An ambitious minister – let’s not call him Jim Hacker, how about Gordon
Brown, to pluck a name from the sky – returns to his desk after the weekend. His
permanent secretary, the Humphreyish Nicholas Macpherson, has, as usual, beaten
him to the office.
‘Nick, I was visiting a small business in my constituency on Saturday and saw
how stifling red tape can be. The company – an organisation chock full of
potential voters, I mean the heads of hard-working families – is being forced to
lay people off because of the cost of form filling. It was awful. But I know how
we can solve this red tape problem once and for all.’
Macpherson’s eyebrows arch as he clutches a folder of ministerial missives
tightly to his chest.
‘What we need is a flat tax system for business,’ says Brown, warming to his
theme. ‘At a stroke it will cut red tape, increase the tax take and enable us to
divert civil servants’ time to more valuable pursuits. Like shutting the Child
Macpherson splutters. ‘A flat tax? You want to do away with 200 years of
tradition? Two hundred years of cat and mouse between tax advisers and tax
collectors? A 200 year-old mass employment programme? Is this what we fought
Brown is taken aback. ‘So what do you suggest then? I’m not prepared to sit
back and do nothing on this one.’
Macpherson gathers himself and plucks out the last page of his files. ‘Well,
this might do the trick,’ he says. ‘There’s this thing called the OFR. I won’t
trouble you with what it stands for. It’s something thought up by accountants to
extract more money from their clients. It’s not mandatory yet, voters won’t be
sorry to see it go and scrapping it will only enhance your credentials as a man
who means business when it comes to slashing red tape.’
Brown beams. ‘Enhance my credentials! Do it,’ he says.
‘Yes, minister,’ comes the familiar reply.
Fault the quality of the pastiche if you like – but the logic sounds
desperately plausible. How else could the scrapping of the OFR be given the
green light at this late stage? Cutting bureaucracy is laudable, but the
chancellor has picked the wrong target.
Given that most listed companies are already adhering to its principles, we
only hope that, even without the force of legislation behind it, business will
elect to comply with a worthwhile initiative designed to make company accounts
more transparent and understandable.
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