Another few weeks in “tax land”

Let’s start with Scotland.

According to a new report by the Scottish Government, the tax-take per person is higher in Scotland that the rest of the UK.  Finance Secretary John Swinney says the analysis of tax revenue over three decades proves the country “more than pays its way”.  More on this from the Herald can be found here and the Scottish Government here. 

One of the UK’s foremost ­experts on devolution has warned that new tax-raising powers for the Scottish Parliament have “serious limitations”.  Speaking to Holyrood’s ­finance committee, Gerard Holtham, who chaired a commission in Wales examining the case for more devolved powers for the principality, backed a much wider remit to allow the Scottish Parliament to vary individual bands within the income tax system.

Under the forthcoming Scotland Act powers, Holyrood will take control of a new Scottish rate of income tax, allowing MSPs to reduce or increase the levy as they see fit.  However, they will not be able to change the rates within the system, meaning that any change will apply to lower, middle and higher rates equally.  As I have argued on numerous occasions the Scotland Act 2012 income tax proposal is a mess and does not devolve any meaningful power to the Scottish Parliament.  More on this from the Scotsman can be found here here.

Interesting to see how the First Minister of Wales is following the First Minister of Northern Ireland.  They are both trying to use the Scottish independence referendum as a means to pressure the UK Government into devolving tax and fiscal powers.  More on this from the BBC news website can be found here.

An explanation as to why the First Ministers feel that they have to use this type of argument is shown by the failure of the UK Government to devolve air passenger duty.  Not all of the Calman Commission proposals were implemented by the UK Government.  Air passenger duty was one of the taxes although recommended for devolving was not devolved.  That is why the Scotland Act 2012 is called “Calman minus”.  That is also why we are still hearing calls for air passenger duty to be devolved.  More on this from the BBC news website can be found here.

It also seems that London does not want to be left behind.  Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, is again calling for new financial powers for London.  The proposals, by the London Financial Commission who were appointed by Johnson, call for London to have the power to raise property and tourism taxes, and various housing and infrastructure spending powers.  More on this from the Guardian can be found here.  No matter the result of the Scottish independence referendum pressure on the UK Government to devolve power away from London, and ironically to London, will continue.  What is particularly interesting is that this does not just mean Scotland but almost every part of the UK.

The UK Chancellor should stop discriminating against visiting foreign musicians and artists by denying them tax breaks which are offered to top foreign footballers and athletes, leaders of Britain’s biggest orchestras have argued.  More on this from the Telegraph can be found here.

Launched in June 2010 by the UK coalition government, the National Insurance “holiday scheme” was aimed at cutting staffing costs for newly-established businesses outside London and the south-east of England.  Eligible firms do not have to pay NI contributions for their first ten employees, with a maximum saving of £5,000 per staff member in their first year.  However, the initiative, which is due to end in September, has failed to live up to its promise and it seems only a few companies have benefited from it. More on this from the Scotsman can be found here.

The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee has claimed that the UK’s largest accountancy firms are using inside knowledge from staff seconded to HM Treasury to help leading companies and wealthy individuals avoid paying UK taxes.  The Public Accounts Committee has also recommended that these companies should be prevented from advising the UK Government on tax law.  In its report on this issue they also claim that these firms have “undue influence over the tax system”.  More on this from the BBC News website can be found here.

A controversial “sweetheart” tax deal between HMRC and Goldman Sachs worth up to £20m, was agreed in part to avoid embarrassment to George Osborne, according to the UK Government’s former head of tax.  Dave Hartnett has said that he decided to settle the long-running dispute after Goldman Sachs threatened to pull out of a prized new tax framework a week after the UK Chancellor had announced that the bank had signed up to it. More on this can be found here.

HMRC raises yield from wealthy taxpayers again.  The top 1% of earners paid 26.5% of the total income tax take in 2012/13, according to figures from HMRC.  More on this from the STEP journal can be found here.

The Scottish Government has published a bill aimed at tackling illegal dumping. The Landfill Tax (Scotland) Bill will transfer responsibility from the UK Government for administering the tax and encourage the proper disposal and recycling of waste.  More on this can be found here.

The Financial Transactions Tax has been in the news again.  The negative reaction from the City of London is as expected.  What is slightly more surprising is how far the UK Government will go to prevent this tax from coming into existence.  The UK Government has launched a legal challenge against plans for a European Financial Transactions Tax.  More on the UK Government’s challenge from the BBC news website can be found here and more generally from the Telegraph here.

Now to an example of European cooperation.  The UK Chancellor of the Exchequer has signed an information exchange agreement with the finance ministers of France, Germany, Italy and Spain in yet another attempt to crack down on tax evasion.  Under the agreement, banks in these countries will be forced to reveal financial details of foreign clients.  More on this can be found here.

Now to matters further afield and a relatively new area for taxation, the internet.  By a vote of 75 to 24, US senators adopted an amendment to a Democratic budget resolution that, by allowing states to “collect taxes on remote sales,” is intended to eventually usher in the first national, i.e. American  internet sales tax.  More on this can be found here and here.

Now to Greece.  The International Monetary Fund has criticised Greece for making very little progress in tackling its notorious tax evasion problem.  It says the rich and self-employed ‘are simply not paying their fair share’ and the tax authorities are still bedevilled by ‘pervasive political interference’.  The IMF also said that Greece is making progress in overcoming deep-seated problems in the midst of a very serious and socially painful recession. More on this can be found here. 

Finally the not unexpected news that Silvio Berlusconi’s four-year conviction for tax fraud on TV rights bought by his Mediaset TV empire has been upheld.  Mr Berlusconi had appealed against a sentence passed by a lower court in 2012, which had found him guilty of tax fraud, but the appeals court reinstated the 2012 conviction and said he should serve four years in jail. More on this can be found here here.

Have a good weekend. 

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A busy month in “tax land”

Let’s start with the independence debate.  Michael Moore has confirmed that the UK Government will not be bringing forward a proposal for further devolution.  I wonder if that will change if the opinion polls change.  This at least gives us a clear choice.  The choice being between “Calman minus” combined with the extremely unlikely scenario of Westminster devolving serious tax and fiscal powers after a ‘NO’ vote, and control over all tax and fiscal powers by 2016.

