Tax avoidance debate takes centre stage in “tax land”

Let’s start with an issue that is at last beginning to reach the top of the political agenda, tax avoidance.

The UK National Audit Office has released a report suggesting that HMRC is being “overwhelmed” by the scale of tax avoidance, claiming that the UK is losing out by more than £10bn in lost tax revenue.  The Comptroller and Auditor General, Amyas Morse, stated: “HMRC must push harder to find an effective way to tackle the promoters and users of the most aggressive tax avoidance schemes”.  But according to the NAO, between 2004 and 2011 approximately 2,300 avoidance schemes were disclosed to HMRC.  A report on this can be found on the BBC news website which can be found here.  The NAO report can be found here.

That shows the scale of the problem.

Then there is the sight of a number of Chief Executives from several of the world’s top companies giving evidence to the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee on the issue of tax avoidance.  Representatives from Google UK, Starbucks and Amazon were answering questions on tax arrangements for multinational companies.  Their responses show how big business views this issue and interference by politicians.  More on this from the BBC news website can be found here.

Also on this issue.  The Managing Director of John Lewis, Andy Street has said that the failure to resolve the issue would risk driving UK firms out of business.  Street’s comments were aimed at Amazon, which is accused of failing to pay the correct rate of UK corporation tax. He said that UK companies would be “out-invested” and “out-traded” by the US-based internet retail giant.  More on this from the Telegraph can be found here.

There is also some evidence that HMRC is losing this “battle”.  The European Court of Justice has ruled that the UK Government must refund several UK-headquartered multinationals up to £5bn worth of corporation tax.  The companies, led by British American Tobacco, were found to have been treated unfairly by HMRC which retrospectively blocked tax refund claims dating as far back as 1973.  HMRC said it was “very disappointed” at the ruling.  Glad that it was not “happy”.  More on this, again from the Telegraph, can be found here.

Then there is the tax tribunal decision in favour of the former Rangers Football Club.   The decision of the first tier tribunal was not unanimous and HMRC is considering an appeal.  More on this from the Scotsman can be found here.

An example of what HMRC is trying to do also highlights the scale of its task.  HMRC has launched a taskforce to pursue landlords in the south east of England who fail to declare rental income.  It is expected to recover £4m out of the estimated £550m of tax evaded annually by landlords across the UK.  A press release from HMRC on this matter can be found here. 

The statement from UK Business secretary Vince Cable sums up nicely the quandary for politicians.  Cable has called for action against corporate tax avoidance but also stressed the need to encourage investment.  He pointed to anger amongst small and medium sized businesses that multinational corporations are able to avoid tax without consequence.  More on this from the Scotsman can be found here.

I liked this: “High-street shops turn fire on Amazon’s tax avoidance”.  More on this can be found here.

Now to the fiscal powers debate.

Edward Troup, the person responsible for the collection of the Scottish rate of income tax at HMRC, has told MSPs that the Scottish Government would have to pay the costs of any changes to the Scottish rate of income tax.  More on this from the Scotsman can be found here.  This is in fact one of the reasons why I think a tax needs to be devolved in its entirety.

Also on this issue, and some sensible observations by Iain Gray, convener of Holyrood’s Audit Committee.  Gray said that the Scottish Parliament must be able to exercise greater oversight of HMRC when the Scottish Parliament will become responsible for raising half the income tax in Scotland from 2016.   More on this from the Herald can be found here.

The Devo Plus group, which was set up by Reform Scotland, has published its latest paper on further powers that could be devolved to the Scottish Parliament as long as Scotland votes NO.  More on this from the Scotsman can be found here.  The paper  can be found here. Notable that the Conservative representative acknowledged that he was there in a personal capacity and not representing his party.  Ruth Davidson has of course made her opposition to further powers clear.  The problem with this approach is an obvious one.  Can anyone say with a degree of certainty that major powers will be devolved to Scotland if Scotland votes NO.  To see how far apart the opposing sides in the independence debate are have a look at one of my recent blogs.  This blog lists the tax powers that Westminster has already said no to.  My earlier blog can be found here. Even the Liberal Democrats, the party that historically has went the furthest on this issue, now wishes to devolve only a handful of additional tax powers.

