Clause 16 - CSOP schemes: share value limit and share class

Finance (No. 2) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 10:00 am ar 16 Mai 2023.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey Ceidwadwyr, Tatton

With this it will be convenient to discuss clause 17 stand part.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

Clauses 16 and 17 make changes to improve two of the tax-advantaged employee share schemes. Clause 16 increases the generosity and availability of the company share option plan, or CSOP. The changes will help larger companies that have grown beyond the scope of the enterprise management incentive—EMI—scheme, to offer more attractive share-based remuneration, helping them to recruit and retain the key talent that they need to succeed and grow. Clause 17 makes changes to the provisions of the enterprise management incentives. Those changes will simplify the process to grant options under an EMI scheme, and remove some of the administrative burdens on participating companies.

CSOP is available to all UK companies wishing to offer their employees share options, but the EMI scheme is specifically targeted at small and medium enterprises. It helps them to compete with larger firms to attract and retain key talent by bolstering the attractiveness of the share-based remuneration they can offer to their employees. At Budget 2021, the Government published a call for evidence to seek views on whether the EMI scheme should be expanded. At spring statement 2022, they announced that it remains effectively and appropriately targeted. However, they also expanded the review to consider whether CSOP could support companies as they grow beyond the scope of EMI. Following the review, we decided that CSOP should be expanded to make it more generous and accessible to a broader base of companies, including scale-ups that are no longer eligible for EMI.

The Government also listened to those who said that the administrative requirements of the EMI scheme could be improved, particularly in relation to the process of granting options. That is an example for the hon. Member for Aberdeen North of the public-facing nature of our efforts in drafting this Bill. We are making these changes to address those concerns.

The changes made by clause 16 will increase the CSOP employee share options limit from £30,000 to £60,000 and allow future changes to the share option limit to be made by regulations. The “worth having” condition will be removed, allowing more share types, and therefore companies, to be included in the scheme. Clause 17 will remove two administrative requirements within EMI. The first is the requirement to include within the option agreement details of any restrictions on the shares to be acquired under the option, as those restrictions are typically set out in other documents. The second is the requirement for an employee who receives an EMI option to sign a declaration that they meet the EMI working time requirement. The clause will not remove the working time requirement itself, which is a key part of the scheme. These sensible changes will reduce the burdens on companies granting EMI options, saving them time and money and reducing the risk that tax relief is lost due to administrative oversights.

The changes to EMI will support an estimated 4,700 small and medium-sized companies, and an estimated 45,000 employees who are granted EMI options annually. The changes will apply to both schemes granted on or after 6 April 2023, and options granted before 6 April 2023 that have not yet been exercised.

Clause 16 will improve the company share option plan, making it more accessible and generous, which will support businesses to recruit and retain key staff. Clause 17 will improve the enterprise management incentives scheme by simplifying the process to grant options, and will support small and medium-sized businesses to recruit and retain the talent they need to succeed. I commend the clauses to the Committee.

Photo of James Murray James Murray Shadow Financial Secretary (Treasury)

As the Minister said, clause 16 makes changes to the company share option plan, a tax-advantaged employee share scheme available to all UK companies and their employees. It will double the employee share options limit from £30,000 to £60,000; remove the “worth having” condition, which limits which types of shares are eligible for inclusion within a CSOP scheme; and make changes to the share options limit, which will now be achievable through secondary rather than primary legislation.

We understand from the Government’s policy paper that this measure seeks to support companies to attract talent and to grow by expanding the availability and generosity of CSOP. They hope to allow companies to offer their employees a greater stake in the company so employees can share in their employer’s success. The changes will help companies that have grown beyond the scope of the enterprise management incentives scheme to offer more attractive share-based remuneration, supporting them to recruit and retain talent. These changes to CSOP were announced not by the Chancellor at the spring Budget 2023, but by the previous Chancellor in September 2022, so it seems we have found one of the very few remaining measures from last autumn’s so-called growth plan.

