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Off Balance: Financial Director’s funnies

Chilly response to tax
When is tax ‘fun’? Perhaps when you create constructs that cut your bills to bugger-all, or perhaps even sort out a nice little rebate. These options are often frowned upon, though, or they’re outright illegal.
For chill-focused retailer Iceland, the £2.5m ‘fun tax’ bill it received for sending 800 staff to Disney World in Florida was anything but fun.
Iceland had a barney with Her Madge’s Revenue & Customs over the trip, which the retailer claimed was a tax-deductible business expense. The taxman said it was a holiday for the staff, and therefore a benefit-in-kind.
Iceland chief Malcolm Walker revealed that the bill had been settled, and Iceland was ‘very happy’ with the outcome. Perhaps HMRC decided it wasn’t a Mickey Mouse claim after all.

Santa levy sleighs
It must be the season for prefixing ‘tax’ with a cheeky noun or adjective. Not only did Debenhams FD Simon Herrick quit shortly after another profit warning at the department store chain, but he also made just as many headlines for adding a ‘Santa tax’ to suppliers – not something they were looking forward to receiving in their proverbial stockings.
Eight days before Christmas, Herrick sent key suppliers a letter asking for a 2.5% discount on their supply prices. Not really in the spirit of the season of goodwill to all men, mused Off Balance, and not actually a ‘tax’ either – but you can’t let that stand in the way of a good headline.

Nothing useful to say?
Efforts to deal with trimming the Metropolitan Police’s finance, HR and IT budget took a bizarre twist when an interim restructuring expert quit following allegations that he made a racially inappropriate comment during a meeting.
A report by the Daily Mail says that Steve Hodgson, an experienced HR, payroll and shared service change management professional, who had been called in to help make hundreds of millions of pounds in cost savings, allegedly used what Off Balance would charitably call an ‘old-fashioned and inappropriate’ expression in front of colleagues. He left the meeting immediately, later issuing a statement saying he didn’t recall making the comment, but couldn’t be sure that he hadn’t.
Off Balance lives by the motto: ‘The less said in meetings, the better.’

Child’s play
It’s practically a chapter from Freakonomics. If you’re a toy retailer, and selling fewer toys than before, is it due to the product mix? Price point? Economic conditions? Poor advertising and marketing?
For Toys R Us CFO Clay Creasey, it comes down to looking at the fundamentals: there just aren’t as many kids around as before.
A declining US birth rate through 2008 and 2009 – following a record high in 2007 – has hit 4th and 5th birthday prezzies and subsequently Christmas gifts.
“That mouse is entering the toy-buying part of the snake, if you will,” he reportedly said on a Q3 earnings call, according to BuzzFeed Business.
We don’t know how Toys R Us have managed their stock levels, but Off Balance pictures rows of forlorn Woodys and Buzz Lightyears having to make up their own adventures.

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