Archive for the ‘Bit of politics’ Category


Good news

December 2, 2016

You couldn’t make it up.  A small band of angry women, about to lose their small businesses because of a piece of legislation that they knew nothing about till it was right in their face, angry that the legislation had been made by people who knew nothing about them and hadn’t done the due diligence to find out they even existed, take on the might of HMRC and the EU tax authorities…

… and win!  Yes, the VATMOSS campaign has won its objective of having a sensible threshold to protect small businesses and allow them to grow.  Here’s the press release from the EU yesterday:

To simplify VAT rules for startups and micro-businesses selling online, VAT on cross-border sales under €10,000 will be handled domestically. SMEs will benefit from simpler procedures for cross-border sales of up to €100,000 to make life easier;

The full proposal is here, and there’s a rather good impact assessment here.  Let’s just take a moment to sit back, pop a bottle of our favourite beverage and, well, rejoice!

Now… it’s only a proposal at present, not settled legislation.  So the usual advice is to lobby your MP, your MEP and anyone else you can think of, in order to get it through ECOFIN and into practice.

Question: will the Brexit brouhaha make a lobbying effort from the UK more, or less, likely to succeed???




September 16, 2016

The House of Lords are looking into the process of law making.  I imagine a submission consisting of my previous post and the suggestion they just stop doing it for a while might not be entirely welcome?  But I can’t say I’m not tempted…


Tax Simplification: A Modest Proposal

September 12, 2016

There’s to be another Autumn Statement at the end of November.  Oh joy.

Here’s an idea.  Stop having an annual Finance Bill, an annual Budget, and an annual Autumn Statement.  Replace them with some kind of “state of the union” style speech telling us how we’re doing (and there goes the Autumn Statement), a Financial Statement – a set of annual accounts and details of routine uprating of allowances etc (and there goes the Budget), and, best of all, a Tax Bill that the Chancellor has to bid for space for alongside all the other bids for Parliamentary time that are out there, so the temptation to mess with the edges is abolished along with the Finance Bill.

Seriously.  Just stop letting Treasury and HMRC policy wonks float their favourite ideas as “budget starters” and do away with the thousand page Finance Bills.  Maybe you’d end up with a Tax Bill about every year anyway… and maybe you wouldn’t.  A moratorium on tax changes till after Brexit?  How about it?



A quick note on citizen stakeholders. And, tents.

September 5, 2016

I bloody hate the term “stakeholder”.  It started off as a reasonable sort of idea, that a business doesn’t just have to answer to its shareholders but has a wider responsibility to its customers, employees, suppliers and to society in general.  The current usage of stakeholder, so far as I can see, is to mean ‘anyone who might affect or be affected by an organisation’, in other words it’s a word in danger of becoming almost meaningless.  Unless you’re HMRC.

Yes, HMRC had its annual “stakeholder conference” today.  Yes, yes, I know it’s going to look like I’m having a massive attack of Lyndon B Johnson’s tent syndrome because I wasn’t invited, but bear with me.  Whoever they invite (here’s the list from the first one, in 2013) they can’t hope to include everyone.

But they bloody should include everyone, because we are all stakeholders in – affected by the actions of – our national tax authority.  At the very least, you’d think a twenty-first century government department with ambitions to make itself one of the most digitally advanced tax authorities in the world could manage to live stream the conference so we didn’t have to follow it second hand on twitter.

Nobody cares, I think I hear you say?  Well, people don’t know what they don’t know.  I have been conducting a little experiment lately where every time I have a conversation with a small business owner (and I mean a really small business – the hairdressers and taxi drivers of this world, the coffee shop owners and pub landlords) I have asked them about Making Tax Digital, the ambitious plan to make HMRC digital by making us all keep records electronically and none of your excel spreadsheets and carrier bags of records either.  None of my small businesses had heard of MTD, unless I have prompted them with the “four tax returns a year” horror stories from the budget before last, and then it’s been a vague, might have come across it.  And then I have (to the best of my knowledge and ability) explained it, and then I have spent the rest of my visit scraping them off the ceiling and advising them to write to their MP and to answer the consultation rather than shouting at me.

In other words, no-one is interested in HMRC until it does something that affects them.  And MTD will affect us all: we are all stakeholders.  Talk to us all, HMRC: not just to the Usual Suspects but to the people who won’t know they’re interested till you interest them.  Because interested is better than furious, honest.



