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Crickhowell: the town that went offshore

January 22, 2016

“Either we all pay tax, or none of us do!”

There are just three things I want to say about The Town That Took on the Taxman, the show originally trailed as the “Town that Went Offshore“.  I missed it when it was on BBC2 (9pm on Wednesday 20th) but caught up with it on iplayer.  If you haven’t seen it yet, I recommend doing the same.

First of all, I enjoyed it enormously.  We have seen the same material before: the production team fancies a quick weekend somewhere sunny so they pick their tax havens carefully.  Oh look, there are supposed to be thousands of companies in that little house with all the brass plates on the door… Yes, but this time the explanation of the Dutch Sandwich avoidance scheme was done by ordinary small traders from the Welsh town of Crickhowell.

Which is, really, my second point.  Arise, tax muggles!  The USP for this programme was that the avoidance scheme was devised and operated by a group of ordinary people, not tax specialists.  Crickhowell is, apparently, a small town with a unique high street ecology made up of local small traders, not multinational chains (except for Boots, who at least they managed to shame into joining in with the Christmas lights).  But by the end of the show they were also tax campaigners.

The production team set them up with meetings with tax professionals who explained how multinationals reduce their corporation tax bills with items like payments for intellectual property.  But it seems to have been the small traders themselves who came up with the idea of creating intellectual property in the form of the Fair Tax Town brand and then parking it in the Isle of Mann company they’d opened.

In other words, tax really doesn’t have to be taxing: ordinary people are perfectly able to understand tax schemes and issues when they are motivated to understand them and have someone able to communicate with them clearly.  HMRC’s stakeholder model involves talking to “stakeholder” groups: usually to tax professionals in accountancy and law firms and those employed by industry groups.  What they need to do, in my view, is talk to small traders like the Crickhowell independents, too.  One of the main grievances the group raised with Jim Harra was, indeed, the HMRC “relationship managers” large businesses have and why aren’t small traders treated to the same level of customer service.  Money, is the simple answer.  But it’s also an excuse: HMRC’s customer service offering needs a really good re-think in my view.  Good on the Crickhowell team if they can disrupt the system enough to get that done.  (And, bring back the Small Firms Impact Test!)

Finally, the elephant in the room.  You didn’t notice?  Well, there was an engaging team of Crickhowellians throughout the programme, men and women, so I suppose you could be forgiven.  But the presenter’s constant reference to “the taxman” grated, and made me notice. That they spoke to tax barrister David Quentininvestigative journalist Tom Bergin, author of The Great Tax Robbery Richard BrooksJim Harra, an actual taxmansceptical voice Richard Murphy , tax barrister Jolson Maugham

You see the common thread? #wherearethewomen?  It’s not as if Women in Tax are hard to find!

One comment

  1. […] Tax simplification and Better Regulation « Crickhowell: the town that went offshore […]



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