KPMG – so very confused

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You'd have thought KPMG could present an argument. That's not true. There's whole rafts of their paper on tax and corporate governance that are argument free zones (take the top of page 29 for example). Even when they do seek to construct and argument they get it wrong. For example, on page 19 they say:

Some commentators imply that there is a continuum of tax minimisation activity that begins with evasion and shades off through aggressive avoidance and less aggressive avoidance to the planning of commercial activities with tax in mind, and ends with the utilisation of reliefs specifically enacted by governments to encourage certain activities. Somewhere along this line, it is suggested, the activity becomes 'acceptable'. This may be a correct analysis from the point of view of business ethics or social responsibility, though if it is it leaves significant problems of definition and demarcation to be resolved, as to which see further at 5.2.3. It is not, however, a sound legal analysis. The difference between evasion and avoidance, in the UK and other jurisdictions with similar legal backgrounds, is not one of degree but one of kind.

The 'some commentator' was me by the way. They're referring to the report by Sustainability and the argument in question was written by me. They go on to say:

The blurring of this distinction may not facilitate a reasoned debate as to what behaviour is acceptable.

The trouble is that on page 21, having argued against a continuum they then say:

Some directors may regard as acceptable not only planning but also the less aggressive forms of avoidance. Often the degree of artificiality is a major criterion in determining what is 'too' aggressive, but there may be other factors, such as the amounts of tax involved, and the subject matter of the scheme.

That makes clear that people are able to identify the continuum, and can decide where they want to be on it. Which seems to suggest it's quite a useful method of analysis. What you can't do, however is argue both ways in one document.

I'm glad I'm not training at KPMG these days (and it was they who did train me). It seems I'd have ended up mighty confused.