An open invitation to KPMG to talk

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KPMG have published a report on discussion that took place at a symposium they organised on 25 May. The symposium was entitled ‘From debate to action — drawing the lines and finding the balance — legislation, principles and codes’.

Let me be clear — there is a lot of good stuff in this document on the language of tax, tax and CSR, purposive legislation, codes of conduct and many other issues which are at the core of the debate on tax that is being promoted by stakeholder groups in civil society right now. So I welcome it, and I’ll be commenting more upon it in due course, no doubt.

But there’s also a fundamental flaw in the paper. The paper recognises that:

Tax has come onto the CSR agenda in the last 12 to 18 months; this is an agenda that is driven by internal and external stakeholders rather than necessarily chosen by businesses themselves.

But no stakeholders were invited to the conference. Instead it represented:

tax professionals from major international companies, the Treasury, HM Revenue & Customs, the Australian Treasury, the universities of Oxford and Cambridge and the London School of Economics, as well as KPMG itself.

When the Tax Justice network (to which I am a senior adviser) is currently engaged in debate with, and is consulted by, the UN, OECD, IMF, World Bank, EU and others (including quite regular visits to see HM Revenue & Customs and the Treasury) why is it that KPMG want to close the door on active debate with us? And yet it seems clear that they do. The report recognises the need to:

develop .. platforms from which to engage in the debate (whether from an economic or a social responsibility perspective)

and yet it also notes that:

it was clear that a balanced combination of different measures was required, but care was required when looking at the role of groups such as NGOs and the media since ultimately taxpayers are entitled to be governed by law.

Funnily enough, when it came to discussing Codes of Conduct (an issue on which much more will be said on this site over coming months) one of the suggestions was that:

it might be more feasible to start with an agreement between HMRC and the ‘Big 4’ accountancy firms, or another core group of signatories, and then extend it to other advisers and finally to taxpayers.

When will KPMG learn? I went to see Loughlin Hickey, head of tax at KPMG last year and asked if he would engage in debate with me and the Tax Justice Network. He refused. It seems he’s continuing to do so. Why, I wonder? He recognises we’ve changed the debate. Whether he likes it or not, we have. The report also recognises for example that:

It was thought that investors were not currently particularly interested in the effective tax rate; the level of interest was, however, increasing.

There is no doubt in part due to my work on The Tax Gap.

In that case why not pick up the phone Loughlin and get us in? After all, the report says:

It was felt that there was no very great interest among the populace at large in the application of CSR principles to tax, but that pressure groups had worked effectively to put this matter on the public agenda as part of the tax avoidance debate.

Continuing to conduct the debate without us present would be a bit like discussing the environment and ignoring all that Friends of the Earth have achieved in this area. They may be an NGO, but they’re heard because they represent an interest group in society. Of course, not everyone agrees with them. But CSR has changed enormously under their influence. Of course not everyone agrees with the Tax Justice Network, but without naming us KPMG recognises we’re changing the debate in the same way as Friends of the Earth did.

I’m sending this to Loughlin Hickey. I’ll report back what he says.