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New publication

April 1, 2021

You may have wondered where Tiintax has been for these past few months. You might have wondered if, like many other people in lockdown, I was simply sitting stupefied in front of daytime tv while eating my own weight in Fortnum’s coffee creams.

Au contraire, I can now reveal that I have, in fact, been working on a Secret Project for the Treasury. I was contacted this time last year and offered a major project which I could work on from home as a freelance consultant. I had the advice of several stakeholders in HMRC and HMT and, after suitable secrecy oaths were administered, from external stakeholders in the accountancy and legal professions, three Eng Lit PhD candidates and much of #TaxTwitter.

The project involved a complete rewrite of the Taxes Acts into a format which is much simpler and pleasant to read but also has the advantage of using rhythm and rhyme to make the concept and detail easily accessible and memorable to the lay reader. I can announce that the result of the project is the publication next week of the entire UK tax code re-written in Hiawatha metre.

This involved many practical and ethical decisions of course: the initial draft of the first line went

Pay your fucking taxes, people!

There were several editorial meetings about the use of obscenity and the edited version went

Everybody, pay your taxes!

In the end, however, I took the editorial decision to avoid the second person so the bulk of the text avoids referring to the taxpayer directly and in a more neutral, non-judgemental mode the final version of the first line now reads

Everyone must pay their taxes.

This took several months, but once the initial parameters were agreed and the first few hundred lines whipped into shape I was largely left alone to get on with the writing, turning it in via a super secure Treasury terminal which had to be air lifted to Yorkshire and installed at dead of night in a purpose-built shed at the bottom of my garden.

I confess to a rather mischievous desire to see what I could get away with at times – none of the clauses in my contract obliged me to make the tax code shorter, only simpler and more comprehensible. So for example I am particularly pleased with some of the language in the VAT stanzas (which, much against my better judgement, take up approximately seventeen million lines of verse in their current form). An example might help illustrate the shape of the problem:

Is a Jaffa cake a biscuit?

Leave it on the table, test it.

Cakes go hard but biscuits soften.

VAT is charged on cakes – no, biscuits –

No, on both, except for chocolate

Biscuits (what a silly system!)

The inclusion of the writer’s commentary may be startling to the professional reader in the first instance, but I am confident that, when the general public find themselves able to read and understand tax legislation in plain English and find helpful signposting to the dafter elements, there will be little political interest in further obfuscation of the intent, option appraisal and impact assessment of tax legislation. TIINs will be much clearer and more informative in future and indeed the second edition of The Lay of British Taxes may be several – perhaps many! – volumes shorter than the first.

All 437 volumes are available to purchase from next week, at a reasonable £38,500 for the complete set. (Disclaimer: I should reveal that I receive a royalty of approximately 1/42p per volume.) However a podcast of the entire work is available free of charge on the internet where various volumes are read by Benedict Cumberbatch, Stephen Fry, Helen Mirren, Lenny Henry, Rege-Jean Page and numerous other luminaries of stage and screen. The readings will also be broadcast as CBeebies bedtime stories for the next year and a half, in the hope of growing a new generation of informed and empowered citizen stakeholders.

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