Accountancy Age speaks to Mel Stride, the new Financial Secretary to the Treasury, about Making Tax Digital, what to expect from the Summer Finance Bill and the Treasury’s direction in relation to Brexit negotiations
Congratulations on the new role – tell us a little bit more about your past experience, and what you’re most looking forward to as Financial Secretary to the Treasury.
Thank you very much. I am absolutely delighted to have been appointed as Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Paymaster General. Since I was first elected as an MP for Central Devon in 2010, I have had the privilege of working on some very exciting issues, including on education and skills and, most recently, as a Government Whip. Before moving into politics, I set up my own business helping companies to reach their clients through exhibitions, conferences and online publications. That’s now 30 years ago, but I still have an active interest in helping small businesses to grow and succeed. In my time as an MP, I have always looked for opportunities to contribute to the government’s great record on business issues, and I am really looking forward to continue our work in boosting growth and supporting small businesses.
What are the key areas of focus for the Treasury over the coming months?
Brexit negotiations and ensuring a smooth withdrawal from the EU will be a key priority for us over the coming months. This will include introducing a Customs Bill that allows the UK to continue to provide a world-leading customs service after the UK exits the EU.
The fundamentals of our economy are strong but of course we must make sure that we continue to put economic stability first, make the most of opportunities ahead and continue to make progress in restoring the health of our public finances. We are introducing a summer Finance Bill and of course we will have a Budget in the autumn. As someone who understands the challenges that small business often face, I recognise that tax certainty is crucial, so we must continue our efforts to ensure that policies are developed in a way that is predictable, stable, simple and transparent.
The move to a single fiscal event a year will help to create a more stable tax system, reducing the frequency of changes and allowing for more opportunity to consult on changes, and we must continue to look for ways to reform and improve the way tax policy is made to provide certainty for businesses.
What do you anticipate being the main challenges for the Treasury in the next year?
When it comes to tax, we must of course continue to crack down on avoidance, evasion and non-compliance. We have led the way on this, securing £150bn in additional tax revenues since 2010, including £2.7bn from offshore tax evaders, and have driven the global agenda forward. But we cannot be complacent and we must make sure that we continue to help level the playing field for the honest majority of businesses and individuals that pay the tax they owe.
We must also continue to encourage growth and improve productivity. Particularly as we prepare to leave the European Union, it will be more important than ever that Britain is seen as a good place to do business.
What can we expect from the Summer Finance Bill with regard to tax policy?
As we set out alongside the Queen’s Speech, we will introduce a summer Finance Bill and its content will be made clear when it is introduced to the House. I wouldn’t want to pre-empt that. However, we have a process for making new tax policy and you can be sure that we will have consulted on these measures before being legislated for. I am committed to that because I believe it makes for a clearer landscape for tax professionals, and better, more developed tax law.
Making Tax Digital is a key government initiative. Are we still on track for implementation in April 2018?
Before the election the government began piloting Making Tax Digital systems. This is still very early stage but we look forward to making further progress in the coming weeks and months.
What benefits will the Making Tax Digital initiative have for UK businesses?
Millions of businesses are already banking, paying bills, and interacting with each other and their customers online. Making Tax Digital has the potential to ensure that businesses to get a clearer picture of their tax liabilities in year, helping them to plan ahead. It also promises help businesses to get their tax right first time, reducing the worry that HMRC may need to intervene.
For those business that have limited digital capabilities, will the necessary support be offered in order to help them through the digitisation process?
The overwhelming majority of businesses recognise that going digital is the way forward and 93% of income tax payers already file their returns online. As someone with a business background, I am acutely aware of how important it is for businesses to receive the right support they need to deal with transitions of this kind. HMRC is fully committed to helping businesses and agents adapt to a more digital system. The Finance Bill will be presented in parliament shortly and will set out our plans in detail.
How will the Brexit negotiations influence the Treasury’s direction over the next two years?
As the Chancellor said at Mansion House, our economy is inexorably linked to the kind of Brexit deal that we reach with the EU. This means the Treasury will be working extremely hard over the next two years to help deliver a deal that puts jobs and prosperity first. We must make sure that employers are still able to access the talent they need and that our markets for goods and services and capital remain open. It should also ideally be a deal that provides for transitional arrangements, so that trade can carry on flowing smoothly. Of course, other government business will still continue and we are committed to improving our public services and delivering an economy that works for everyone.