Ridiculous timeframe given to read and debate the Finance Bill

WE ALL love a good read. Indeed, I fondly recall devouring the works of JRR Tolkien, Bill Bryson and BS Johnson with the best of them in years gone by.

But it would be a tall order for anyone to make short work of even those lively and engaging works of literature inside less than 48 hours, let alone the rather more turgid prose of the Finance Bill.

And so it’s no surprise that experts across the accountancy and tax profession have slammed the lack of consideration afforded to the Bill before it is ratified into law.
Published yesterday (24 March 2015), it is to be voted upon today in order to become law.

Controversial tax rules including the Diverted Profits Tax – aimed at preventing multinationals shifting UK profits offshore – are included in the legislation, which runs to 340 pages and 264 pages of explanatory notes.

Alongside the so-called ‘Google tax’, repeated promoters and users of schemes are to be denied access to tax reliefs, while the practice of naming and shaming is extended, although concerns persist over the accuracy and fairness of previous name and shame initiatives.

Each of these measures – among the myriad others I haven’t mentioned here – is complex in its own right, and deserves careful consideration over how they will work in practice, how they will sit alongside and interact with existing law and whether they are, fundamentally, the right move.

Instead, the bill has been allocated two and a half minutes of debating time before it is put forward as law.

It is, as BDO tax partner Richard Rose put it, a “ridiculous timeframe”.

That view was echoed today as ICAS launched its general election manifesto, in which a key plank is the pressing need for a simpler tax code. The annual practice of waving through the Finance Bill without so much as a cursory glance directly impedes that.

What UK businesses so desperately need and cry out for, especially small and mid-sized firms, is transparency and certainty when it comes to taxation.

Individuals, too, need to understand their affairs, obligations and in the case of tax reliefs – opportunities.

This process allows for none of that, and it’s astonishing that more noise is not made about it.

Calum Fuller is the tax correspondent for Accountancy Age and Financial Director.

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