Letters – 19 March

Worse than taking eyes off balls

Following your article ‘KPMG delayed’ (Accountancy Age, 19 February, page 1) saying that publication of KPMG’s financial results would be delayed following the break-off of merger talks as ‘too many partners had their eye off the ball’, I wonder whether your readers have ideas as to other phrases which might equally be applied.

A few which come readily to mind are, ‘that they might have had their:

– feet off the accelerator’ (or brake depending on your point of view …);

– whisk too high in the mixing bowl’;

– hands away from the parachute release cord’;

– glass too far away from their mouth’; or

– cappuccino cup away from the coffee-maker spout’.

Chris Langham, Beckenham, Kent

No place for dyslexia here

While I admire Colin Sharpe’s desire to open the profession as widely as possible (Accountancy Age, 5 March, page 13), I must disagree with him about dyslexic accountants.

My husband’s family is riddled with dyslexia (my own daughter is badly dyslexic) and I shudder at the thought of any of them attempting the meticulous recording and analysis of figures which (I think, anyway) is at the heart of accountancy.

This isn’t to say they’re thick – they’re all bright and those old enough have got degrees – but that the tricks dyslexia plays on the ability to perceive written information make accountancy a non-starter in the career stakes.

Penelope Feeney ACA (ducking all the brickbats which are sure to follow!),

Mellor’s claim exaggerated

As someone who in a personal capacity has advised the Liberal Democrats on fiscal policy for the last few years, I read with interest your profile (Accountancy Age, 5 March, page 20) of Nigel Mellor, VAT senior manager at Deloitte & Touche.

It seems that before the May 1997 General Election, Mellor advised Labour on VAT issues for small businesses, and that his ‘recommendations became part of the Party manifesto which will presently become legislation’.

Readers may be interested in the results of my detailed review of Labour’s election manifesto.

I do not doubt, and indeed welcome, the fact that Mellor has advised the Labour Party on VAT issues for small business. However, the Labour manifesto is totally silent on this issue. But in any event, let us hope the VAT burden on small businesses is reduced, if only as an antidote to the legislation required to implement both the March 1998 Budget and the minimum wage.

It appears that Mellor will also be advising clients on VAT-saving opportunities.

On this issue, Labour’s manifesto is less silent, stating ‘just as we owe it to the taxpayer to crack down on tax avoidance, so we must crack down on dishonesty in the benefit system’. Forewarned is forearmed.

M C Fitzpatrick, head of economics, Chantrey Vellacott, London WC1

Apologia too far on Smith

I was astounded at the effrontery of Peter Bottomley’s apologia for Tim Smith (Accountancy Age, 26 February, page 18). Bottomley claims that Tim Smith was not accused of breaking the law and likens his offence to a breach of accountancy rules.

It is true that Tim Smith’s actions did not constitute a breach of the law. However, in any profession other than lawmaker, it is against the law for an employee or official to take – without the knowledge of those to whom he is responsible – large amounts of money in cash in a brown envelope from a third party to promote that party’s interests in the course of his employment.

Bottomley says that ‘when the question came up, Tim Smith told the truth’.

Which question? Certainly not those he asked for Mohammed Al Fayed or the subsequent questions to Tim Smith from journalists. Is he to be given credit for finally coming clean when the facts were exposed in the press?

Much is made of Tim Smith’s subsequent appointment to the Public Accounts Committee. This appointment, however, should be seen in the context of government which was acting as if sleaze was not a serious issue and which received the verdict of the electors on that matter on 1 May last year.

I had hoped that our institute would take the matter more seriously.

Instead, we witness yet another example of the profession’s failure to regulate itself properly.

P A Hendrick, London N3

Pipping all to the post?

I deliberately delayed submitting my entry into the ‘competition for last return’ to ensure the Inland Revenue stuck to its word that all returns in its letterbox at 7am on Monday 2 February 1998 were to be treated as filed on the due date of 31 January 1998. One of our local districts had threatened to seal its letterbox.

My last return was filed at 4.30am on Monday. But I can reassure all readers that it is not a competition that I shall enter next year. So the way is now clear for any prospective usurper to steal my unwanted crown. In fact, I’ll give it away; there’s no need to thieve it.

Interestingly enough, of the many returns I filed by hand in the days prior to the due date, two were deemed not to have been received and the Inland Revenue sent me forms SA330 to notify me of that fact.

I called the tax office on 19 February to inquire as to how they had been lost and was told that it was impossible as all returns were ‘logged’ into the system when they arrived. In blind panic I called my clients and advised that penalty notices were on the way and it wasn’t my fault.

The following week I received a notification that the returns had been received and were ‘logged’ on 31 January 1998. Phew, panic over?

Nah! Two days later the z100 penalty notices were issued stating that the returns were late. Talk about Whitehall farce. Who writes these scripts?

There was even a penalty in respect of a return that was not issued until 16 January and therefore not due to be filed until 16 April. Once again the computer programming is found wanting.

Well, if the Inland Revenue can charge its customers for filing late returns, then there should be a reciprocal arrangement for thoroughly wasting taxpayers’ agents’ time.

I am still waiting for the Revenue to tell me if I have to go through the appeals procedure.

S D Paskin FFA, Worthing, West Sussex

Service isn’t as bad as all that

Recently various newspapers and journals have said the Revenue is in a total mess with self-assessment and penalties. I recently received a penalty notice, even though I had sent in my return. In view of the Revenue’s bad reputation I sent an irate letter to my local inspector.

I very quickly received a courteous reply confirming they had received my return, explaining clearly why the penalty notice had been sent out and the action they were taking to cancel it and prevent the problem happening again.

I can tell you that Harrogate District is as courteous and helpful as any district I have dealt with in the last 40 years.

Philip K Taylor FCA, Company Secretary, SquareSum plc, Wetherby

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