Oxford Centre for Business Taxation – how do they choose their samples?

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I'm at Oxford today and tomorrow for the annual conference of its Centre for Business Taxation. My views on the work of the Centre are pretty well known, and have been since its inception when I recall making comment on its governance structures in Accountancy Age. My confidence about the programme has not been increased despite the presence of some good academics and some Revenue heavy weights.

Take this as indication of reason, from the programme notes for the first session:

The UK's Varney review on links between HMRC and large business takes a new approach to risk management and compliance by large businesses. Identifying the 'boundary of the law' and establishing more common ground on what constitutes unacceptable tax planning is at the core of this approach. A report on the initial findings of a pilot survey undertaken by the Centre for Business Taxation on these issues will be presented, which has included interviews with business representatives and HMRC.

My question is simple. Does the Centre really think this is an issue for business representatives and HMRC alone? Since when was that a valid sample basis of all stakeholders in a corporation both in and out of this country in which many of the world's multinational corporations are based?

Why haven't other stakeholders been consulted? Who represented civil society? Where were the governments of developing countries who see their taxation revenues disappear before their eyes as multinational corporations participate in capital flight?

I said it earlier this week, and I'll say it again. If you ask the wrong question on the basis of the wrong assumptions you get the wrong answer. I hope that this will not be the case, but Oxford's track record on this is poor and my hopes are low. As such if any relevant answers arise here I'll be surprised.

PS Added 2-7-07. I have agreed to note here that Oxford consider this a pilot report and that the survey base will be extended if the work continues.

That's fair comment. But I continue to have major reservations about this piece of work. The methodology is flawed and I'll explain why later this week.