Now to some commentary on the recent Institute for Fiscal Studies report on the economic possibilities of an independent Scotland.  The excellent piece by Ian Bell in the Herald can be found here.  The argument that Scotland’s oil wealth is a potential problem for Scotland is simply ridiculous.

The Times has reported that sales of homes valued between £2m and £5m in Greater London have fallen by 29% per cent in the third quarter, according to figures from the Land Registry.  I was interested to read thatindustry experts” have blamed the fall on changes to stamp duty land tax in the last UK Budget.  London Central Portfolio, a high-end residential property investment fund, said: “The fall in transactions is almost definitely a result of the uncertainty and negative sentiment caused by the tax changes announced in the 2012 Budget”.  It seems that uncertainty can be caused by something other than the debate on Scottish independence. The report in the Times can be found here.

And finally to France.  The French Government has announced new measures against tax avoidance and fraud for companies and individuals. Failure to disclose the origin of offshore assets will attract an automatic 60% tax rate.  The French tax authorities will also demand an explanation of all individual payments exceeding €200,000.  Vive la France.

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Another week in “tax land”

Let’s start with the recent local government election.  I was disappointed that none of the main parties, of which Scotland now only appears to have three, put forward any serious proposals for reforming how we pay for our local services.  There is though one body actively campaigning on this issue and that is the think tank, Reform Scotland.  An article in the Scotsman on this can be found here.  Reform Scotland want our local authorities to have the power to decide whether to adopt a property tax such as the Council Tax or a land value tax or instead opt for an income tax, a consumption tax or a number of different local taxes.

Now to fiscal powers and the fact that National Insurance turns 100 in July.  100 not out but for how much longer?  The idea of combining income tax and National Insurance was considered by a working party as long ago as 1993.  The main reason for this is the erosion of the link between National Insurance contributions and welfare benefits.  This issue is again being looked at.  Do I think we will see a complete merger?  No, unless both income tax and National Insurance are controlled by the Scottish Parliament.  This is an example of how a Scottish tax system could create a more simplified system.

Again on fiscal powers.  I was not surprised to see a number of Conservative MPs arguing for a “Devo Plus Bill” as part of an “alternative Queen’s Speech”.  This was published on the Conservative Home website.  Conservative Home support the Reform Scotland proposal which would devolve all taxes to Scotland except VAT and National Insurance.  More on this can be found here.

Now to a group of people termed “High Net Worth”.  HMRC has announced that its High Net Worth Unit’s tougher approach on wealthy taxpayers has resulted in an extra £200m of tax revenue.  David Gauke, Exchequer Secretary to HM Treasury, said: “The Unit’s approach ensures that HMRC is working as effectively as possible with the very wealthy and that they are contributing a fair share”.  This was reported in the Financial Times on 6 May.  The article also claims that the amount collected by this Unit has doubled since it began operations in 2009-10.  The aim is for £560m by 2014-15.  This does though beg the question: why was this Unit only set up in 2009?

Now to a claim that the UK Government Minister for Civil Society, Nick Hurd, was never consulted about the cap on charitable tax relief announced by HM Treasury in March.  More on this from the STEP journal can be found here.  The UK Government has been at sixes and sevens on this policy.  I will be surprised if it survives the summer.  Unless of course summer is already behind us.

Again from the STEP Journal.  1.6 million people should have received letters by now from HMRC warning them that they have been undercharged tax under the PAYE system and will have to pay extra.  Another 3.5 million people will be given a tax refund.  The STEP article can be found here.  An example of the sheer scale of the UK tax system and the problems it faces.

Good to see that the Scottish Government’s prosecution service has passed 20 cases of large scale tax avoidance to HMRC for investigation.  An article on this from the Scotsman can be found here.  The referencing of Al Capone must be compulsory when journalists write about this subject.

