PUBLISHED: 19:06 01 February 2010 | UPDATED: 15:40 20 February 2013
He loves birdsong and he hates the A40 roadworks. Katie jarvis meets Mike Warburton, the media's favourite commentator. Photography by Mike Charity
"Spend your way out of recession!" is the prevailing Government advice. But the Cotswolds' own tax expert disagrees. "Mine isn't a popular message, but I'd encourage people to save," says Mike Warburton. "Over the last 10 years, we've seen the proportion of income people are saving drop from around 10 percent to pretty well nil. Borrowing is too high and people aren't saving enough for their retirement: we could end up with a large number of poor elderly people."
A regular contributor to Radio 4's Money Box, as well as to the national press, Mike is senior tax partner at leading financial and business consultants Grant Thornton. His ability to simplify complicated fiscal policy is constantly in demand with the media - and he knows how to make money entertaining, too. Mike's broken a series of headline-grabbing stories, from Richard and Judy's court tussle with the Inland Revenue, to a mistake by Government that meant around 150,000 women were being shortchanged on their basic state pension. But in spite of saving his clients millions with his sterling advice, Mike's a man who values a simple life. "I don't need expensive things; I don't drive a fancy car - mine is five years old with scratches down the side. Earning money is simply a way of keeping score."
Although I work in and around the Cotswolds, I actually live in the Forest of Dean, in an old rectory near Newent. I needed to be within commuting distance of Cheltenham, and the Forest is better value for money than many places - but that's not why we chose it. I look for two things in a house: investment potential; and a nice place to live that's peaceful and quiet.
How long have you lived in the Cotswolds?
I volunteered to come here from Northampton 20 years ago, when Grant Thornton opened a Cheltenham office. I noticed from the outset that Cheltenham is a place that attracts outsiders - a large number of businesspeople are not 'local' - and therefore it's very easy to become part of the business community: there are no barriers at all.
What's your idea of a perfect weekend in the Cotswolds?
I'm going to be terribly boring and say I like to be at home. I enjoy a bit of peace at the weekend. I do read a lot of papers; and I spend time researching on the internet - my wife sometimes has to intervene! I also tend to get phone calls from the press on a Saturday morning, depending on what's going on. A good example was during the Tory party conference a year ago: I had a call from Nils Blythe (Today programme business correspondent) saying he'd had the nod that George Osborne was going to announce a rise in the inheritance tax threshold to a million. Nils was surprised when I told him I thought the impact would be dramatic - and, of course, it was; it even derailed Gordon Brown's plans. Many ordinary, hardworking people have been drawn into that category; I met a lady recently whose husband has just died. They started off from very humble beginnings, selling flowers in Covent Garden. They bought their house in London for 4,000 and suddenly, all these years later, she finds herself in the inheritance tax bracket.
If money were no object, where would you live in the Cotswolds?
Probably where I am. I don't have a hankering to go and live in Cirencester, beautiful as it is. If I had a lot of money given to me, I'd invest it: property, equities, bonds. I'd go for a general spread, and I advise my clients to do the same. Ethically? Well, I wouldn't invest in tobacco companies or arms manufacturers.
Where are you least likely to live in the Cotswolds?
I'm going to duck that one. Why upset people? It's a bit like Jeremy Clarkson and Rotherham.
Where's the best pub in the area?
I sometimes go to the Glasshouse on May Hill. A pub's the place to hear what people think: they sound off when they've had a few drinks. Certainly, the recession is impacting on everyone now. You'll hear the wealthy worrying about their investments; the rest are concerned about making ends meet. Will their children make it onto the property ladder? Will their aging relatives be able to afford care-home fees?
And the best place to eat?
I like the Corse Lawn House Hotel.
What would you do for a special occasion?
I don't really go in for special occasions. I hate spending money. I hate shopping. I only buy shoes once every five years, and then I buy three pairs at a time, always Loake's. I used to buy them discount from a shop in Northampton that has seconds. I like earning money and I like saving money but I don't like spending it, which makes me sound like a miser.
What's the best thing about the Cotswolds?
Beautiful countryside; it's not overcrowded; and it's very welcoming.
I like getting up in the morning and listening to the birds singing in the garden - I've got a lot of bird-feeders to attract them - and at night there are several owls which call to each other. Radio 4's Today programme did a survey on the sounds people most enjoy, and birdsong came top: pleasure for free.
... and the worst?
The A40 road-works. My objection is not just that they've held me up every morning; but that they've cost about 10 million and I don't know what we've achieved from it. I cannot bear waste.
I also hate litter.
And I hate sloppy language. I don't mean swearing - although I don't like it - but sloppy use of language. We are extremely lucky to have been born in a country with a wonderful language, used by businesses across the world. You'll often hear on TV or radio a woman living in poverty in the middle of Africa speaking English beautifully in a way that shames us, and I think that is such a tragedy. It's partly due to the media: language has been allowed to degrade on our radio stations; and it's partly the influence of American television and films.