Theatre of cruelty

July 6, 2016

I apologise for the hiatus on this blog, but honestly the world has become too bizarre to be encompassed by bloggery.  I shall return when reality reasserts itself, or when I get used to the new paradigm of chaos.  If there are any upcoming consultations you’d like me to eviscerate, feel free to ping me in comments and I’ll take a look.

In the meantime, in the immortal words of Bill and Ted, be excellent to each other.



May 25, 2016

I don’t want to say much about the NAO report on HMRC’s customer service, out today, except to note this:

As a consequence, though HMRC continued to live within its agreed budget, the quality of its service to taxpayers collapsed in 2014-15 and the first half of 2015-16. In hindsight, this was a mistake, and not value for money.
In other words, it prioritised “saving” money over customer service.  Because “taxpayers” are citizens with rights, but “customers” are economic units who can be ignored if they’re not profitable.

When compared to HMRC’s data on the annual cost of answering calls, the NAO estimates that the increased cost to customers was £4 for every £1 saved by HMRC over this period. (NAO)

In other words, there was – the NAO found – a direct correlation between HMRC’s “savings” and the administrative burden placed on taxpayers.

HMRC came back gamely this morning with the usual line about this all being in the past and everything today is rosy and bright…


The problem is, that as we go forward into the Brave New Digital World, we don’t really believe them.  There is evidence that they prioritised cuts over service in the past.  There are firm plans to cut staff further and relocate them where pesky customers can’t get to them for the future.  Why should we believe that the “best customer service performance in years” won’t dive back down to rubbish in the next few months and years?  As Richard Murphy suggests:

Stop the office closures.

Stop the redundancies.

Make digital services optional.

Provide the support people need.

Make paying tax possible.


Fox, henhouse?

May 21, 2016

Just on my way out the door for a fortnight’s break, but before I go, in what world is the HMRC Large Business Director a suitable job for an external candidate?  Someone from, oh, I don’t know, a large business, perhaps?  In the way that we recruit benefit recipients to manage benefit offices and ex-offenders to run the probation service?  Or even students to be on the governing bodies of schools?  Here’s the advert:

And here’s the good bit from the person spec: they want someone who, amongst lots of other things, will

Influencing the department’s strategic direction, in relation to large business work and more generally including through contribution to development of Budget propositions.

See you in a fortnight, probably.  Play nicely!


and another thing

May 13, 2016

A correspondent reminds me that, not only is HMRC  haemorrhaging newly-trained (and expensively-trained) younger staff, it is also stiffing its older and more experienced staff too.

Here’s how it works.

HMRC declares that they will be setting up a new Regional Centre in Shinytown.  There will be three thousand staff, lots of exciting career development opportunities, a bright and glorious future…

….except you work in Grotsville.  It’s sixty-five miles away, but you could theoretically drive there in less than an hour, if everyone else didn’t have the same idea at the same time.  And you had a car.  What you actually have to do is walk twenty minutes to the station, take a two hour train ride and then a twenty minute bus ride plus a five minute walk.  And then the same in reverse.  Every day.

Well you could move house, yes, but HMRC won’t pay for it, and anyway the kids have exams.  So you could maybe work in Shinytown and live in Grotsville for a couple of years while the kids finish their exams and *then* move?  You can eat the five hours a day travel time, for a while, if you have to.  What you can’t eat is the six grand a year train and bus fares you’ll have to pay, not when your salary has stayed the same and your take home pay has actually gone down for the last couple of years.  I mean, you’re well paid compared to some people, but not as well paid as all that.  (Remember when MPs’ salaries used to be tied to yours?  You have to laugh, or you’d cry.)

