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.