The madness of accountants

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I debated bankers bonuses with Mike Warburton of Grant Thornton yesterday on Radio 2. As Howard reed — a co-author of mine on the recent Compass tax report noted:

I doubt there will be many sympathisers with Mike Warburton’s position outside the banking sector itself. He was effectively arguing that the UK should tax bankers as lightly as possible when times are good and then give them as much money as possible to bail them out when times are bad. One doesn’t need to be an economic genius to work out that this creates an incentive for bankers to gamble as recklessly as possible in the knowledge that the taxpayer will always bail them out. It’s a crazy approach - and I think the UK public understands that at a fundamental level.

I am sure Howard is right. But this morning we have my old friend Bill Dodwell of Deloittes telling the Guardian:

We've had calls from bankers asking about ... what action they might take under the Human Rights Act. There's never been a precedent [for a tax targeted on one group].

I think government lawyers will be working incredibly hard as to whether this [tax] is feasible at all

You can be sure that Bill will be doing his best to make sure it is not. So will Jon Terry at PWC, who said:

They will find ways around it

Since the report continues by noting:

Terry at PwC said the definition of "bonus" and "banker" would be crucial

I think we can safely assume that Terry actually means “we will find ways round it”.

This is the madness of the big firms of accountants. I use the word mad advisedly. If mad means “being out of touch with reality”, and I think it does, then I can genuinely say these comments represent the madness of these firms.

If they continue this way accountants are next for public opprobrium. And quite rightly so. Advertising intent to circumvent the law is, in my opinion, profoundly unethical behaviour if that is, indeed, what they are doing.