can wage war with several political rivals at once and still find time to insult fellow European Union finance ministers before they even meet.
But when no-one is looking Mr Brown turns into Micro-man, a mild-mannered meddler and inveterate tweaker. While the "iron chancellor" thrives on publicity, often reannouncing his biggest achievements, Micro-man beavers away on issues such as civil service sick leave, VAT on church repairsand small modifications to the R&D tax credit. No matter is too piffling. This week, the Financial Times is proud to throw a spotlight onto the incredibly detailed adventures of . . . Micro-man.
Episode 1: The cash-strapped sports club.
Night falls on the Coventry and District Sports Association as club secretary Dave Loveday sits poring over the accounts, trying to make ends meet. Suddenly there is a knock on the door. Outside stands a masked man with a rumpled dark suit and a discernible Scottish accent.
Dave: Can I help you?
Micro-man (for it is he): The question is whether I can help you. I am Micro-man. I believe you have some cashflow problems. I would have been here sooner but there was a firm in Walsall that was claiming for only one of the two permitted tax-deductible breakfasts it can lay on for staff who cycle to work. Now, are you aware of the range of measures in recent Budgets to help people like you?
Dave: No, I don't really bother with the Budgets and politics.
Micro-man: Oh, (pause) well then, you may not know of the rigorous financial framework put in place over the last seven years that not only locked in stability but created the conditions for sustainable growth ensuring no return to boom and bust.
Dave: No. And?
Micro-man: All that prudence had a purpose. Thanks to this cautious yet visionary management of the economy, we can help clubs like yours.
Dave: Really? that's fantastic. How?
Micro-man (producing 14-page schedule from the Inland Revenue): Well, following consultation announced in November 2001, there was provision in the 2002 Budget for sports clubs to register as Community Amateur Sports Clubs and thereby qualify for a range of tax relief including gift aid. In 2003 it was announced these would be increased - something confirmed in the 2004 Budget. I have the forms here and I'm happy to fill them out with you. You might want to skim through this schedule of terms and conditions.
Dave: Did you say conditions?
Micro-man: I have the latest guidance here - it was updated this month. Item 3.3 is on discrimination - you have to let in people of all abilities. Item 3.4 says fees must not be so high as to pose asignificant obstacle to membership or use of facilities. Item 3.5 defines amateur status. Item 3.9 covers cash prizes. You've gone a bit pale, Dave. It's on the web at www.inlandrevenue.gov.uk/casc/cascguidance.
Dave: We award cash prizes.
Micro-man: Don't worry. The guidance gives examples of what is not allowed. For example, it says a bowling club that organises frequent competitions for members with cash prizes subsidised by a brewery would be unlikely to qualify. Anyway back to the form; do you have disabled access?
Dave: We've got a ramp.
Micro-man: Good enough.
Dave: Some of our sports are pretty off-beat. Would we still qualify?
Micro-man: As long as they are on the sports council's list of recognised activities, as detailed in annex 1. It's pretty comprehensive. Arm-wrestling, baton-twirling, pony-trekking, quoits, even skipping are officially recognised; as is bobsleighing, do you offer that?
Dave: Not much call for it in Leamington Spa.
Micro-man: Well, your form is all in order. It is clear that you qualify.
Dave: Blimey, developing all this must have taken you ages.
Micro-man: Yes, but no job is too small when it comes to helping people.
Dave: Hang on. It says here in the footnotes to the Pre-Budget Report that the impact on Treasury receipts of this this measure is "negligible".
Micro-man: It may be negligible to us but it could be life and death to the club. Now if you'll just sign this waiver allowing us to mention you in any future press release on how I've saved British sport. I'll get this in the post for you and you'll soon be rolling in cash.
Micro-man Er, no. But you will have exemption from corporation tax on profits from trading where the turnover is less than £30,000. That exemption was doubled in April.
Dave: But we don't make a profit. We barely break even.
Micro-man: Ah. Well, I must fly. There's a family in Thirsk having trouble getting a basic bank account. (Yells) To infinitesimality and beyond.
Dave: God bless you, Micro-man.