Which shop could you not live without?
I quite like Waitrose in Stroud.
What's the most underrated thing about the region?
The Forest of Dean is underrated, and I'm delighted it's not crowded as a result. In fact, if the A40 road-works have done any good at all, it's to have stopped the Forest becoming Yuppie-ville. I'm still surrounded by small farmers who've lived here for generations; I've got neighbours who've never been to London in their lives. They bring a richness to the area.
What would be a three course Cotswold meal?
I sometimes shop at Budgens in Newent because of their local produce - I like seeing the food miles. I'd have a simple meal of beef from my neighbour, Phil Williams; May Hill wine from the Three Choirs Vineyard up the road; and cheese from Charles Martell.
What's your favourite view in the Cotswolds?
When I wake up in the morning, I look straight out at May Hill from my window. Or, if I've been to London, I like to get to Birdlip and look across Cheltenham to May Hill, which is where I'm heading.
What's your quintessential Cotswolds village and why?
Probably Bourton-on-the-Water because it's so beautiful, with the stream running through. But the advantage of where I live is that I don't get a lot of tourists, except for daffodil time.
Name three basic elements of the Cotswolds
Beautiful scenery; history; and they're welcoming.
What's your favourite Cotswolds building and why?
I like the Queen's Hotel. I moved to our Bristol office in April last year, but for 20 years I worked in Imperial Square and looked out at the Queen's. Strangely enough, working in the Square once led me to uncover a scam. It happened when one of my clients queried with me a letter he'd had from the Inland Revenue, asking him to complete a form with all his details. I noticed the address was 33 Imperial Square, and I knew for a fact there wasn't an Inland Revenue office there. So at lunchtime, I knocked on the door and found two very nice ladies who told me it was a mail forwarding service. Their instructions were to send letters on to a gentleman in Nigeria. I knew it was a great story so I rang the Sunday Telegraph, who took a picture of me outside this bogus tax office. The police visited and it was shut down.
What would you never do in the Cotswolds?
Drop litter. I go around with a bag, picking it up.
Starter homes or executive properties?
Both. The village where I live has an aging population and not enough housing for young people. You need to have a mix - that's the secret of a community.
If you lived abroad, what would you take to remind you of the Cotswolds?
A recording of birdsong from my garden.
What would you change about the Cotswolds or banish from the area?
I'm a hypocrite: I'd love to have fewer cars, but I want mine.
What's the first piece of advice you'd give to somebody new to the Cotswolds?
Start saving! I did a piece for BBC Radio Gloucestershire in Cheltenham, recently, stopping people at random and asking if they had any savings. One said she didn't save because she was only 40; others said they couldn't because they were having trouble making ends meet as it was. And then I came across a woman living on benefits because she's disabled. But she was still saving for her child, and that made me feel quite humble.
And which book should they read?
Cider with Rosie, which I haven't yet read. If it were a financial book, I'd recommend JK Galbraith's The Great Crash, 1929. This depression isn't going to be as great; it probably won't even be as bad as 1974 and I remember 1974. We were working a three-day week, with litter piling up on the streets and the dead not being buried. We're not in that situation, and the reason we're not is because governments and central banks around the world are talking to each other. We're getting coordinated action; we're not going into protectionist measures, which is what went wrong in 1929.
If you were invisible for a day, where would you go and what would you do?
I'd go to the Cabinet Office and listen to the hypocrisy of politicians - all of them. People don't realise how true Yes Minister was.
To whom or what should there be a Cotswolds memorial?
To the Gloucester Regiment. They've lost their cap badge, so let's make sure we celebrate those brave men in some other way.
There's still a lot of philanthropy nowadays, which I see in my clients. They want to put something back into the community, and very often it's by helping young people with their businesses. There is a serious danger we're going to have a lost generation, with many young people never having role models or guidance: so many don't get a good start in life through no fault of their own. I was fortunate enough to have two enormous advantages: loving and supportive parents; and an identical twin brother, Peter. As a child, I always had a best friend.
What attitude sums up the Cotswolds?
Caring. In fact, the media work I do is part of my attempt to give something back. I've always thought it important to give guidance to people who can't afford accountants - or at least to point them in the right direction. I get half a dozen calls a week from people who read the papers; the vast majority are not going to become clients - they want to check a point - but it's important that I give them a few minutes of my time.
With whom would you most like to have a cider?
Either Prince Charles and Camilla, because I think he's a good guy who talks a lot of sense - and I want him to carry on speaking out.
Or Adam Smith: I'd ask him what he thinks about the way we're handling economic policy today.
I've devoted my life to saving tax for people who, in many cases, can afford to pay it, and I occasionally ask myself if that's been the right thing to do. But I generally take the view that my clients can spend their money better than the Government can. The danger of government is that it's all too easy to spend other people's money.