2 Jan 2013

Allez via Calais! UK woos French with lower tax

London is luring French companies with the promise of lower taxes, as millionaires including musician Jean-Michel Jarre threaten to flee President Hollande’s controversial tax on top earners.

Rich French are threatening to flee Francois Hollande's top rate tax (Reuters)

Millionaire composer Jean-Michel Jarre has become the latest high-profile French businessman to consider moving to the UK from France following Francois Hollande‘s introduction of a “millionaire’s tax”.

Mr Jarre visited Downing Street this week to discuss plans to relocate his business to east London as the government continues to court French businesses.

Prime Minister David Cameron has previously declared he would “roll out the red carpet” to French companies, potentially turning the UK into a French tax haven. He claimed that the tax they pay here will “pay for our health service, and our schools and everything else”.

France is a country of civil servants, it does not encourage entrepreneurs. Didier Delmer, businessman

Downing Street confirmed that Jean Michel Jarre met with officials about a move to Tech City, London’s media and technology hub. However, Mr Cameron was not present and a Downing Street spokeswoman stressed that businesses from across the world were being targeted to grow Tech City, not just France.

“There are a growing number of businesses and entrepreneurs from across the world who want to be part of the technology cluster in east London and we are keen for that to continue,” she told Channel 4 News.

“We are not targeting French businesses directly, we have a global reach and are looking at getting US companies to come use London too.”

A number of leading business figures have left France for London since the introduction of Hollande’s tax on the country’s wealthiest people. He has introduced income tax of 75 per cent on incomes of more than 1m euros.

Bruno Ladriere, managing director of Paris-based private equity firm Axa Private Equity, and managing director of CVC Capital Patners Bertrand Meunier have both moved to the UK in recent months.

Alain Afflelou, who runs an international chain of opticians and has a personal fortune of £147million, moved to London last year but said it was because his company was “seeking new markets” and claimed it was “by no means tax exile”.

Tech City appeal

Didier Delmer runs a business helping French entrepreneurs set up in the UK. He said he has seen a 50 per cent rise in business in recent months and helped 187 businessmen come to the UK last year.

Mr Delmer explained that many French people have been frustrated for a long time and were waiting to leave the country. He said Francois Hollande’s election gave them a push to leave.

“The UK understands the challenges for the future, not just David Cameron but even Gordon Brown was pushing the country forward,” he explained.

“France is a country of civil servants, it does not encourage entrepreneurs. People moving here want to move to Shoreditch and set up in Tech City, where there are tax benefits.”

Read more: Why France's super rich fear Hollande's budget

Mr Delmer’s company takes entrepreneurs through the process of establishing their business in London, helping nearly 20 clients a month make the move from France and a business culture he claims stifles enterprise.

“Why would you stay? In France the policies are going against even the middle class. People can pay 40 per cent less tax in the UK.”

London can now be considered France’s sixth biggest city with an estimated 400,000 French people living in the city. The city is even represented in parliament by socialist MP Axelle Lemaire, as part of the newly created northern Europe constituency.

London recruitment agency Astbury Martin, specialising in highly-paid banking jobs, has seen a 51 per cent rise in applications from French jobseekers, while more than 400 luxury French properties have been put on the market since the tax hike.