I think the ‘NO’ campaign has made a mistake here.  How those whose preferred choice is ‘devo plus’ or ‘devo max’ vote holds the key to which side wins in 2014.  Are they more likely to vote ‘NO’ as a result of Michael Moore’s statement?  The ‘NO’ campaign has not had a good start to the year.  The independence will cost £1 gaffe, support for the Scottish Government’s timetable for the transition to independence, the ridiculing of the claim that Scotland would need to ratify 8,500 treaties and then there was the loss of the UKs ‘AAA’ rating.  A serious proposal for further tax and fiscal powers would at least been a positive move by the ‘NO’ campaign and a change from the continuing negativity.

Now to a man who it seems can do anything.  Olympics gold medals, not a problem.  Forcing the HM Treasury into a u-turn, not a problem.  The UK Government has after all decided to grant a tax amnesty to non-resident athletes attending the London Grand Prix event this July. Olympic champion sprinter Usain Bolt announced that he would not attend unless his global earnings from sponsorship and endorsements were exempted, but until now HM Treasury had resisted the demand.  More on this from the STEP Journal can be found here.

A report by the House of Commons’ influential Public Accounts Committee says that promoters of so-called boutique tax avoidance schemes are “running rings around HMRC in a game of cat and mouse that HMRC is losing”.  It suggests that HMRC should publicly name those who sell ‘abusive’ schemes to as many clients as possible before HMRC shuts the scheme down.  This is estimated to cost the HM Treasury £5bn a year.  The Committee claimed that HMRC only knows about 46% of tax avoidance schemes, and that promoters who run the schemes find it unacceptably easy to put forward a “reasonable excuse” for not disclosing the scheme in order to escape a fine.  More on this from Accountancy Age can be found here and the Guardian here.

The UK government is to disqualify companies and individuals from bidding for public contracts if they have taken part in failed tax avoidance schemes.  This applies from 1 April 2013. Bidders will have to notify procurement departments if any tax return in the past 10 years has been found incorrect as a result of an HMRC challenge, or has contravened the Disclosure of Tax Avoidance Scheme rules.  More on this from HM Treasury can be found here.

A mansion tax is back in the news.  Although as it is a local taxation proposal it is not just a matter for the UK Parliament.  Local taxation is controlled by the Scottish Parliament.  A point missed by most reports.  The Liberal Democrats proposal would see either a 1% levy on homes worth over £2m or the introduction of new council tax bands for expensive homes.  More on the Liberal Democrat proposal from the Guardian can be found here.  The Labour Party has also announced plans to introduce a mansion tax on all homes worth more than £2m in order to fund the reintroduction of the 10p tax rate abolished in 2007.  More on the Labour proposal from the BBC News website can be found here.

An ongoing programme of jobs cuts helped play a major part in HMRC exceeding their cost-savings target for 2011/12, according to a report by the National Audit Office.  The report can be found here.  The figures give an indication of the scale of the cuts suffered by HMRC.  Spending slashed by £269m over the 12 months to 31 March 2012.  This was 19% more than the anticipated £249m.  A reduction of £140m was made by axing 2,400 full-time equivalent members of staff. The department plans to have lowered its running costs by £950m between the UK Government’s 2010 sending review and the end of the 2014/15 tax year.  It expects to see the loss of 10,000 full-time equivalent employees and 300,000 square metres of estate.

Press reports indicate that the inheritance tax nil rate band is to be frozen for several more years beyond the already announced date of April 2015, as part of the UK Government’s plans for funding elderly care in England.  More on this from the Herald can be found here and the BBC news website here.  Another example of the problem that can arise under devolution when the tax power remains at Westminster, inheritance tax, and control over an associated area such as social care is devolved.

Now to the least surprising story of the month.  The Confederation of British Industry has warned that the new Financial Transaction Tax announced by the European Commission may have a detrimental effect on UK jobs and growth.  Matthew Fell, the CBI Director for Competitive Markets, said: “it is particularly worrying that the increased scope of the tax will now cover businesses’ risk management activities, as well as hitting financial services in non-participating member states, like the UK, because of extra-territoriality”.  More on this story from the Telegraph can be found here.

Now to Europe and how the EU is demanding action against tax-planning.  The European Parliament’s Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs has published a report proposing that member states revoke the banking licences of financial institutions that help their customers evade taxes.  More on this can be found here.

The heavy tax increases imposed by the Greek Government last year have actually caused a sharp fall in tax receipts. January’s tax revenues in Greece fell to €4.05bn, 16% down on the January 2012 figures, due to a collapse in consumption and a corresponding decrease in indirect tax payments.  More on this can be found here.

An interesting opinion piece can be found in the New York Times challenging the ‘Myth of the Rich Who Flee From Taxes’.  It was prompted by US Masters golf champion Phil Mickelson’s recent threat to decamp from California because the state’s top rate of income tax is increasing from 10.3 to 13.3%.  I agree with the conclusion reached.  It really is a myth although it does not stop those arguing against serious tax and fiscal powers for the Scottish Parliament from using it. The piece from the New York Times can be found here.

And lastly, well done to the Scottish teams who beat Ireland at the weekend.

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Another few weeks in “tax land”

Where to start.  So much has already happened in 2013.

Let’s start with the independence debate.  I had finally finished my chapter on “the battle for a Scottish tax system” and then another devolution proposal appears and Ruth Davidson almost says something of interest on the tax and fiscal powers debate.

The latest devolution paper is called “devo more” and it is from The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR).  I know it is difficult to keep up.  Again it starts from the premise of what is best for the UK not necessarily Scotland.  Personal income tax, partial control of VAT, excise duties on alcohol and tobacco and air passenger duty would be devolved.  Alan Trench, of the University of Edinburgh, who wrote the report, said it was “clear devolution must go further to meet popular demand and his plan minimises the adverse effects on other parts of the United Kingdom.”  The IPPR report can be found here.

It is a pity that there was not more interest shown in putting together a serious proposal for tax and fiscal powers for the Scottish Parliament during Calman.  Let’s not forgot that none of the “NO” parties  has come close to arguing for the powers recommended for devolving in “devo plus”, let alone “devo max”, to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament.  The Liberal Democrats have even gone backwards form what they proposed under the Steel Commission.  See my earlier blog on this which can be found here.

