Leader: Tax arguments crystallised, but debate continues

This article originally appeared in the Accountancy Age tax avoidance Debate

IT’S BEEN AN eventful, thought-provoking and interactive week of debate.

But we have a ‘winner’. BDO’s Stephen Herring has pipped Richard Murphy in the voting stakes.

Such a close call demonstrates what a difficult issue tax avoidance is to compartmentalise. There will be many, myself included, whose opinions sit somewhere between those of Richard and Stephen.

The ‘grey area’ inevitably leads to each situation being dealt with as the facts and context are combined – but case-by-case is unsatisfying and uncertain.

Take the Goldman Sachs bonus deferral row. The government’s intention is to lower the rate of the higher tax band. MPs criticised the bank for considering pushing back bonus payments so they fall in the new ‘lower’ high rate. But deferring payments could have been easily forseen and legislated against. By not dealing with that, can we say that giving bonus payers the opportunity to shift payments was, or wasn’t, the intention of parliament?

It’s not exactly a case of the bank setting up an exotic scheme involving subsidiaries and sending funds on a circuit. But in the context of being viewed as nasty ‘take take take’ bankers, GS decided against the move. Instinctively, it feels they made the right ‘choice’.

The tax avoidance issue will rumble on. But our debate has proved that both ‘sides’ have compelling and popular viewpoints, and the issue requires cool, logical and reasoned thinking, rather than knee-jerk political point-scoring.

Click here to view the whole debate

Kevin Reed is editor of Accountancy Age

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