Sometimes an argument just makes you shake your head.  The Scottish Government has announced that the minimum price for alcohol will be 50p.  Although this proposal has received a huge amount of support, the leader of the CBI in Scotland has warned that supermarkets are likely to receive millions in extra revenue from drink sales.  That of course is true.  So why is this organisation against the devolving of control of alcohol duty to the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government’s Public Health Levy (also known as the “Tesco tax”)?  There is of course no need to answer that question.  An article from the Scotsman on this can be found here.

It seems that top rates of personal income tax across the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries have begun to rise again in recent years after three decades of steady reductions.  The OECD press release can be found here.  Let’s not forget one of the main reasons for the reduction.  Politicians decided that “stealth taxes” were a better option.  For “better option” read “will help me get elected”.  The economic crisis put paid to that “cunning plan”.

“A serial killer is stalking the wealthy suburbs of Athens with an idiosyncratic choice of victims. They are all rich Greeks who have failed to pay their taxes, and their corpses have been left scattered among the ruins of the ancient city, dead of hemlock poisoning, the means of Socrates’ execution.”  This is the plot of the latest bestselling novel by Petros Markaris, who has combined the roles of thriller writer and social commentator in Greece to such an extent that he has become one of the most widely quoted voices in the crisis.  The article on this from Business insider can be found here.

Now to a story that combines sport, tax and the financial crisis.  Diego Maradona is suing the Italian government for £40m, despite owing it £32m in unpaid taxes.  Only in Italy!  The article from the Metro can be found here.

Lastly, an update on an issue I wrote about recently.  Co-founder of Facebook, Eduardo Saverin, is one of the thousands of wealthy Americans to have renounced his citizenship recently in order to avoid the country’s international taxation regime.  An issue for those planning a Scottish tax system to ponder.  An article on this from the STEP journal can be found here.

Have a good week.

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A glorious week of sunshine in “tax land”

I will start with where to find one of the most comprehensive and detailed review’s of last week’s UK Budget statement.  The link is to the always impressive Institute of Fiscal Studies and can be found here.  In particular see the “Business tax, stamp duty and anti-avoidance slides”.  Slide 9 on “Forecast revenue from anti-avoidance measures” is particularly revealing.

Now to the fiscal powers debate.  I was disappointed to see that Peter de Vink has been deselected by the Scottish Conservatives.  Peter was hoping to be elected to Midlothian Council in May.  As far as the fiscal powers debate is concerned this shows that there are some on the centre right in Scotland who can see the opportunities that fiscal autonomy or independence could bring.  Peter’s article in the Herald can be found here.

The First Minister has announced the setting up of a “Fiscal Commission Working Group” to establish a fiscal framework for an independent Scotland.  The group will include former World Bank Chief Economist and Nobel Prize winner Jospeh Stiglitz of Columbia University.  My only slight concern relating to this group is that it comprises four economists, albeit eminent economists.  This group needs to ensure it has an understanding of the underlying law and legal framework that is crucial to creating a new fiscal framework for Scotland.  That includes the creation of a Scottish Exchequer.  I will once again reiterate my call for a review of all government tax, law and registration services in Scotland.  A Scottish Government press release on this can be found here.

I was also interested to read about a report by the David Hume Institute which claimed that an independent Scotland would be liable for around £100bn of debts and liabilities.  In particular I was interested to see one of the first references to the “other side of the balance sheet”.  The report says that the UK has approximately £821bn of “assets”. The £100bn figure comes from deducting £69bn of assets from approximately £152bn to £171bn of debts and liabilities.  A Scotland on Sunday article on this story can be found here.  This particular part of the fiscal powers debate has a long way to go.

In advance of May’s local government elections, Reform Scotland has called for non-domestic rates to be devolved in full to local authorities.  This would mean a variable business rate in different areas of Scotland.  The Reform Scotland paper can be found here.  Non-domestic rates is one of two tax powers presently devolved to the Scottish Parliament, the other being council tax.  Although these taxes are administered by the local authorities control rests with the Scottish Parliament.

