DAVID Moulsdale, the millionaire Scottish entrepreneur behind the Optical Express chain, has taken a £24 million hit in his accounts just filed with Companies House, the result of a protracted tax battle with HM Revenue & Customs – but he claims he will beat the tax man.

In spite of the fact that DCM Holdings, Mr Moulsdale’s Cumbernauld-based operation, which controls several hundred outlets in 10 countries, last year won its tribunal case over the way it calculated the partial exemption of VAT, the UK tax authorities have since contested the decision and the case remains under appeal.

At the same time, DCM, whose activities include laser eye-surgery clinics, private dentistry, healthcare services and cosmetic surgical and non-surgical treatments, as well as the core optical division, has lodged its own appeal in an effort to obtain further VAT exemptions.

Many NHS-related organisations receive “exempt income”, which is intended to result in the repayment of a proportion of VAT that has previously been recovered for contracted-out health services and, for opticians, the main input tax attributable to the resale of goods such as frames, lenses, and contact lenses.

DCM said its dispute centred on Optical Express’s treatment of tax on sales discounts.

Mr Moulsdale could not be reached for comment yesterday.

However, an insider at the firm said the provision was taken “as a matter of good business prudence”, and Mr Moulsdale fully expects to “write back” the amount at a later date.

Meanwhile, the latest accounts reveal that the charge from the dispute drove the company deep into the red during the 2009 calendar year, although it moved back into the black during the following 12 months.

DCM posted a pre-tax profit of £6.9m for the year to the end of January 2011, compared with a loss of £21.8m the year before.

Turnover at the group also recovered to £204.8m, compared with £201.1m last time.

The accounts also show that the group booked a £1.5m impairment charge and further £8m charge for so-called onerous leases.

Writing in the latest annual accounts, the directors noted: “Our strategy is to grow turnover and ultimately profitability in all areas of the business through expansion, both nationally and internationally, while remaining committed to the highest level of patient satisfaction, safety and well-being.

“Difficult economic conditions, combined with an increase in the UK VAT rate and prolonged snow and freezing weather in January and December has made 2010 a particularly challenging year. Despite this, the group has seen turnover increase year on year.”

They added: “It is difficult to predict accurately what 2011 will bring to the group as it is still uncertain what effect the Government’s austerity measures will have on consumer spending, combined with another increase in the UK VAT rate to 20% and potential pressures on interest rates.”

Nonetheless, the company said it intends to focus this year on reducing its debt and seeking out potential acquisitions in the UK and overseas.

Meanwhile, the accounts also reveal that the salary of the highest-paid director, assumed to be Mr Moulsdale, came in more or less flat at £500,600 for the period, excluding pension contributions, compared with £500,692 for the year before.