Then we had Ruth Davidson’s speech which promised a lot and delivered almost nothing.  Davidson promised no new tax or fiscal powers, no timetable for even considering the issue and no confirmation that she has moved on from saying that corporation tax and welfare powers should not be devolved.  What did she say, or rather what did she hint at:  “Sources close to Davidson confirmed that she will consider setting up a new commission to examine the devolution of more powers to the Scottish Parliament.”  For more on Davidson’s speech see Alan Cochrane’s report in the Telegraph which can be found here.

The stance of the “NO” parties is a continuation of what I call the “Calman doctrine”.  Do nothing unless under pressure, then if under pressure make a huge fuss about having someone look at the issue, take your time, offer as little as possible, exaggerate any problems, minimise or ignore any advantages and ensure HMRC and HM Treasury remain in control.

Time, and credibility, is fast running out for the “NO” campaign parties if they are to come up with a serious tax and fiscal proposal.  The most recent “Scottish Social Attitudes Survey” was clear.  Independence had 35% support and “devo max” 32%.  That is a clear majority for almost all powers, including tax and welfare powers, to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

Now to the UK tax system.  It seems that no-one is happy.

Two recent stories show why a Scottish tax system is needed.   The first one relates to carbon capture.  The article on this from the Herald can be found here.   The second relates to air passenger duty.  The article on this from the Scotsman can be found here.

Then there is the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee.  It has called for the re-establishment of a single annual UK Budget, saying that the UK’s Autumn Statement has increasingly taken on the character of a second Budget resulting in uncertainty and costs for business and the economy.  A report published by the Committee says:  “The primacy of the Budget as the main focus of fiscal and economic policy making should be re-established”.  More on this from the BBC news website can be found here.

The impressive chair of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, Margaret Hodge, has claimed that new tax laws are excessively influenced by major corporations and accountancy firms.  Hodge has argued that working groups set up by the UK Government to discuss tax reforms were overly dominated by those with vested interests in reducing their tax contributions.  More on this from the BBC news website can be found here.

Even business leaders are seemingly unhappy.  The UK Government’s plans to reform tax laws forcing large companies to be more transparent regarding their tax affairs have been criticised by business leaders.  The fear is that such laws would stifle the UK’s economic recovery as businesses would be reluctant to locate in the UK.  More on this from the Guardian can be found here.

HMRC offers poor value for money, according to a report by the National Audit Office.  The report claims that more than 20 million phone calls went unanswered last year, whilst callers who did get through were made to wait on average 282 seconds, up from 107 seconds last year, costing the public £33 million on call charges.  More on this can be found here.

It has been claimed that the UK Government will have raised taxes 300 times and ordered 120 tax cuts by the end of their proposed term of government.  More on this claim from the Telegraph can be found here.  One of the more controversial UK tax proposals is termed a “bedroom tax”.  More on this can be found here.

David Cameron has told the World Economic Forum conference in Davos that he will use the UK’s G8 presidency to launch a campaign against ‘unethical’ tax avoidance by multinational companies using ‘an army of clever accountants’.  The accountancy profession whilst I am sure not unhappy at being termed clever, took umbrage with what Cameron said.  More on this from the STEP journal can be found here.  Interestingly Cameron again brings ethics into the tax debate.  That said, does he intend to include the Crown Dependencies and the British overseas Territories in this campaign?  If not, this is nothing but a press release.

Members of France’s socialist cabinet have denounced the famous actor Gerard Depardieu, who has shifted his residence just over the Belgian border in order to escape the Hollande government’s tax rises.  Depardieu has retorted with an open letter to the newspapers, accusing the French Government of punishing success and talent, and offering to give up his passport.  More on this can be found here.

Let’s end with some news on a Financial Transaction Tax.  Eleven EU member states are to introduce a tax on financial transactions expected to generate £35bn in annual revenues.   As a tax avoidance measure, the European Commission has amended the relevant directive to catch any transaction where either of the parties is domiciled in the tax area, or is trading on behalf of a client in the tax area.  That will mean that this will also apply to some UK transactions.  The European Commission is now expected to present proposals on the detail of this new taxation scheme which will need to be accepted by unanimous agreement of the participating states.  More on this can be found here.   Whether to introduce a Financial Transaction Tax is just one of the many tax decisions Scotland will be able to decide for itself if it decides to vote “YES” in 2014.

Have a great weekend and in particular to all those representing Scotland this weekend.

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My final “tax land” of 2012

My final “tax land” of 2012 as I have a looming chapter deadline on the subject of a Scottish tax system.

Where to start?  Let’s start with the UK Chancellor’s “Autumn” statement.

George Osborne admitted that the UK had missed its debt reduction targets putting the UK’s AAA credit rating under threat.  Osborne also announced that the planned rise on fuel duty is to be axed and the personal allowance of income tax payers is to be boosted.  Benefits are to be limited to a 1% rise a year for the next 3 years and economic growth will be lower than predicted until at least 2018.

In response the Institute of Fiscal Studies warned that one million people will find themselves joining the higher 40p income tax rate by 2015.  Far higher than the 400,000 figure quoted by Osborne.  The IFS also said further austerity measures to increase taxes and cut benefits were unavoidable to fix a £27bn black-hole in the UK economy before the next UK General Election.

Figures also showed that poorest 30% of households will suffer the most under the changes announced.  More on this from the Scotsman can be found here.

The AAA rating is of course an issue in the independence referendum.  One of the arguments made by those arguing NO is that an independent Scotland, notwithstanding its oil reserves, would lose its AAA credit rating.  This issue is now a problem for the NO campaign as the UK, in the event of a YES vote, would presumably be desperate to retain Scotland in a monetary union to protect its credit rating.

The YES campaign also received a further boost when it was confirmed that nearly 17 billion barrels of oil are to be recovered from the North Sea over the next 30 years following a £134bn investment by oil and gas companies.  The majority of the new developments will be in Scottish waters while production from gas fields in the southern North Sea begins a dramatic decline. More on this from the Scotsman can be found here.

Now to the tax avoidance debate.

The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee has warned officials from HMRC that firms that devise complicated tax regimes are “running rings” around them. The Committee Chair, Margaret Hodge MP, said that the public would consider such schemes “completely and utterly immoral”. More on this from the Guardian can be found here.  My recent blog on this and the lack of political will to reform the UK’s tax system can be found here.