The proposal would also mean that local authorities would keep the revenue they collect from business rates.  At the moment this revenue is handed back to the Scottish Government.  The Scottish Government then redistribute it as part of its grant to each local authority.  The Reform Scotland proposal could also be used as a framework for when control over the Crown Estate is devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

According to a study carried out by accountancy firm UHY Hacker Young, Edinburgh businesses contribute more to the UK economy per head of population than any other major city in the UK.  The main reason given is that Edinburgh wasn’t hit as hard by the financial crisis as London.  In addition, oil-rich Aberdeen was the only major UK city to see its economy grow during the recession.  This is excellent news for the Scottish economy.  An article from the Scotsman on this can be found here.

Now to corporation tax.  The Financial Times recently reported on how 15 multinational companies are considering locating substantial operations in Britain as a result of UK corporate tax reforms.  What I found most interesting about this report is when tax competition is discussed in a UK context it is a positive thing.  Contrast this with the tone of the debate over devolving control over corporation tax to the Scottish Parliament.

Continuing on the corporation tax theme.  It is not just the headline rate of tax that is important.  The underlying law which deals with, for example, reliefs is just as important.  Further evidence for this is shown by a recent statement by the European Commission.  The European Commission are claiming that the UK is breaking European law by imposing an immediate capital gains tax charge on companies that relocate to another EU member country.  The Commission has requested that the UK abolish this exit tax within two months, or be referred to the European Court of Justice.  I await the reaction to this by the UK Government with interest.  The statement from the European Commission can be found here.

The Unoccupied Properties Bill has been introduced at Holyrood.  At the moment empty and unfurnished residential properties are exempt from council tax for the first six months.  After that period, they qualify for a 10% discount.  Under this Bill local authorities will be given the power to charge up to twice as much council tax on residential properties that are empty and unfurnished.  It is hoped this will act as an incentive for home owners to bring their empty houses back into use.  The Scottish government has also announced a new loan fund which will be specifically targeted at projects bringing properties into use for affordable housing.

The new bill will also controversially reduce the non-domestic business rates discount for some empty commercial properties from 50% to 10%.  The argument put forward is that this will encourage owners to bring boarded-up shops back into use.  A report from the BBC news website on this can be found here.

Now to England.  Over 85% of local authorities have accepted the UK Government’s offer to freeze council tax rates.  This is contrast to the agreement reached between the Scottish Government and all of Scotland’s local authorities.  England’s local authorities were offered a one-off grant worth 2.5% of their budget if they agreed to the freeze.  More on this can be found here.

Let’s end with Wales and the news that the Welsh Government has started to consult on whether Wales should be a separate legal jurisdiction.  The Welsh government will ask the judiciary, lawyers and members of the public whether they want a jurisdiction along the lines of those found in Scotland and Northern Ireland.  An article from the Law Society Gazette on this matter can be found here.

Have a good weekend.

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A week in “tax land”

Let’s start with “GERS”.  No not the blue half of Glasgow but the: “Government and Expenditure Revenue Scotland 2010-11”, or GERS for short.

The latest GERS report was published this week and shows that Scotland contributed 9.6% of UK public sector revenue and received 9.3% of total UK public sector expenditure.  These figures include a per capita share of UK debt interest payments.  Scotland’s population is 8.4% of the UK total.  Scotland’s estimated current budget balance in 2010-11, which is primarily day to day expenditure, was a deficit of £6.4 billion, or 4.4% of GDP.  These figures include a geographical share of North Sea revenues.  The corresponding UK figures were a deficit of £97.8 billion or 6.6% of GDP for the same year.  That includes 100% of North Sea revenues.

As is usually the case with statistics, and probably even more so with those which are used as ammunition in the fiscal powers debate, economists and other commentators will argue back and forth on what these facts and figures tell us.  That is why I agree with Reform Scotland’s call for the Office for Budget Responsibility to provide forecasts for all taxes raised in Scotland and not just those that might be devolved by the Scotland Bill.  Reform Scotland’s press release can be found here.  More on GERS can be found here.

Now to the fiscal powers debate.  This week it was Labour’s turn to announce a “commission that will look at how devolution should change and what further powers should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament.”  This means that none of the main political parties are arguing for the status quo or even just the Scotland Bill.  The Liberal Democrats have already announced their own commission and the Conservatives, or rather the UK Conservatives by way off the Prime Minister, have said that they will consider devolving further powers if Scotland votes no in 2014.

The announcement of yet another commission received quite a lot of media of coverage.  The fact that Labour think a second referendum will be required if Scotland votes “no” in 2014 was less commented upon.  I suspect that this will also be the view of both the Liberals and the Conservatives.  That clearly conflicts with the argument that Scotland needs an early referendum to stop “uncertainty”.  An article on this from the STV news website can be found here.

Aberdeen City Council is expected to apply for more than £90m of tax incremental funding (TIF) following a ‘yes’ vote in the Union Terrace Gardens referendum.  A report on this from the STV news website can be found here.  I have written before on why I support TIF and the type of thinking behind this type of idea.  The one caveat I have concerns the number of these projects. As was found in the United States, if too many projects are approved the ability to fund both old and future projects gets harder.  The Scottish Futures Trust is though well aware of what happened in places such as Illinois, where I worked as an attorney, and first came across TIF.  More on TIF can be found here.

I was not surprised to read that a last minute bid to stop the Scottish Government’s plan to levy a tax on supermarkets and large shops has been defeated.  The “Tesco tax”, as this proposal has been termed, will see retailers which sell alcohol and tobacco pay an extra £95m in business rates over the next three years.  A BBC news website piece on this can be found here.

Sometimes when you read a story about the workings of government, local or national, you just sigh.  This is one such story.  Whitehall departments have been criticised for overspending by £500m on schemes that were actually intended to save money.  The National Audit Office found that UK ministers failed to offer clear management for the setting up of pooled resource centres.  The aim was to stop costs being duplicated.  The ever excellent Labour MP Margaret Hodge, who chairs the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, said that the overall figures provided: “a shockingly familiar story of spiralling costs and poor value for money”.  Will anyone be brought to account?  Will a gong have to be returned or a bonus forfeited?  I suspect not.  A BBC news website piece on this can be found here.

Now to the Budget debate.  For “debate” read “battle between and briefing against your coalition partners.”  There are a number of fronts in this battle.  These include how quickly to increase the personal allowance limit, whether to reduce higher rate pension tax relief, the possible introduction of a “Mansion” tax and whether to retain the 50p top rate of income tax.  Is it worth speculating as to the outcome of these battles?  Not really.  Fun though that would be this is a political game pure and simple.  The “winner” will be the side who at that moment has the most power not necessarily who has the best ideas.  It was ever thus.

The more interesting debate, and this has just really begun, concerns whether and to what extent wealth as opposed to income should be taxed.  That is where the debate is going.  I will come back to this issue after the UK Budget.

One final point on the so called “Mansion tax”.  I do find the lack of commentary on the fact that local taxation is devolved to the Scottish Parliament amusing.  Can you imagine the Scottish Parliament’s reaction to the UK Government interfering with one of the few tax powers it has?  Let’s call that a rhetorical question.  We do know how the UK Government reacts if the Scottish Parliament or the Scottish Government dares to do something that touches on a reserved matter.  Here are a few examples: free personal and nursing care, local income tax and minimum pricing for alcohol.

As with last week’s blog I will end with the French presidential election and news that Francois Hollande, the Socialist candidate, has announced plans to raise the top rate of income tax to 75 per cent on “indecent” annual incomes above €1 million. The use of the word “indecent” says it all.

Good luck to all our teams in action in Ireland this weekend.

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A week in “tax land”

Let’s start with my favourite Chicago politician and the small matter of the next US Presidential election.

I was interested to read this week that President Obama is considering a form of “minimum taxation”.   The plan seems to be if you make more than $1 million a year you should not pay less than 30 per cent in taxes.  In addition if you earn more than $1 million a year you will not be allowed to claim any tax relief or deductions.  On corporate taxation no American company will be allowed to avoid paying its “fair” share of taxes by moving jobs and profits overseas.  Again multinational companies will be liable for a basic minimum tax.  I wonder if we will see our politicians thinking along similar lines in the near future.  I suspect that we will.

Now to the independence and fiscal powers debate.  Two major developments this week. Firstly sources close to the Prime Minister are reported to have said: “that a substantial increase in financial powers for Holyrood is not an option if Scotland wants to remain within the United Kingdom.”  If the UK Conservative party sticks with this line in the sand then how will those who support “devo max” or “devo plus” vote in 2014?  Will the Liberal Democrats and the main UK opposition party continue to support this policy?

Only time will tell as far as these questions are concerned.  One thing is though certain and that is the UK Government will face opposition on this point.  This week groups from the voluntary sector, churches, trade unions and the business community have formed a coalition to explore the possibility of a “middle-ground” option which is short of independence.  This group is termed “civic Scotland” and has the support of two think tanks Reform Scotland and the Centre for Public Policy.  For completeness sake I should mention that I am a former trustee of Reform Scotland and that I was one of the authors of Reform Scotland’s fiscal power papers.  I am though not involved with this group.

I was surprised that more was not made of the new statistics produced by HMRC this week.  UK tax receipts up to January 2012 show that total tax revenues in the 2010-11 fiscal year very nearly recovered to their pre-recession 2007-08 level and are set to be substantially higher in the current 2011-12 tax year.

Now to something we in Scotland are going to have to consider as tax powers are devolved to the Scottish Parliament.  It is easy to suggest a new tax.  Recent examples include a “bed tax” for Edinburgh.  Another possible new tax is the so called “bag tax”.  It was reported this week that Northern Ireland is to introduce such a tax from April.  Wales introduced a similar tax last year and the Republic of Ireland has had such a tax since 2002.  The Scottish Government is presently consulting on this issue.

As I said it is easy to suggest a new tax.  It is harder to explain what that tax is meant to achieve.  That should always be the starting point.  Are we looking to increase tax revenue or change behaviour or possibly a bit of both?  When environmental taxes such as aggregates levy and landfill tax were introduced the politicians struggled to answer this question.

I would also expect an explanation as to how the tax will be collected, the cost of collection and who carries that cost.  Any claim as to potential revenue also needs to be looked at closely and also put into context.  Most taxation revenue comes from just a handful of taxes.  Many of the UK’s minor taxes produce a relatively small amount of revenue.

Any new tax should also have a review date.  This ensures that any claims as to revenue or the cost of administration can be checked within a relatively short period of time.

Now to an update in the Scotsman on Edinburgh airport’s so called “kiss and fly” tax.  A total of 15p of every £1 generated by the charge for dropping off passengers beside the airport terminal is being channelled into its environmental fund.  The article can be found here.

Now to business rates and an excellent piece in the Scotsman newspaper.  The Scotsman reports that an unprecedented number of firms in Edinburgh have demanded reduced business rates as they struggle with a weak global economy and local difficulties such as tram works.  The article can be found here.

Now to Europe.  I was not surprised that President Sarkozy has decided to introduce a French financial transaction tax in August.  Will he still be in power then is of course another question.  The plan is to unilaterally impose a 0.1% tax on financial transactions.  The UK Prime Minister’s reaction was as expected.  Of greater interest is whether other European countries follow Sarkozy’s lead.

I have been following the Harry Redknapp trial with interest.  It is alleged that he received undeclared payments via a Monaco bank account from his former boss at Portsmouth Football Club.  Reports such as this one from the BBC News website, found here, make fascinating reading.

It seems that the Chief Executive of the Student Loan Company has his salary of £182,000 salary paid via a company and without tax being deducted.  The article claims that both HMRC and HM Treasury were aware of this arrangement which allows Ed Lester to pay corporation tax of 21% rather than up to 50% income tax on his earnings.  You have to wonder if the people who approved this arrangement have any sense of what is happening in the real world just now.  This is an excellent piece of journalism from the Guardian and the article can be found here.

Finally to more serious matters.  Good luck to new Scottish captain Ross Ford this weekend.  No pressure!

Have a good weekend.

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Just another week in “tax land”?

The term “another week” does not seem appropriate as the title to this blog.

I do not remember all that much about the 1979 referendum and I was living in Chicago during the 1997 referendum.  Odd to think how much I do still remember about Argentina 78.  This week’s announcement ensures that 2014 will now be added to Scotland’s constitutional dateline.  A yes vote in the Autumn of 2014 leads to an independent Scotland by May 2016.  That is why this is not just another week.

What does a yes vote mean?  A yes vote means a Scottish Exchequer.  I have written about a Scottish Exchequer regularly over the last few years including in these blogs and the fiscal powers papers I co-authored with Reform Scotland.  Creating a Scottish Exchequer is not going to happen overnight.  We do though need to start somewhere.  Let’s start with the question: do we need separate HMRC and HM Treasury type bodes?  No.

We also need to look at what other institutions an independent or even a fiscally autonomous Scotland might need.  For example a one stop shop for all Scottish Government legal, registration and tax services.

We also now have to thinking about practicalities.  Would I copy en masse the UK tax legislation as exists in 2014 and declare that no changes will be made for two years?  Yes. This will ensure a degree of certainty for the general public and the business community.  Another advantage is that it would take some pressure off the new Scottish Exchequer.

I am sure I will come back to these and many other issues in the coming weeks and months.

I read with interest that Jeremy Paxman compared Scotland with Zimbabwe in an interview with the First Minister earlier this week.  I remember a similar point being put when I was giving evidence to the Calman Commission.  The transcript for this, page 478, can be found here.

Now to a question I was asked earlier this week.   How would I explain “devo max”.  Two areas need to be looked at.   Government spending and control over taxation.  The percentage that the Scottish Parliament has over each of these areas gives a good idea of how much autonomy it has.   Presently the Scottish Parliament has control over 60% of all government spending but only 7% of taxation.   The Scotland Bill increases taxation control to around 30%.   The latest Reform Scotland proposal, “devolution plus”, moves this closer to 70% for both government spending and control over taxation.  Fiscal autonomy or “devo max” would be around 90% for both government spending and control over taxation.  Fiscal autonomy does not reach 100% because control of VAT cannot be devolved with European Union states and foreign affairs, defence and some economic matters would still be controlled by Westminster.

The Liberal Democrats concerted campaign to dominate the news coverage in the run up to the March UK Budget  continued apace this week.   This week it was the UK Business Secretary, Vince Cable, calling for a mansion tax to be introduced on properties worth over £2 million.  It is estimated that a mansion tax could raise as much as £1.7 billion a year.  Nick Clegg, it is reported, also wants to speed up plans plans to increase the level at which income tax becomes payable, from its current £7,475 to £10,000.   This is presently scheduled for 2015.

Now to Europe.  I have previously blogged on how hard Ireland has had to fight to retain its low rate of corporation tax as a result of its bailout.  What is less well known is how the bailout might impact the Irish legal system.  Excellent article on this in the Law Society Gazette which can be found here.

Now to England and Eric Pickles, UK Communities Secretary, saying that councillors have a “moral duty” to sign up to the UK Government’s council tax freeze.  A moral duty to sign up to government policy.  A tax policy no less.  Interesting tactic.  Not surprisingly this has not gone down well with many English councillors.

More on business rates this week and the debate, for debate read spat, between the STUC and the FSB on the “Small Business Bonus Scheme”.  More on this can be found here.   Good to see that neither side used “morality” in their arguments.

Scottish Water has announced that its charges are to be frozen for the fourth year in a row.  The move means the average annual household charge from April in Scotland will remain at £324.  This is the same level it was in 2009-10.

Some more good news.   The UK Government has agreed to an income tax exemption for non UK competitors at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games.   This is something I have blogged about before and takes away another point of potential conflict between the Scottish and UK Governments.   Now that agreement has been reached on this and the fossil fuel levy fund I wonder which other niggly issue could be dealt with next?  How about adding aggregates duty, air passenger duty, corporation tax and alcohol duty to the Scotland Bill?  Likely to happen?  No.

One last point.  If you have still not dealt with your tax return please do so as soon as possible even though HMRC have effectively put back the deadline for two days due to possible strike action.  HMRC’s new penalty regime is not something you want to have to deal with.

Have a good weekend.

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