Although the Minister has set out the details of what this measure involves, I would like to ask her to explain some of the detail behind its operational impact, set out in HMRC’s policy paper. In the section on operational impact, it says that a small IT change will be required to support delivery of the measure, which will be expected to cost less than £5,000. It also says that, due to the relaxation and increased generosity of the CSOP rules, HMRC will undertake increased compliance activity to ensure CSOP is being used appropriately. It says that additional resource will be dedicated to compliance work to support the effective delivery and implementation of this measure, and that this resource is expected to cost a total of £570,000.

Will the Minister confirm whether the additional resource dedicated to that compliance work will be additional net resource at HMRC, or will it involve any redeployment of resources? If the latter is true, will she explain the expected impact on other work carried out by HMRC? We know from a recent Public Accounts Committee report that £9 billion in tax revenue was lost during the pandemic because 4,000 HMRC staff fighting tax avoidance were redeployed. We therefore believe it is important to ask questions about any such potential redeployment. I look forward to a clear answer from the Minister on that point.

Clause 17 specifically removes two requirements for employer companies when granting enterprise management incentives options. First, the clause removes the requirement to set out in a share agreement the details of any restrictions on the shares that can be acquired. Secondly, it removes the requirement for a company to declare that an employee who receives share options has signed a working time declaration, though it does not, however, remove the working time requirement itself.

As the Minister has explained, the changes will apply to EMI options granted on or after 6 April this year, as well as EMI options granted before 6 April that have not yet been exercised. We know that EMI is a tax-advantage share scheme introduced in 2000, targeted at small and medium-sized companies to help them to recruit and retain key employees. We understand, as the Minister said, that following representations made in response to the call for evidence on EMI launched in 2021, the measure will remove administrative requirements for companies using EMI schemes and simplify the process to grant options, so we will not be opposing the clause. However, I look forward to the Minister’s specific comments in response to my questions on clause 16.

Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 10:15, 16 Mai 2023

Like the Labour party, the SNP will not oppose this measure. These are positive changes. Particularly on EMI, the Government have listened to what companies are asking for, and making some of requested changes is important, particularly when it may not have been the Government’s initial intention to dos so. They have listened to the additional information that has come in and made that change as a result of the response from companies.

There are two sides to what happens in relation to employee share schemes. There is the experience that employers and companies have in relation to whether they are an EMI or a CSOP—it looks like that will be smoother for companies. There is also the experience that the employee has, and whether or not accessing those schemes works for their lives and what they intend to do. Sir George Howarth has put forward a ten-minute rule Bill on the share incentive plan scheme, trying to ensure that lower-income workers can get access to the scheme and that the length of time that an employee is required to stay at the company before they can access their share ownership and benefits is reduced from five years to three years.

We know that the younger workforce these days are moving companies more quickly, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. Younger people are seeing the benefits of working for a number of different companies and building up a significant breadth of experience across companies, and they are more likely to job hop than my parents’ generation. As I said, it is not a bad thing; it is just a change in the way society works. As a result, share ownership schemes, in the way that they are written and organised by the Government, are less attractive to the younger workforce than they were to previous generations.

My key question is: what are the Government’s intentions for employee share ownership? Are they hoping to encourage and increase the amount of employees taking part in such schemes? It seems to me that 4,700 small and medium companies feeling good about EMI access is not all that many, and other companies that could benefit from it that may find there is not much in the way of interest among their employees because of the restrictions. Do the Government hope to make it more attractive for employees, or simply to make it slightly easier and more attractive for employers? If they hope to make it more attractive for employees, are they looking at the current restrictions and restraints on employee share ownership schemes and whether they work for the workforce of today, as opposed to just the workforce of yesterday?