Meanwhile the Chief Secretary to the UK Treasury, Danny Alexander, has warned against naming and shaming large firms who do not pay the correct amount of tax, insisting that he is obliged to defend firms’ “taxpayer confidentiality”. More on this from the Mirror can be found here.  This adds to the growing evidence that the UK Government is at best being half-hearted in its attempts to tackle this issue.

Further evidence for this claim can be found when you consider that only 5% of the UK Government’s announced investment into HMRC will be aimed at tackling tax avoidance.  The context to this is of course the large budget reduction and cut in staff numbers already made to HMRC.  More on this from the Times can be found here.

According to an investigation by the Times, offshore companies are exploiting a tax loophole which allows them to buy up some of the UK’s most expensive homes and avoid paying property stamp duty, inheritance tax and capital gains tax.  More on this from the Times can be found here.  The Times has done some excellent work on this issue over the last few months.

Figures from HMRC show that the number of people declaring an annual income of more than £1m fell from 16,000 to 6,000 after the previous 50p top rate was brought in.  More on this from the Telegraph can be found here.  What this statistic purports to show is though open to debate.

Final point on the tax avoidance and tax evasion debate.  The claim that I have made on many occasions that tax for some, namely large companies and the wealthy, is becoming a matter of negotiation – almost voluntary in nature – seems now to be generally accepted.  That is clearly what Starbucks think.

The Scottish Government has unveiled plans to reform stamp duty land tax in Scotland.  The importance of this should not be underestimated.  The Scottish Government must show that it has the competence to deal with tax matters.  The signs so far are positive.  More on this can be found here.

Now to matters slight further afield.

France’s Senate has rejected the Government’s 2013 Budget, which among other measures raised the marginal tax rate on annual income of over €150,000 to 45%, imposed a 75% “solidarity contribution” on income over €1m, and raised capital gains tax rates to match income tax rates.  The Budget will though almost certainly be forced through by the National Assembly.  More on this from Tax-news can be found here.

The Republic of Ireland Government has revealed its 2013 Budget.  It introduces a new annual property tax of 0.18% on properties valued below €1m, payable by owners.  More expensive properties will be taxed at €1,800 plus 0.25% of their value over €1m.  Initially, and until 2016, owners’ valuations will be accepted.  More on this from the Irish Times can be found here.

Finally to the USA.  The US Internal Revenue Service has published guidance on calculating the new 3.8% tax on investment income, imposed to pay for President Obama’s universal health insurance plan.  More on this from the Journal of Accountancy can be found here.

This has been a very interesting year for all those interested in tax and the wider Scottish tax and fiscal powers debate. I suspect that is not going to change in 2013.  Best wishes to you and yours for 2013.

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Another few weeks in “tax land”

Where to start.

In a speech to mark her first year as Scottish Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson outlined an aspiration to cut income tax by more than 1p when new powers come to Holyrood.  More on this from the Scotsman can be found here.  Now compare this with a survey that claims that three quarters of Scots think taxes should be raised for those with the highest incomes and wealth. More on the survey from the Herald can be found here.  These stories show how Scotland, both the politicians and the general public, are beginning to wake up to the fact that tax is not necessarily just a UK matter.

The Scottish Government has backed the latest call for control over air passenger duty to be passed to the Scottish Parliament.  This is a matter worth remembering when you hear comments from the NO campaign on how they “hope” to give the Scottish Parliament further powers.  Let’s not forget how few tax powers are included in the latest Scotland Act.  It is “Calman minus” just as the Liberals recent Home Rule Commission is “Steel minus”.  More on this can be found here.

First it was Rangers now it is Hearts that is in trouble with HMRC.  The surprise is no-one is surprised.  Hearts owe HMRC approximately £500,000 in unpaid tax.  More on this from the Scotsman can be found here.

The UK Government seems to be doing a fair bit of thinking just now which is always worrying.

The UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, has called for a change in international tax standards to reflect changes in business, such as the rise of e-commerce, which makes it easier for companies to shift taxation away from jurisdictions where profit is being generated.  More on this from the Guardian can be found here.  In addition, Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the UK Treasury, has pledged to crack down on corporate tax avoidance following revelations that the supermarket chain Asda may have used overseas transfers to its parent company Walmart to avoid up to £250m in tax.  More on this from the Times can be found here.  Lots of words but can we expect real action?

The Chief Executive of HMRC, Lin Homer, has been put under pressure by the UK Treasury Select Committee to explain why multinationals have been allowed to pay less tax than small businesses in the UK.  The Comptroller and Auditor-General of the National Audit Office, Amyas Morse, said that large companies often put pressure on HMRC by threatening to pull out of the country altogether.  More on this from the Times can be found here.  A connected story from the Daily Mail and involving Margaret Hodge, chairman of the UK Public Accounts Committee, can be found here.

Under “road charging” proposals being considered by the UK Government, motorists could face a new two-tier system in which drivers would pay a lower rate of tax if they do not use the UK’s trunk road network.  Have any of the UK media outlets considered the fact that this is also a matter for the Scottish Parliament?  Of course not.  The new system would comprise a basic charge for the use of local roads, and a secondary charge for those motorists wanting to use motorways and A-roads.  More on this from the Guardian can be found here.

Is it just me or is it really the case than almost every change in the law is met with the accusation that it breaches some part of EU law?  The latest example is the UK Government’s planned changes to child benefits.  The UK Treasury has dismissed the claims by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales.  More on this from the Telegraph can be found here.

David Gauke, Exchequer Minister to the UK Treasury, has argued that HMRC needs to pay more to recruit the best tax experts in order to combat tax avoidance by major multinational companies.  Edward Troup, Director-General for Tax and Welfare at HMRC, welcomed the proposal, saying: “I think it’s on the record now to have more staff and higher pay”.  More on this from the Times can be found here.  This is an issue that we in Scotland will also have to respond to when setting up our own tax system.

It is often claimed that that the UK Government favours London and the south-east of England. This is another such claim.  The UK Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, has faced criticism from property groups and retailers after his announcement that a revaluation of business rates has been pushed back to 2017.  The British Property Federation said that it was unfair to expect tenants to continue to pay a levy based on “top-of-the-market” 2008 rents. The UK Government argues however that a revaluation would lead to rate increases for many businesses, especially in the south-east.  More on this from Accountancy Age can be found here.