But the last straw – and I mean the last straw, the one that actually broke you – is this.  You’re not being offered a job in Shinytown at all.  No, HMRC is recruiting – something like 9000 shiny new staff to sit in its shiny new offices, with no background or history in how taxes work or the department’s history and ethics and all that canteen culture stuff.  No.  Shinytown will be opening next year whatever.  Grotsville won’t shut till 2020.  Until then, you’re stuck.  Oh, yes, didn’t we say, you can apply for a job in Shinytown and, if you get it, travel at your own expense to the land of career development opportunity.  Or you can stay in Grotsville till it rots, till the last moment when the doors are about to be shut, at which point you’ll be “redeployed” to Shinytown.  If there are any vacancies…

Remember that Dilbert cartoon about how it turns out employees *aren’t* our most valuable asset after all? I couldn’t afford the fee to reproduce it, but here’s the link to look at it for yourself


Value for money

May 10, 2016

“A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing” is, famously, the answer to the question “what is a cynic”: perhaps, however, it should be the answer to the question “what is an austerity politician?”

As a retired tax inspector and trades unionist, I still receive copies of ARC news, the journal of the union of senior HMRC professionals, and the latest issue dropped on my doorstep over the weekend.  There is an interesting article on HMRC’s approach to flexibility.  (Essentially most tax professionals could do most of their work from wherever they happened to be, if HMRC provided them with the modern computer and communications equipment to support them and didn’t treat them like children who need to be under the grown-ups’ eye.)  However the passage which interested me was this, and I hope they will forgive me for quoting it in full.

I’ve even heard suggestions that some folk, about to come off the department’s key training scheme as Grade 7s, have been told they are likely to be placed straight into the redeployment pool.  We can’t stop the private sector poaching our trainees – after all we recruit great people, we provide great training and then we pay well below the market rate – but it does seem quite a perverse approach to put someone through this expensive training process only to say, in effect, “we don’t want you”.

So let’s get this straight.  The government pays to recruit people into a career as a tax professional.  It trains them, expensively (because they are a cost to the department in salaries, accommodation and the provision of training and mentoring but are not yet producing the kind of tax yield we get from full tax professionals).  Then, at the point where their training is complete and the investment might start to pay off, we tell them they’re no longer required?

You see, I suppose it could be some kind of machiavellian plot to ensure that the entire tax profession was socialised into the HMRC way of thinking.  It could be, I suppose, if we believe HMRC to have sufficient institutional self-awareness to understand institutionalisation and understand that it actually has a viewpoint.  Why would the industry trouble to support trainees through long and expensive tax training if it can poach HMRC’s, just at the point where they’re trained but not too expensive?  But, ha ha, they all have imbibed the HMRC values with their mother’s milk and will carry on the rest of their careers believing that HMRC is right and the rest of the industry is wrong???

No, I didn’t think so either.  Dear tax industry: get poaching!


Sandwich man

April 11, 2016

I don’t think there is any smoking gun for David Cameron in the Panama papers from what we’ve seen so far.  He sold his shares before he became Prime Minister.  He moved into accommodation paid for by the taxpayer, so he rented out his own place.  He pays tax on the three to six grand he receives in interest. His dad left him money below the inheritance tax threshold, and the family planned for inheritance tax by making inheritance-tax-free gifts to each other, as allowed for in the legislation, so that their wealth could follow John Major’s ambition of cascading down the generations.  He has done nothing wrong.  Right?

I was once in a queue at a supermarket – twenty years ago now, it must be – in the “five items or fewer” stream, behind a bloke who, I couldn’t help noticing, had more than five items in his basket.  I had given him a Stern Look, but he was impervious, so I said “this is the five items queue…”

By this time he was unpacking his basket onto the conveyor belt and so had to try and charm both me and the assistant.  But he had enough to go around, broadcasting genial bonhomie as he declared, well, there are two sliced loaves and a packet of ham in here, and that’s just a sandwich really, so that makes it… six.  Oh, and tomatoes.  A ham and tomato sandwich.  So it’s only five items *really*.

But he was unpacking his basket quickly, and he had his wallet in his hand, and it would have taken longer to make a fuss and have him move to a different queue and start again, and the fact that he had blatantly queue-jumped and was trying to charm his way out of it, well, life’s too short.  Right?

Privilege at work.  Someone who goes to the supermarket once in a blue moon can’t believe that the petty rules about what goes in your basket can apply to them.  Most of our leaders have never had a proper job but they know what will motivate the unemployed.  Cameron might not have got through Eton on a paper round but he leads a political class who genuinely believe they pulled themselves up by their bootstraps so they are the exception to any rules.  He’s a man with two loaves, a packet of ham and a punnet of tomatoes telling you we’re all in it together and why are you persecuting him when he’s only eating his sandwich.