Grant Thornton – failing to join up their thinking

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Grant Thornton, the UK's fifth biggest firm of accountants have told UK Chancellor Gordon Brown that it wants these things in the Budget:

  1. A cut in the corporation tax rate, and they have suggested Ireland's 12.5% rate as an alternative

  2. Simplified tax legislation

  3. Fewer restrictions on controlled foreign companies

  4. Streamlined regulations

  5. A less combative approach from HM Revenue and Customs to tax avoidance.

I have to presume they're serious in issuing such a request. If they are they also show themselves to be wholly misguided. Indeed, I do wonder who they think they are convincing of their business competence in making such short sighted observations. The reasons are obvious:

  1. Ireland is a micro-state that steals other countries tax revenues. It is not capable of being compared to the UK. It can only survive under the shadow of the UK (and I say this as an Irish citizen). To take a simple example, half its law is 'borrowed' from the UK because it does not have the resources to develop its own, and that's the most basic function of government. The Eastern European states that offer low tax rates are also, and obviously, not comparable. Their state of economic development is fundamentally different from the UK's. These tiny states, smaller than south London in most cases, cannot be the basis for comparing tax rates. Grant Thornton should know that so the request they are making has nothing to do with comparison, or even treating cost (as they believe tax to be) comparably, because the benefits afforded in the UK to companies that work here are obviously much higher than in these other places. What they're actually saying is simple. It's 'please shift this tax burden onto other people but give us everything we demand as businesses'. That's wholly inequitable.

  2. Simplified tax legislation would be a great idea in a simple world. We live in a complex one. Business can handle complexity. So can accountants. That's because it's needed to allow for all the options that business needs to undertake trade effectively and competitively. Take away the complexity in tax and you'll restrict commercial flexibility in many cases. What do you want, Grant Thornton? And if Grant Thornton were really keen on simplifying things they would also support abolition of the domicile laws. They don't. Mike Warburton, head of tax at Grant Thornton has said so on BBC radio in debate with me, recently. He actually said 'they're great fun'. That's because he makes money out of them. So this call is hypocritical. It's really a request to cut out rules that increase the tax take and leave those that reduce it.

  3. The call for fewer restrictions on controlled foreign companies is simply a request for more support for tax haven operations. Tax havens cost the governments of the world more than five times the cost of meeting the Millennium Development Goals. Whose side are you on Grant Thornton?

  4. Streamlined regulations. I agree. They can help, on occasion. But most regulation has a purpose. They are also the biggest stimulant to innovation there is in the economy. So cut regulation at your peril.

  5. I'm amused by the call for a less combative approach from HM Revenue and Customs to tax avoidance. My answer is simple. Grant Thornton can turn the temperature down by becoming tax compliant.

I'm sorry Grant Thornton, you have to think a lot harder than that if you want to show yourselves to be a business leader.

And I'm being kind. You could see what Dennis Howlett had to say about this.