John Whiting of
this week crowned the undisputed king of media punditry when it comes to the
Budget and tax.
A veteran of tax advice for PwC, Whiting is also a fixture of Budget day,
having become the tax adviser of choice for BBC television’s coverage of the
Budget. Auntie has an army of people who do economics, a brigade of people able
to tell the nation what the political implications and machinations are behind
the Budget. But when it comes to illuminating what the Budget means for people –
how much it will cost them and where it will hit them – the BBC turns to John
It’s Whiting who helps the BBC cut through the haze of technical obfuscation
to bring clarity to the masses. If not good news.
Whiting is perfectly suited for this. His calm, unflustered tone, his
uncluttered speech and his ability to coin a phrase that neatly and succinctly
summarises the Budget lend him the air of dependability and integrity.
When you hear it from Whiting, you hear it like it is. That’s why the BBC
like him so much. He’s ‘Honest John’ the tax expert who won’t make you feel like
a tax ignoramus with his knowledge.
Whiting has been with PricewaterhouseCoopers all his working life. He left
Manchester University to join them in 1972. Three years later he was a chartered
accountant and, two years after that, became a member of the Chartered Institute
of Taxation. Sadly, his CV says he has a preoccupation with 70s mop-haired folk
rockers Fairport Convention, which proves everyone has their faults.
That said, his colleagues at PwC pontificate that he has three things going
for him. ‘An unrivalled ability to explain complex issues with great clarity –
and often humour – and the fact that he is always prepared to put himself out to
help others [including journalists]. He is also a really nice person, which
makes him a pleasure to work with.’
It’s enough to make you wonder why PwC allowed him to retire.
Until he does, Whiting is head of the employment solutions team and he
remains quoted widely. It’s not just the BBC. Prior to the Budget last week, he
was mentioned in most national newspapers, including The Times and The Financial
Times, commenting on issues as wide ranging as the tax implications of MPs’
expenses and taxing the image rights Premier League footballers. He is nearly
always available. Journalists will find that he is reachable even when on
And Whiting has proved he has an ear for a decent sound bite too. Who can
forget his: ‘This is a cappuccino Budget.’ Or: ‘Budget day had started like
Groundhog Day: it all comes round again.’ How about: ‘Budgets are traditionally
like icebergs – the speech is the bit on the surface; hidden from view is a
great mass of detailed changes, ready to snag the unwary.’
What will happen?
Whiting retires from PwC in June this year and will move to the CIoT, as
director of tax policy, where he has also been a past president and served on
committees. The question is whether his media influence will be maintained.
The CIoT must be hoping it will, but part of the attraction of Whiting is
that he does come from the biggest accountancy firm in the UK and the world.
Will the BBC still want him? He’ll still be Honest John – standing for the
profession and for journalists.
Budget day wouldn’t be Budget day without Whiting appearing on the BBC.
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