Now to a story that keeps bubbling up to the surface and clearly is not going away.  First it involved government officials such as the head of the Student Loans Company, then it was the BBC now it is teachers.  HMRC has said that supply teachers hired via recruitment agencies using off-shore firms are causing a shortfall in National Insurance contributions.  An HMRC spokesman said: “These kinds of arrangements are not compliant with tax and National Insurance legislation and the end client, or the employment businesses, may be liable for any underpaid tax and National Insurance”.  More on this from the BBC news website can be found here.

Anyone who regularly looks at HMRC press releases will see HMRC increasingly publicising stories such as this.  An Isle of Wight tax advisor who stole £52,000 by claiming tax repayments using his clients’ names was jailed today at Newport Crown Court.  The press release from HMRC can be found here.

Let’s end with matters slightly further afield.  Hong Kong has imposed a 15% emergency tax on foreign buyers of residential property in an attempt to hold back the island’s property bubble. Stamp duty for short-term speculators has also gone up from 15 to 20%.  Similar measures have been imposed by the Singaporean Government.  More on this from the excellent STEP Journal can be found here.

One last point.  Patriotism takes many forms and that includes paying your taxes.

Have a good week.

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A fascinating time in “tax land”

Where to start?  There is so much happening just now it is difficult to keep up.  It is though a fascinating time to be living in Scotland.

The signing of the Edinburgh Agreement ends the “phoney war”.  So besides this historic agreement what else has been happening?

Let’s start with the publication of the report by the Liberal Democrats Home Rule Commission.   The report can be found here.  There are a number of problems with this report.  The first is the likelihood of the Liberals being part of and having a major influence in a future UK Government.  At best the Liberals will form part of a UK coalition government where they will be a junior partner.  Even if they were to persuade the senior party to implement their plans the Scottish Parliament would not see any new powers until at best 2020.

Then there is the accusation: why should anyone take the Liberal Democrats seriously on tax and fiscal powers?  The Liberal Democrats are in power just now and all we have is “Calman minus”.  They are not even devolving control over the Crown Estate in Scotland and that is party policy.

Then there is the report itself.  The report barely goes beyond Calman.  Inheritance tax is to be devolved and also some parts of capital gains tax.  This report does not even go as far as their last fiscal powers report, the “Steel Commission”.

One last point.  It must be remembered that the Liberals have historically been willing to go further than the other main UK parties on devolving power to Scotland and the Scottish Parliament.  The Steel Commission report provides evidence for this argument.  What their latest report shows is that the Liberals are moving away from devolving serious tax and fiscal powers to the Scottish Parliament.  That is disappointing and makes you wonder.  If this is all the Liberal Democrats are offering what will Labour or the Conservatives come up with?

The answer to that question is likely to be not much.  Johann Lamont has finally announced the membership of her “further devolution commission”.  What is the likelihood of this commission coming up with a proposal close to “devo max” or even “devo plus”?  Almost none.  Why?  Remember the struggle to persuade the Labour party to legislate the Calman proposals.  Think of how few powers are contained in the Scotland Act.  Think of the reaction to senior Labour party members to any call for further tax and fiscal powers to be transferred to the Scottish Parliament. Think of Alistair Darling’s recent comments and in fact of any Labour MP who talks on this subject.  An article from the BBC news website on the Labour party’s commission can be found here.

Then there is the Conservative party.  It is clear that most Conservatives see the European Union debate as the main debate.  Scotland is but a side show.  The idea of a “Constitutional Convention” is laughable.  It simply means, let’s kick this matter into the longest of long grass for another generation.  Ruth Davidson has already got her retaliation in first and stated that corporation tax or welfare powers should not be devolved.  In any case, this convention won’t even see the light of day in any meaningful way until after the referendum.  Does anyone actually believe that the Conservatives will even consider any further powers for the Scottish Parliament if Scotland votes No?

Staying with the Conservatives, Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, seems to be everywhere these days.  That includes arguing for greater powers for the London Assembly.  Johnson has asked George Osborne, the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, for London to be allowed to retain any stamp duty raised on property sales.  Johnson argued that London inhabitants face higher tax rates than households elsewhere in the UK, and would use the taxes to fund house building and regeneration schemes.  More on this from the Telegraph can be found here.

The BBC is to offer staff contracts to some of its biggest names in a U-turn after months of accusations that it is enabling tax avoidance.  It is claimed that up to 25,000 people employed at the BBC do not pay tax at source.  More on the U-turn by the BBC can be found here and on the background to this story here.

I was interested to see that the Labour party at its recent conference proposed to reinstate the 50% top rate of income tax and apply a two year suspension of stamp duty on properties worth less than £250,000.  I wonder if they realize that these will be matters for the Scottish Parliament to decide as a result of the Scotland Act by the time the next UK general election takes place.

The UK Government is seemingly intensifying its attack on tax planning by corporations and wealthy individuals.  Extra measures include a 50% expansion of HMRC’s High Net Worth Unit, more resources for the Liechtenstein Disclosure Facility and a new policy of refusing to award government contracts to companies that use “aggressive tax avoidance” schemes.  More on this from HM Treasury can be found here.  When thinking about this it is worth also reading about Starbucks.  Two House of Commons committees are due to question tax officials about how Starbucks has been able to avoid paying tax on £1.2bn of sales since 2009.  More on this from the Guardian can be found here.

Plans put forward to add an additional fee to visitors’ hotel bills have been abandoned by the City of Edinburgh Council in response to objections from business leaders.  The Council planned to reduce its spending on festivals, events and promotional initiatives by setting up a “transient visitor levy”, aimed at raising more than £3m a year.  More on this from the Scotsman can be found here.

The McLaren Formula One team have successfully argued that a £32m fine they paid after a 2007 Ferrari spying controversy should be tax deductible.  McLaren had argued the fine was not a statutory penalty but one incurred under Formula One rules, making the fine a business expense.  HMRC disagreed but a tax tribunal has found in favour of McLaren.  More on this from the Telegraph can be found here.

Now to an old favourite, a Financial Transactions Tax.  European Union Tax Commissioner Algirdas Semeta says he is now sure there are enough Member States to force through an EU wide Financial Transactions Tax. Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain, Germany, France, Belgium, Austria, Slovenia, Estonia and Slovakia have committed to this new source of new revenue.  A press release from the European Commission on this can be found here.  The UK Government has also confirmed its opposition to a Financial Transactions Tax.  More on the UK Government’s stance can be found here.  This issue provides further evidence of the growing disengagement with the European Union by the UK Government.

