Leader – Spending more but saving less

If you have ever felt the urge to become a public servant, this week’s Budget will have helped you achieve your ambition. Thanks to Gordon Brown, we are all, to a greater or lesser extent, civil servants now.

In the taxation field, it started with self-assessment for individuals. Then came self-assessment for companies – and now the general anti-avoidance crackdown which treats everyone as being guilty until proven innocent. Steadily the onus of proof is moving from the state and its agencies to the individual and his or her accountant.

As Tony McClenaghan pointed out on this page last week, Customs and Excise has taken to setting aside the letter of the law in favour of what Customs thinks Parliament was really trying to say when it enacted laws. Once again, the man or woman in the street has little chance of knowing where they stand.

The initial impulse behind making the taxpayer, or rather their accountant, do the job the taxman used to do, was saving money. But we are moving beyond that to the point at which the government is offloading not just the work but the risk too.

Passing the buck is not just unfair it is likely to cost the Chancellor dear. Putting the onus on the taxpayer will only lead to more appeals and that may cost Gordon Brown far more than he thinks. Spend to save looks like becoming a case of spending more and saving less.

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