Mad Monbiot

George Monbiot

Geroge Monbiot, hosted on The Guardian

Guardian ecology columnist George Monbiot has listed his earnings and savings and said all journalists should do the same. I am not sure if he is just showing off about how much he earns – more than £60,000 from the Guardian – but he cannot be serious.

Journalists should feel no more compunction to reveal their earnings and savings than anyone else. And it would be a mountain of work for the many of us who are freelance and such scrambled data would prove meaningless. I’ll have a go at explaining why.

Monbiot’s money

Monbiot listed that he was paid £62,007 by The Guardian and £40,000 by Penguin for a book. He said he received £5,400 in rent from two lodgers and has two savings accounts – £12,971 with Smile, and £1,200 in Santander.

So we can only assume he has no pension because his website states: “I have no shareholdings or investment in any other company. Apart from the house in which I live, I have no other properties.” He specifically does not give his costs and net income.

My money

I don’t see why I should do this but here’s my best attempt at it (and, I accept, at equal risk of showing off).

Wheal Associates is run by my wife and me. Last year (to Jan 2011) the company accounts, filed at Companies House, show roughly a turnover of £130,000, costs of £60,000 and a pre-tax profit of £70,000. After tax profit was £55,000. The directors’ salaries totalled £12,000.

All of this could be scrutinised in detail at Companies House. That is easy. Now comes the difficult part – how much did I get and from whom?

The company sent about 120 invoices – an average of ten a month – to 20 different clients. The list of clients or how much we got from each is not in the accounts. I guess I could calculate it, but I don’t have the time.

Personal income

I also cannot say with any certainty how much was for me and not my wife. For some individual invoices it would be possible to identify which of the two of us did the work, but many include collaborative projects where we both worked on the same document, for example.

The point is that this exercise is fine if you get £60,000 from one client and not much else – in fact, I’d expect the HMRC to redefine Monbiot as a Guardian employee and insist he be taxed at source.

Compared with most freelances, we are lucky to work on large projects where we bill infrequently for big sums – though like most freelances, we have a few invoices in every year for relatively small sums.

Many freelances will be sending invoices for less than £500, often less than £200 and some for less than £100. They will take small chunks of work from umpteen clients. My wife and I both started that way. It is also how you pick up new clients that you hope might grow.

It is not only complex and time-consuming to list all these, it is easy to see that it might be embarrassing. There are many journalists who don’t earn £16,000, let alone £60,000. Why should they have to reveal that in public?

Hospitality

And I love the arrogance with which Monbiot says he will list all the hospitality he receives. I wish I had received hospitality worth listing. I spent money trying to get work. I took people out for lunch, bought the drinks in pubs and so on. And those expenses are not tax deductable.

Although it’s frankly none of your business (or anyone’s) my wife and I had no savings but we both paid in to pensions, which, post-crash were worth less than they were two years earlier. We had – still have – a mortgage and no rental income.

I’m not opposed to Monbiot’s silly idea because I have something to hide but precisely because it is silly. It is bureaucratic and ill thought out. It will be difficult for freelance journalists to comply and the public will find it difficult to make head or tail of the information anyway.

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