AS ministers on both sides of the border draw up budget plans an entrepreneur’s experience provides a reminder that tax changes can have unexpected consequences.


Paul Smith.



What is your business called?

Touchstone Education.

Where is it based?


What services does it offer?

We run courses and seminars across the UK offering training and advice in property investment and wealth management.

To whom does it sell?

A broad range of customers. The only thing they have in common is that they have some money – usually savings or perhaps tied up in a pension – which they plan to invest in property.

What is its turnover?

£3m this year.

How many employees?


When was it formed?


Why did you take the plunge?

I had spent my career climbing the corporate ladder. I grew up in Yorkshire and Hertfordshire, the son of academics and, after leaving school, I became a management trainee/engineer with Ford who sponsored me through my first degree. I quickly moved into a junior management role and continued through the ranks as factory manager at Coca Cola Schweppes, who sponsored me through my MBA, then operations director with Whitbread. In 2000, I moved to Scotland as managing director of Allied Distillers in Dumbarton. After working there for several years, I began to question the quality of my life and my work life balance. It seemed to me most of my time was taken up working in a job I didn’t really enjoy and I saw too little of my family. Although I’d reached a senior level, I didn’t feel the world I inhabited was truly meritocratic.I decided I’d rather work for myself.

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

Allied Distillers was offering redundancy to some senior managers with very generous severance packages and I decided to take advantage. I was then aged 40. Having moved house several times through work, my wife and I both had an interest in, and knowledge of, the residential property market, undertaking substantial refurbishments to increase property value. The house we now live in was formerly a care home. I’d also dabbled in property investment when I was younger. It occurred to me that with some seed capital, I could make money investing in properties. I knew there were risks attached but I was prepared to take them.

What was your biggest break?

The realisation that I could make more money buying commercial rather than residential property. During the pre-2008 boom years, when residential property prices increased by anything up to 30 per cent a year, it was a hugely attractive market both for buy-to-let landlords and buy-to-sell developers. The crash put paid to that and many people in the industry vanished. One of the first commercial properties I bought was a shop unit in Helensburgh, near to where I live, and I recognised the commercial property market hadn’t been affected in the same way. I realised I could use my experience and knowledge to offer courses that would provide value.

What was your worst moment?

Losing one of our children very young. We are blessed with six strong heathly children and a grandchild. I know we are very lucky. None of us live forever and it strengthened my determination to achieve everything I possibly could with my life to honour those around me. It saddens me to hear people say “I’m bored” or “There’s nothing to do….” Literally wasting their lives. The quote from William Wallace I find true: “Every man dies, but not every man truly lives.” Losing Junior made my determination to live my life implacable.

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

If I have a core skill, it’s the ability to simplify things, both for my customers and the people I work with. I enjoy taking what can seem like a very complex problem and stripping it apart.

What do you least enjoy?

Not selling. I know we have a good product and it frustrates me when we’re not able to convince potential customers of that. I don’t get despondent because I know it’s part and parcel of business. Too many business owners, if they haven’t managed to sell to someone, automatically conclude there must be something wrong with their product. I know if I don’t have faith in my product, my customers won’t either.

What are your ambitions for the firm?

I feel we’re only scratching the surface of the demand for the courses we offer. In the past couple of years, following Government measures aimed at penalising buy-to-let landlords, by ending tax relief on investment and raising stamp duty, we’ve seen a huge movement of investors into commercial property.

What could the Westminster and/or Scottish governments do that would help?

Both could offer more incentives for entrepreneurs and risk takers.The Scottish Government seems too focused on raising and collecting taxes rather than investing in Scotland as a business. The Land and Buildings Transaction Tax was one of the first new tax-raising powers granted under the Smith Commission and the instinct of ministers was to grab as much cash as they could. Because rates were set at impossibly ambitious levels, investors voted with their feet and upper band property sales have ground to a halt, meaning less revenue for the Holyrood exchequer. I’d like to see more tax incentives offered to businesses and fewer punitive levies.

How do you relax?

I have a life from which I don’t need a holiday. If I had just one more week to live I’d do nothing different. I love every minute of every day.