Germany’s Roman Catholics are to be denied the right to Holy Communion or religious burial if they stop paying a special church tax.  Can you imagine this happening in Scotland?  An article from the BBC news website on this can be found here.

The French Government is to revise its 2013 Budget proposal to raise the entrepreneurs’ rate of capital gains tax on equities from 19% to 45%.  The retreat follows a campaign against the tax by an organised group of business owners called Les Pigeons (‘The Mugs’ or ‘Suckers’).   An article on this from Reuters can be found here.

Let’s end with a story from America.  It seems that Chinese immigrants are less keen on an American passport.  Citizens of the People’s Republic of China who emigrate to America used to apply for US citizenship as a matter of course, but now America’s  world wide taxation policy is making some of them regret it.  An article on this story from the South China Morning Post can be found here.


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Another week in “tax land”

Let’s start with the latest UK coalition Government spat.  This time on Nick Clegg’s call for a “wealth tax”.  An article on this from the Herald can be found here.

The Deputy Prime Minister said: “If we are going to ask people for more sacrifices over a longer period of time, a longer period of belt tightening as a country, then we just have to make sure that people see it is being done as fairly and as progressively as possible.”  George Osborne’s response was as expected and criticised Nick Clegg’s proposal claiming that a wealth tax would drive away Britain’s wealth creators.    

There has been lots of commentary on this.  My favourite piece was by Iain MacWhirter in the Herald.  This article can be found here.  The following is from his article:

“It is astonishing that anyone still subscribes to the myth that the enrichment of the few leads to the prosperity of the many.  It just doesn’t happen.  Wealth does not “trickle down” to the rest of society from the troughs of the very rich – if anything the reverse is the case.  It is sucked up through the concentrations of asset wealth held by the top 1% in property, shares and bonds. The story of the last three decades is that the wealthy have become immensely, shockingly, incomprehensibly richer while the middle has been squeezed and the poor remain pretty much as they always have – at the bottom of the heap struggling to hold their lives together.”

The UK Government is reportedly considering creating a scheme of “mini-jobs” which would allow employees to take on work without paying tax or national insurance, in a bid to boost employment.  The scheme is modelled on a German programme under which employees can earn up to €400 a month before any tax is paid.  An article on this from the Guardian can be found here.

Now to an old favourite, MPs’ expenses.  HMRC is reportedly in a dispute with the Westminster’s expenses watchdog, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, with the latter defending the right of MPs to employ accountants to fill in their expenses forms and tax returns and insisting that the cost should be tax deductible.  An article from the Guardian on this can be found here.  The article quotes some of the correspondence between the parties which makes interesting reading and suggests that MPs, or at least IPSA, has a short memory.  Taxpayers are not generally permitted a tax deduction for the costs of complying with tax law.

UK public sector borrowing reached £600m last month, leading to further criticism of the UK Government’s economic strategy.  Borrowing in the first four months of the year was £9.3bn higher than the equivalent period last year whilst there was a 20% drop in the corporation tax take, according to official figures.  An article from the Scotsman on this issue can be found here.  This is an issue which is not going away anytime soon.

“The war on the motorist is a myth and fuel taxes should be raised without delay”.  A report by the Institute of Public Policy Research, a think tank, has recommended that fuel taxes be raised and congestion charging extended.  An article on this challenging proposal from the Telegraph can be found here

The Scottish Daily Express claims that Scotland’s local authorities are set to write off more than £320m of unpaid poll tax.  For a more balanced view of what is actually happening read the article all the way through.  The article can be found here.

The UK Public Accounts Committee has urged HMRC to prosecute more people for alcohol smuggling.  HMRC estimate that £1.2bn in tax is left uncollected each year on smuggled beer and spirits, yet there have been no more than six successful prosecutions each year, in the four years to 2009-10.  An article on this from the BBC news website can be found here. Another argument for devolving control over alcohol duty to the Scottish Parliament? 

Some Italian tax inspectors are disguising themselves as holidaymakers to detect tax evaders on the crowded beaches, while others are questioning the owners of luxury yachts.  Great work if you can find it.  An article on this from the Telegraph can be found here

Riots erupted on the tranquil Greek island of Hydra after tax inspectors arrived in force to arrest shopkeepers for not issuing receipts.  Angry crowds stoned the inspectors and besieged the building in which they took refuge until riot police arrived to restore order.  An article on this from the Athens News can be found here

Now to the USA.  The US media continues to analyse the tax-planning methods used by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.  More on this from the STEP Journal can be found here.    

Have a good weekend.

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Back to reality in “tax land” after a great Olympics

Let’s start with Gordon Brown’s comments and in particular his claim that devolving tax and fiscal powers to the Scottish Parliament automatically means a “race to the bottom” for tax rates and in particular business tax rates.  There are a number of problems with this statement.  I will simply point out two.  Tax competition already exists.  Not just within the European Union but throughout the world.  Then there is the fact that the underlying law, for example tax reliefs, are just as important as tax rates to business.  Creating a Scottish tax system is also a once in a generation chance to create a simpler and more progressive tax system.  This opportunity is not available to the UK.  Evidence that the present Scottish Government is already putting this opportunity into practice is shown by its excellent consultation on a Land and Buildings Transaction Tax.  My earlier blog on this can be found here

Again on tax powers for the Scottish Parliament.  I was disappointed, but sadly not surprised, to see another patronising picture accompanying an article in Tax Adviser on the subject of the tax powers being devolved to the Scottish Parliament.  First we had a man in a kilt holding a whisky bottle and this month a scene from the movie Braveheart.    

Now to some incredible news.  HM Treasury is going to employ someone in Scotland.  I wonder if this has anything to with a certain referendum.  Of course it does.  An article on this from the BBC news website can be found here.  I did find it amusing that the position ends shortly after the proposed referendum date.  I should not be so cynical.  It is good that HM Treasury is going to try and find someone to appease the natives.  I suspect they have run out of gunboats. 

Now to HMRC.  HMRC is clearly under strain.  In addition to having to deal with numerous devolution issues its budget is being reduced by 15% whilst having to increase tax revenues brought in by compliance activity by £7bn per year by 2014/15.  Not surprisingly HMRC staff have begun “working to rule” to highlight ‘problems caused by the job and budget cuts. 

