Petty, pedantic – and also wrong

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Tim Worstall made it a new year’s resolution this year to seek to annoy me. It’s pretty sad that anyone could make it a goal in life to seek to annoy someone he’s never met. It’s also pretty indicative of his petty, pedantic and rather nasty right wing politics. He has in the process  inspired those who have, it seems, been trying to find dirt on me this year – and now he thinks he’s found some. Not that he had to search hard – it’s in my Observer archive and has been on public record for a long time as a result. But since, no doubt, the matter will now revolve around the right wing blogosphere let me address it head on, for what it’s worth. His blog says:

Fascinating stuff from Richard Murphy

Our intrepid campaigner against tax avoidance: you know, working the tax laws to your own benefit?

Lovely series of articles in which Ritchie seems to be advocating:

  • Turn your nanny into a personal services company and save £2, 530 a year.
  • Use the stakeholder pension to save up to 20% of income that you won’t have to pay in national insurance.
  • Reduce your tax bill by claiming all of your allowances.
  • We should change the law so we don’t worry about fiddles under £1,000.
  • Save 10% of your income by incorporating.

It’s all very different from what he says now, isn’t it?

And as I said on this blog:

Crikey it took you a long time to find them, didn’t it Tim?

The first was written because I could think of no better way of killing a scheme then being promoted on the professional lecture circuit than to give it publicity. I didn’t have blogs etc in those days. It worked. I call that a success.

The second fell into the same category – it did not work.

The third is about tax compliance. I stand by it.

The fourth is about tax simplification. I stand by it.

The fifth follows the logic of 1 and 2 – and was the way I thought I could seeking to highlight an abuse to draw attention to it.

Would I use that method now? No! I don’t need to. Was it the best I could do at the time? Yes, I thought so.

Do I apologise for using the Observer in that way? No!

But keep whistling if you want to find dirt Tim – because you won’t

Not least because a) years before you’ll find articles from me arguing against incorporation b) I never used a nanny scheme and never sold one c) I never advised clients to buy pensions for the reasons noted

So all you’ve discovered is methods have changed over time.

And some maybe weren’t terribly transparent

Big deal

Now tackle the real issues – like the abuse I was seeking to stop then, and now.

To add a little more colour. I well remember Tim Good of PTP – a colourful tax lecturer if ever there was one – telling of the nanny scheme on a course I went on in autumn 2000. I was shocked by it. I was equally as shocked that the story had attached to it the advice (and obviously I can’t recall the exact wording) that one shouldn’t shout about it too loudly or the scheme would be closed down. This was, of course, well before the days of the Tax Avoidance Disclosure scheme and such things. It was also well before the days of the Tax Justice Network and the change in awareness of tax avoidance in the UK. I also did not have my own blog and so on available to me at the time. So I decided to use an outlet I had available to me to achieve the objective Tim did not want – to attract publicity to a scheme that needed closing down and which I hoped would be if enough sought to use it. It worked! The scheme was shut – in 2003, I think.

I was annoyed too by the change in pension law that allowed absurd amounts of relief – and still does.

As for the company one – I well remember doing all the calculations on this for a client at about this time – as I still felt duty bound to do so. He refused  take any action and stayed self employed, calling incorporation a scam. In many cases it was – with only the accountant winning (as I hint at in the article), and in general  I’ve always been troubled about how many people are inappropriately advised to put their businesses into companies – something I’d written about several times before since the early 90s (if I recall correctly – it was in Accountancy Age at the time, I think). So the article fits again into the ‚Äòdrawing attention to it’ and then saying in this case ‚Äòdon’t do it’ in most cases, which was the best method I thought I had available to me at the time. And I bet you you’d be hard pushed to find anyone else at the time saying the list of people who should not incorporate was longer than those who should.

Did continuing to highlight the incorporation abuse work? Yes, I think it did. The Revenue tried the Arctic Systems case to end it – and I wrote about the aftermath of that proposing alternatives where I thought substance and form could be made to coincide in 2007.

Of course you can say quite validly that my methods changed radically in the period in between early 2003 ad 2007. They did! the Tax Justice Network had started; the environment of campaigning on this issue had changed radically, the internet had let direct campaigning happen in a way it could not before; I was blogging in 2007 and not in 2003, and on and on. So most certainly my methods changed radically. But I can assure you my motives did not.

In other words, you’re wasting your time Tim.

And it’s also amusing to note that on the same day Tim wrote I am being criticised for risking losing my credibility by Mark Lee – formerly chair of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales tax faculty – because he says I’m too direct with HMRC at the risk of now being mischievous in suggesting it has gone soft on tax avoidance. I’ll accept the suggestion I was being mischievous in my use of the Observer in earlier times. The direct approach simply was not, in my judgement, available to me then. But mischievous now? No, sorry: I don’t need that now. The cold reality of HMRC telling its staff to be commercial in the application of the law at a time when it is to be ruthless in its attack on benefit fraud is not an issue where I need be anything but direct: HMRC have got this wrong. Badly wrong. And if you think otherwise Mark then I’m sorry, on this occasion it is you who is being naive, not me.

It seems I can’t win with the far right or the tax profession today.

You could call that a sign of success.