BRISTOW HELICOPTERS: Cutting services, aggressive tax avoidance, and five big questions for HMG to answer

Three days after The Slog revealed the bizarre details behind the ‘privatisation’ of  the search and rescue helicopter service, the Daily Telegraph comes up with exclusive additional dodginess. Below, The Slog adds still more.


Believe it or not, this is Transport Minister Patrick McLughlan as a young man. He is picture here against a backdrop of the new 20% faster Bristow Helicopters fleet. Believe it or not, I made the second part up.

72 hours after The Slog’s demolition of the Bristow Helicopters deal, the Daily Telegraph reports that the new fleet size under the ‘privatisation’ will be only 45% of the old one.  While the new craft are reputed to be 20% faster than the existing Sea Kings, Richard Drax, Conservative MP for South Dorset condemned the cuts, saying they would have a severe impact on safety.

Showing remarkable logic for an MP, Mr Drax points out that “However fast it is, one helicopter can only be in one place at one time.” That’s as good a deconstruction of bollocks as you’ll ever read: slash amount of helicopters by 55%, increase speed by 20%, result – unhappiness. Ask the Fire Service, and they’ll fill you in on the detail.

Meanwhile, as promised previously at The Slog, herewith an interesting Companies House entry about Bristow’s Holding Company:

‘Bristow Aviation Holdings Limited have total assets of £0 plus total liabilities of £1,367,206,000. They owe £22,652,000 to creditors and are due £129,985,000 from trade debtors. Last year, they paid £-14,933,000 in tax and had £107,489,000 in cash reserves. According to their last financial report, the business made a gross profit of £75,029,000. Their book value is £-457,369,000, and the value of their shareholders’ fund is £-448,690,000.’

Even the bloody European Union does better than zero assets and liabilities of £1.4bn. Also, owing an eye-watering £22.6 billion with only £130 million due from creditors must be a world record….especially when they somehow miraculously have £107m in cash reserves.

It also seems that the HMRC owes them £15m in tax rebates. Lucky them.

And finally, the company is worth minus £457m, and the shareholders’ fund minus £450m. That must make for some lively AGMs.

Now before some smartarsed, goggle-eyed and humourless bean-counter points out to me the reason why holding companies write up this kind of sh*t, allow me to point out that I did not just fall off the Christmas tree. These accounts have aggressive US tax avoidance scam written all over them. As usual, they bear no relation to reality.

I merely wish to ask these simple questions, and get some answers:

1. Exactly how much tax did Bristow Aviation Holdings pay into the Treasury’s depleted coffers last year? How much will it cough up this year?

2. How much tax will each of six lucky directors pay in tax as and when they sell these ‘negative value’ shareholdings?

3. If the answers are as I suspect, how can HMG condemn aggressive tax avoidance on the one hand, and then sell the search and rescue service to just such an avoider on the other?

4. Is not the speed/numbers thing an open-and-shut case of shortcutting privatisers taking risks with deserving lives?

5. Please could I buy a million Class A shares in Bristow, and have them pay me £30m?

I despise tax accountancy used for greedy purposes. Society is more important than shareholders. I will be a dog with a bone on this one. Over to you, Patrick McLoughlan.

If you enjoyed this little tale, you will probably also enjoy the exploitation of a military grave