I was also interested to see that HMRC has published a draft code of governance for resolving tax disputes.  This follows the controversy surrounding some corporate tax disputes of which it was accused of agreeing over-generous resolutions.  An article on this issue can be found here.  

Clearly the UK Government is keen to show it is clamping down on tax evasion.  HMRC has paid out more than £1m in rewards to tax evasion informants since the start of the financial crisis.  An article on this can be found here.  And just to reinforce the point HMRC has published its rogues gallery of tax evaders and fraudsters.  An article on this from the BBC news website can be found here.

Now to an issue I have blogged on recently.  The Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator is reportedly to investigate 50 private schools to see if they meet the “benefit to the public” criteria in order to maintain their charitable status.  An article on this from the Sunday Herald can be found here.  This is an issue that still needs to properly debated.     

Now to the strange world of caravans and an article from the Herald.  It seems that a little-known tax loophole is set to cost Scotland’s councils millions of pounds a year in revenue.  Each caravan in a caravan park can apply for rates relief, which in turn cuts the overall bill for the park considerably.  It seems that few people knew about this loophole until the owners of caravans in the Rosneath Castle Caravan Park, near Helensburgh, first began using it. The 300 caravan owners at the park have now bombarded the Clydebank business ratings assessors’ office with letters and phone calls, each seeking to save a few hundred pounds per year in council rates.  The article from the Herald can be found here

Now to the USA and news that the Democrats are split over estate tax reform.  Democratic Party members of the US Senate have rejected President Obama’s proposal for a 45% top rate of federal estate tax on individual estates worth more than $3.5m.  The tax will rise sharply at the end of this year if Congress fails to agree on reform.  An article on this from Bloomberg can be found here.

Tax is also an issue in the Presidential election.  The Democrats have succeeded in turning the finances of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney into a lead news story.  Pressure is growing on Romney to reveal tax returns.  There are accusations that he failed to disclose a Swiss bank account, and even that he participated in the US Internal Revenue Service’s 2009 offshore tax amnesty.  An article on this from Forbes can be found here.

Let’s finish with an old favourite.  It seems that there have been some financial transaction tax stirrings in both Korea and France.  In order to bring the taxation of derivatives in line with other earned income and introduce another revenue source, the Korean Government has announced plans to impose a transaction tax on index options and futures.  France has also partially implanted its own financial transaction tax.  Although a small start, covering only shares in larger companies, and at 0.2%, it’s still lower than UK stamp duty on which it is modelled. Articles on the Korean proposal can be found here and the French proposal here.

Have a good weekend.

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Another week in “tax land”

Let’s start with “Land Reform”.  The First Minister has set up a group of experts to look at this issue.  The First Minister wants the group “to deliver radical change” for both rural and urban areas.  It will be chaired by former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Dr Alison Elliot.  More information on the review can be found here.  One factor that is noticeable by its absence is taxation.  This should also be a review of how we tax our land and property.  If not included this is an opportunity missed.

Who is to blame for the state of the economy?  You would have though bankers might be high up on any list.  However, it seems there is another favoured suspect, tradesmen.  David Gauke, Exchequer Secretary at the UK Treasury, called people who pay tradesmen in cash “morally wrong”.  He has also claimed that the UK Government has missed out on about £2bn on taxes on these “off the books” transactions.

In response the regularly excellent Ian Bell wrote an article titled “Plumbers dodging VAT aren’t to blame for economic mess”.  His article in the Herald article can be found here.  This is one of the best articles I have read recently.

Gauke was also not helped when it transpired that Boris Johnson, David Cameron and Nick Clegg have engaged in the practice of paying tradesmen cash.  Gauke’s full speech can be found here.

The tradesmen issue aside, there were many good things in Gauke’s speech.  This includes a new UK Treasury consultation paper on giving HMRC new powers to force tax firms to disclose clients who are using tax avoidance schemes.  A report on this from the BBC news website can be found here.  More information on this consultation can be found here.  It is though still surprising that the UK Treasury has taken so long to even consider measures such as this.

It is always worth putting figures in context.  A new study for the lobbying group Tax Justice Network claims that wealthy individuals worldwide are holding at least $21 trillion in bank accounts in low-tax jurisdictions.  This dwarfs the £2bn figure mentioned above.  A report on this from the STEP Journal can be found here.

Now to the Scottish Government’s consultation on its proposed Land and Buildings Transaction Tax.  The consultation can be found here.  The Land and Buildings Transaction Tax will replace the current UK Stamp Duty Land Tax from April 2015.  This is important as it is effectively the beginning of a Scottish tax system.  The consultation is also of a standard that we will now expect.   Previous papers on corporation tax and excise duty, although not consultations, were simply not good enough.  Lessons clearly have been learned.  The consultation ends on 30 August 2012.

Now to the North Sea.  George Osborne has pledged £500m in tax breaks for companies developing the Cygnus gas field in the North Sea.  In addition two Chinese firms announced major acquisitions worth over £10bn in North Sea oil firms.  More on these stories can be found on BBC news website here and the Press & Journal here.  It seems that there is a great deal of life left in the North Sea and not just in Scottish waters.

One of the most important art objects ever donated to Scotland’s national collection in lieu of inheritance tax has gone on display. The Hamilton-Rothschild Tazza, a Byzantine sardonyx bowl mounted on a 16th-century gold stand, came from the estate of Edmund de Rothschild, who died in 2009, under the “Acceptance in Lieu scheme”.  A report on this from the STV website can be found here.

Now to an issue I have blogged about before.  An investigation for the Sunday Herald has shown that due to the charitable status of fee-paying schools in Scotland, while local authority schools have to pay full non-domestic rates, because many fee-paying schools are charities they receive an 80 per cent discount on their rates.  The investigation suggests the discount has saved private schools in the six local authority areas investigated £10m over three years. An article on this issue from the Sunday Herald article can be found here.

This issue shows how complicated devolution can be.  Non-domestic rates and charitable status are devolved matters.  Tax relief for charities is a reserved matter even under the provisions of the 2012 Scotland Act. 

Interestingly in the same week Stephen Twigg, Shadow UK Education Secretary, has said that Labour may remove the charitable status of some private schools.  Twigg warned that a UK Labour Government could enact legislation so that private schools not serving the community would lose their charitable status.

The UK Government has finally confirmed that fuel duty, air passenger duty and road tax are not environmental taxes.  This means that they are “revenue raisers” pure and simple.  The UK Treasury now defines an environmental tax as a charge which is explicitly linked to Westminster’s environmental aims, aimed at promoting behaviour change and is structured so that people pay more based on the potential damage caused to the environment.  An article on this from Holyrood can be found here.

I think I will finish with China and its attempt to attract more foreign investment.  China has slashed from 10% to 5% the withholding taxes it levies on profits repatriated by foreign companies, and on dividends paid to foreign shareholders of Chinese-quoted shares. The concessions apply only to companies based in double tax treaty partner countries, excluding the US.  A FT China article on this can be found here.

Have a good weekend.

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Another week in “tax land”

Time for another “tax land”.

Where to start?  Jersey seems as good a place as any.  Jersey is also considering its constitutional options.  This is not new news.  I was in Jersey a couple of years ago and independence was also being discussed amongst the lawyers I was meeting.  Jersey is in a different position to Scotland as it is for all intents and purposes already fiscally autonomous and is a British Crown dependency.  An article on this from the Guardian can be found here.  This is from the Guardian article:

“A barrage of regulatory clampdowns and political attacks on the Channel Islands’ controversial financial industry has prompted one of Jersey’s most senior politicians to call for preparations to be made to break the “thrall of Whitehall” and declare independence from the UK.  Sir Philip Bailhache, the island’s assistant chief minister, said: “I feel that we get a raw deal. I feel it’s not fair.  I think that the duty of Jersey politicians now is to try to explain what the island is doing and not to take things lying down.  The island should be prepared to stand up for itself and should be ready to become independent if it were necessary in Jersey’s interest to do so.”

It seems that the constitutional genie is well and truly out: Scotland, Falkland Islands, Jersey and now it seems on UK membership of the European Union.

Now to the announcement by the Scottish Government of its intention to create its own tax administration and collection agency, to be called Revenue Scotland.  Its main job initially will be to administer the two new Scottish taxes devolved under the Scotland Act.  The fact that it is to work closely with Registers of Scotland and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, also makes sense.  These new taxes, a Scottish Stamp Duty Land Tax and a Landfill Tax, will be directly linked to the work done by these organisations.  A press release from the Scottish Government on this can be found here.

As regular readers of this blog will know I have been writing about this issue for many years now.  Whilst I welcome this announcement I still think we need to be more radical.  We need to review all government tax, law and registration services.

I was not surprised to see some negative comments about the Revenue Scotland announcement. However, if Scotland has its own tax system it needs its own tax administration and collection agency.  That applies just as much under the Scotland Act as independence.  That though is not the only reason.

Let’s not forget the fact that UK tax law is based on English legal principles, or how HMRC and HM Treasury dealt with the introduction of Stamp Duty Land Tax in Scotland, or the inheritance tax changes to trusts, or the proposed planning-gain supplement, or the Scottish Government’s local income tax proposal or VAT and the new Scottish police and fire services.  All good reasons for welcoming Revenue Scotland.

The Scottish Government is in no doubt that Revenue Scotland will be able to administer the new Scottish taxes at a lower cost than HMRC.  I agree with that.  I have also noticed that no-one seems to remember one of the more ridiculous claims made when the Calman Commission proposals were being debated.  The Scotland Office claimed that the cost of administering a separate Scottish tax system would be the same as the present UK system.   Complete and utter nonsense.  The Scotland Office paper can be found here.

One last point on Revenue Scotland.  I met with a number of Scottish Government officials just before the 2011 Scottish election on this issue.  It was quite clear that they wanted nothing to do with this idea and only met with me at the insistence of a Scottish Minister.  Thank you Jim Mather.  I wonder if their attitude has changed in any way?  Let’s hope so as this is just the start.

The Scottish Government has also published its consultation on a Land and Buildings Transaction Tax.  This will replace Stamp Duty Land Tax.  The consultation for Scotland’s replacement to Landfill tax will follow later this year.  I use the word “summer” advisedly.  The consultation can be found here.

And there’s more.  The Scottish Government has finally published its consultation in a “plastic bag tax”.  The consultation can be found here and a press release from the Scottish Government here.

Even the UK Government is playing its part.  The UK Government is consulting on whether to allow the Scottish Government the power to issue its own bonds.  The move would potentially allow Scottish Ministers to raise hundreds of millions of pounds.  A provision in the Scotland Act 2012 has already enabled the UK government to amend the way in which Scottish Ministers can borrow from 2015-16.  An article on this from the BBC news website can be found here.  The consultation can be found here.

One last point on fiscal powers.  The UK government is reportedly considering proposals to devolve complete control of income tax if Scotland votes ‘no’ in the independence referendum.  This sums up nicely what is wrong with the UK Government’s approach to this debate.  If the UK Government has a serious proposal to make, make it.  If not be quiet.

Now to tax and morality.  David Cameron branded comedian Jimmy Carr “morally wrong” for seeking to avoid paying his fair share of tax.  Mr Carr is understood to use an aggressive, though legal, tax avoidance scheme which enables members to pay income tax as low as 1%.  This is dangerous territory for David Cameron.  Already the press have published the names of many others who are involved in similar schemes.  If David Cameron seriously wants to tackle this issue he must act against all those who seek to evade tax.  Has he considered the public disclosure of all tax returns or a minimum percentage of tax that must be paid?  I suspect not.

This is not just a UK Government issue.  The Herald discovered that Transport Initiatives Edinburgh used tax loopholes to allow directors to avoid paying income tax rates on £1 million in fees and bonuses. The company, which closed last year due to its handling of the trams project, paid directors and consultants through their firms.  As a result, they were subject to 20% corporation tax rather than 40% income tax.  The article from the Herald can be found here.

The evidence that the “rules” do not apply to everyone is growing.  Whether it is the 3,000 UK civil servants being paid through a company, or the payments made to those who were partially responsible for the trams fiasco in Edinburgh or the celebrities avoiding tax.  I am resisting the urge to say it was ever thus but in times such as this it does seem even more reprehensible.

One last point.  I often am quite critical of HMRC.  I would argue for good reason.  That said, is it really time to cut 10,000 jobs?  An article on this and the proposed strike by HMRC staff can be found on the BBC news website here.

Have a good week.

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