h1

Simple

May 17, 2016

The guidance for the Civil Service on the so-called “purdah” period before the EU referendum is contained here, in the letter from Sir Jeremy Heywood to Sir Nicholas Macpherson dated 23 February.  It is slightly different from the usual election guidance in that it acknowledges that Ministers can be arguing either side of the case and still expect support (support in the sense of provision of information and services, not in the sense of  cheerleading or even agreement) from their Departments.

Consultations on tax changes are usually in the “don’t publish” category before elections (“government consults on whether to give us all £5000 after the election.  And a pony!” doesn’t go down well with the other parties, after all.)  But equally, this is the time of year you would be hoping they would publish the batch of any consultations coming out of the Budget, so that people have time to look at them before they go on holiday and get a response in before the Autumn Statement.

So what have we got?  Not, frankly, a lot.  The first date is the closure date, not the publication date, of course.

(plus the one about licensed tobacconists I have already briefly discussed here, a purely HMT consultation about corporate contributions to grassroots sports, and a joint DCLG, HMT and VOA consultation on business rates and revaluation)

Is that the right number of consultations for this time of year, with a referendum on the horizon?  Too many?  Not enough?  Who knows!  But it puts an idea into my head.

First of all, enough with the fiddle-fiddling around with bits of the mechanism, like a hobbyist playing with his hi-fi.  It doesn’t matter where you position the speakers, where you put your chair, whether you can hear a difference between the CDs and the vinyl and whether or not you carefully place a sixpence on the record arm.  Stop playing with the system for a moment and just listen to the music!

The tax system, in this analogy, is a complex orchestral piece that will never be finished and never be perfect.  It’s creaking along, and all you are doing by fiddling with it is stopping it from falling over altogether.  Maybe instead of a “purdah” we could have a self-denying ordinance and simply Stop Changing The Tax System for a while: how about, for the rest of this Parliament, say?  Give it a rest!  Listen to the silence!

Yes, I know HMRC and the Treasury will argue they need to stop up the holes that busy people keep nibbling away at the walls.  I call bullshit.

Let’s find out how much it costs to pass a piece of legislation.  Yes, I know all about administrative burden, but I’m not talking about that.  I’m talking about “legislative burden”, if you like.  How much does it cost us, the taxpayer, to have HMRC issue a consultative document and read and analyse the responses, for Ministers to reach a decision on whether or not to go ahead and give instructions to continue, for MPs to sit in Parliament and discuss it, for the building not to fall down round their heads while they debate it, for Hansard to report it, for Parliament TV to broadcast it, for it to be printed onto archival quality paper and on vellum and for someone to walk round to Buck House and wait while her Majesty puts her signature on it, for it to be printed and put on sale and put onto the internet…

Let’s look at the TIINs.  Let’s add the legislative burden to the administrative burden and then take away the exchequer impact, and let’s think of a number.  Say, what, ten million quid a year?  Let’s simply make it a rule that no tax legislation will be put before parliament unless the TIIN shows that, after netting off the legislative and administrative burden, the change will bring in at least ten million quid a year.

Tax simplification?  It would be a start.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: