There needs to be a special reason to give over this blog to someone else’s words. This is one such occasion. It’s important for accountants to be able to debate the tax news stories of the moment with confidence and conviction – based on the facts. This has become increasingly difficult in recent months, as John Andrews explained in a recent speech.
John is a former CIOT President and founder of the Low Incomes Tax Reform Group. The comments below are taken from his acceptance speech after he became only the third ever recipient of the CIOT Council Award this week. This is a prestigious and very well deserved commendation for John’s tireless work since his ‘retirement’. He remains one of the most highly regarded and respected independently minded members of the tax profession, so his words deserve wide attention.
Towards the end of John’s speech he referenced a recent debate on tax avoidance in Parliament (the Bold emphasis is mine):
This was generally a more mature debate and a realisation that we have an international problem that cannot be solved on our own. However, some parts were filled with heat and very little light. Other parts contained a distinct lack of facts, accompanied by impossible dreams, misunderstandings and many unsupported assertions.
This reminded me of a report in the US press last year [credit here to Rex Huppke of the Chicago Tribune] which made Facts into a mythical person and then criticised US politicians for killing Facts. The event that caused the demise was when a Florida Republican announced, without any evidence, that at least 81 of his fellow members of the U.S. House of Representatives were communists.
This made me think that some tax debates may have pushed our equivalent of the mythical person, Facts, to an early grave here in the UK.
Facts had a long life and I believe was born in ancient Greece, the child of Aristotle who saw that evidence was essential for his nurture. As Facts grew up people like Edmund Burke observed “Facts are to the mind what food is to the body.”
Facts helped to discover gravity, break the Enigma Code, discover DNA and, perhaps, introduce self-assessment.
In 2012 however, people seemingly unable to understand how tax systems work, began to doubt and ignore Facts. Opinion became the new truth and reprinting of such opinion in the press confirmed this new truth as correct. No feedback from Facts was thought necessary.
Facts had suffered serious injuries at the time of the 10% tax rate debacle in 2008 and through the misplaced assertions in 2010 about millions of errors being produced by the new PAYE system.
His health was improving, when early last year he was laid low by the absence of any sensible discussion about the granny and pasty taxes.
But nothing was to prepare him for the cruel assault which led to his demise in the final month of twenty-twelve. Assertions in the press that you can judge the right amount of tax a multinational should pay by looking at its turnover; followed by the revelation that for certain there was a £69.9 billion tax gap caused by avoidance, caused Facts to have a major stroke.
He was still in intensive care in hospital when the final straw came. His cousin TaxLaw was the one to break the news. TaxLaw had been admitted to the hospital’s isolation unit and had been ignored by all and sundry, including, at times, the Public Accounts Committee. The oxygen was rushed to Facts when he was told that a coffee bean company was now to be the arbiter of the amount of tax that people should pay; but it was too late.
That news coupled with the whisper that a burger chain would set the CPI in future had done its worst.
You will have seen from his obituary that Facts was aged 2,372 and was buried, at his request, in the birthplace of Parliament – the Isle of Man. He is survived by two brothers, Rumour and Dogma and a sister Shout Loudly.
Donations in his memory may be made to HMRC in a brown envelope marked “corporation tax”.
It is to John’s credit that he didn’t name any individual carriers of the virus that killed Facts. He was making serious points, about which he cares greatly, under the guise of an amusing valedictory speech. Sadly much of the media is unaware or does not care enough that they are helping the spread of a virus.
John Andrews’ acceptance speech can be read in full here.