I am incredibly positive about employee share ownership schemes. I do not necessarily think that every single company should use them, and I would certainly not push every single company in that direction. However, all companies that want to use them should have the flexibility to access them without red tape and bureaucracy, so removing some of that is helpful. Companies will be able to use them only if they get buy-in from their employees, which they can do only if the employee sees the benefit of taking part. It would be helpful to have an idea of the Government’s intentions—whether they plan to do any wider consultation or check in on the numbers, whether they have targets for employee share ownership and whether they plan to extend and increase it. It seems to me from clauses 16 and 17 that the Government are positive towards the schemes, but they have not gone quite far enough in increasing accessibility.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

If I may, I will answer the hon. Lady’s questions first. For the two schemes to work, we must help employers and employees to administer them and take advantage of them respectively. This is why we have made the changes that I set out.

We are mindful of the changes in the employment market that the hon. Lady described, and we looked very carefully at the gig economy. The issue is that many workers in the gig economy are not employed for tax purposes, so they fall outside the scope of EMI. Extending eligibility to the self-employed would go beyond the aims and objectives of EMI, because it is about employees having not just an earned income interest, but a full share investment in the business for which they work. There are complexities here, but we are mindful of how the modern economy is taking shape. That is why we will be launching a call for evidence shortly on non-discretionary share schemes, which are open to all employees of companies that opt in. I encourage her and others to participate in that call for evidence when it is launched.

The hon. Member for Ealing North asked about compliance, and he will know that HMRC takes compliance very seriously. Indeed, we have increased funding for compliance activities across the board. We want to ensure not only that officers can deal with particular forms of tax evasion or criminal activity, but that they can offer results across the board. I know that the answer will come to me shortly, but I commit to writing to the hon. Gentleman if it does not fall upon my shoulders before I sit down. I am very willing to take questions or interventions from any colleague on this matter, particularly from colleagues on this side of the House, because we fundamentally believe in entrepreneurship and capitalisation. We believe in spreading prosperity and wealth across the workforce, so it is not just the business owners but the employees that must profit.

Photo of Craig Whittaker Craig Whittaker Assistant Whip

Before my time in this place, I worked for the Dixons stores group in retail. I remember how valuable the share options were to us—they were available to all employees. In fact, Dixons stores group was such a great company to work for that it often gave us free shares. On one occasion, it helped to pay for a very luxurious family holiday. Does the Minister agree that all the Government can do is to facilitate legislation to enable good employers to keep such things going? Skin in the game, as we used to say, is of as much value as money. Feeling part of the company is just as important.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend, who had a very successful business career before he was rightly elected to this place. He makes a really interesting point about spreading the benefits and how they do not just need to be financial, as he says. They can also be about career development. I recently visited John Lewis on Oxford Street. Although it has a different model of—

Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey Ceidwadwyr, Tatton

Minister, if we could come to a conclusion as soon as possible.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

Yes, Ms McVey; the trip to John Lewis will have to come later. I am helpfully informed that, as set out in the TIIN, the additional resource will be dedicated to compliance work to support effective delivery and implementation of the measure. That is expected, as the hon. Member for Ealing North said, to cost a total of £570,000, but we will write to him with further details in due course.

Photo of James Murray James Murray Shadow Financial Secretary (Treasury)

I appreciate the Minister reading out the information from the policy note, which I also read and quoted during my speech. The question I was specifically asking, just to make sure there is no confusion at all, was whether the additional resource that she referred to—the £570,000 resource that is dedicated to compliance work—will be additional net resource at His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, or will it involve any existing resource at HMRC being redeployed? If the latter, will the Minister set out—in writing, I presume—what impact the redeployment will have on other work carried out by HMRC?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

I am mindful that when the hon. Member asked me quite a technical question in a Statutory Instrument Committee recently, he misunderstood my response and raised a point of order that turned out to be wrong. I had to correct him on the record and with a letter to the Library, so I am pleased to be able to write to him on this matter to ensure that I have answered his question and that he understands the answer.

Photo of James Murray James Murray Shadow Financial Secretary (Treasury)

Maybe you’ll get it right this time.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

I got it right. That was the point. He raised a point of order that was wrong.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 16 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 17 ordered to stand part of the Bill.