A last missive

hanging on the telephone
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Simon Sweetman
Tax Consultant
freelance
Columnist
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Well, it seems the time has come to say Sayonara, or possibly auf wiedersehn, pet. After over twelve years of completely failing to reform the tax system, I am hanging up this particular quill. Anyone desperate to read my thoughts will now have to turn to the Cricket Paper where I write about things I love for a change.

After more than twelve years and nearly 400 pieces, perhaps it is time to stop.

When I started all this I was recently self-employed and chairing the tax committee of the FSB (no, not the former KGB, whatever you may think). I was going to London a lot and a member of many HMRC-driven committees where I was able to see a lot of people with fixed ideas (mostly not HMRC, as it happens) and I would pop up every now and then to say that I didn’t think a business that turned over £3m a year was actually a small business, and the system ought to be right for what became known as micro- or even nano-businesses.

I think most of you can see exactly what that has achieved, given the way in which Making Tax Digital seems to be working out. Jeremy Corbyn did have the sense to say that businesses below the tax threshold should be exempt, but then he’s not in power.

But all these things came to an end when I parted company with FSB (not the KGB, that’s for life). Other people were left to carry on the struggle.

There were times when I thought I understood tax law (or enough of it to get by). I had been trained by the Inland Revenue, then spent twelve years with an accountancy firm. But you take your eye off the ball in this game and you are liable to be hit with a two-footed tackle, possibly from behind.

I still have problems with the way in which the market is dominated by the BIG accountancy firms, who can charge astonishing rates and give the job to the office junior. I had occasion to deal with one of them over a report on small business for the Inland Revenue. The partner said to me afterwards that he now knew 100% more about small business after talking to me. I was tempted to remind him that 100% of nothing is nothing.

But mostly they are there like the army of the dead. If this were Westeros, we’d be joining forces with HMRC against them. I have to say that I know that it isn’t, but what would we do for a dragon or two.

And tax simplification…many have tried, but all efforts have run into the sands of complexity, and of course, there are those who see simplification as creating loopholes for their clients.

So I suppose this is leaving not with a bang but a whimper…which rather sums up the progress of tax reform.

About Simon Sweetman

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22nd Aug 2017 12:35

Another one bites the dust...'tis better to have tried to reform HMRC and tax law than never to have tried....

May see you watching cricket sometime...enjoy.

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23rd Aug 2017 09:13

Well done Simon, thanks for the cricket link - I'll follow your exploits there - a far more interesting way to pass time.

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24th Aug 2017 16:53

Enjoy your retirement Simon.
You cite tax law as one of the reasons for your decision. I understand and sympathise. Westminster is like a tax sausage machine. As a sole practitoner it is simply not possible to digest all the sausages (and then to have to contend with accounting standards, IT and practice regulation as well).
You cite the lack of progress on tax simplification. Agreed again. Unfortunately, politicians feel the need to be seen to be doing something. It gives the air of being in control. So long as that is the case we shall have complication, not simplification.
I shall be following you to the door marked 'Retirement' next year. It can't come soon enough. For myself I would add to your list of reasons - HMRC. I am in no doubt that the individuals who work there try their best to do a good job. But there seems to be a lack of able management, a lack of overview, an inability to see things from the point of view of the poor customer. If HMRC were not a monopoly supplier we would all have taken our business elsewhere years ago. As an agent I am heartily sick of HMRC telling me how to do my job when HMRC is demonstrably unable to do its own.
Anyway, enjoy a well deserved beer in the pavillion.
Stumps.

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25th Aug 2017 11:23

Happy retirement Simon.

Ex HMRC colleague

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25th Aug 2017 22:13

Thanks for everything, Simon, and all the best.

But I've got news for you - retirement is a myth. Friends, relatives and friends of relatives still expect their free tax advice and a helping hand with their tax returns. My experience 10 years on from R Day is that some of the work I used to do in the evenings can now be done during the day, leaving evenings a bit less busy. But an amazing number of my contemporaries and elders are shuffling off so that about one day a week seems to be needed for funeral duty. Sometimes they bring executorships with them, and they can be quite time consuming. So in 10 years, I've not made many inroads into my list of things I'm going to do when I retire.

But it's lovely to watch neighbours setting out to fight their way through the traffic jams to and from work every day.

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