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The ballot box | AccountingWEB | Where are the accountants' voices in the election?
istock_Ballot-box_Laurence Dutton

Where are the accountants’ voices in the election?

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The political circus has come to town, but with a month still to go in the interminable general election, it’s becoming increasingly clear to Richard Hattersley that we’re not hearing enough from accountants.

6th Jun 2024
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Ever since a soggy Rishi Sunak announced the date of the general election in the puddles of Downing Street, all anybody wants to talk about is the economy and tax. These are important topics, sure. But I can’t be the only person wondering: “Where are the accountants?” Come on, isn’t it about time we heard from experts again? There is a gap in the political arena for accountants to bring some much-needed sanity.  

The so-far-tortuous two-week election campaign trail has reached the point of the debates. Incidentally, this is exactly the point when the electorate has heard enough. The trouble with the debates, and the election so far for that matter, is the warring parties are just shouting “tax” at each other with about the nuance of an articulated lorry attempting a U-turn down a country lane. 

Yes, to the surprise of nobody, tax has become a key battleground in this election. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great the Great British public are so engaged in tax. But without a manifesto or even a whiff of clear details on any of the tax pledges, politicians of all colours are just cosplaying as accountants. 

Level with the public about taxes

So let’s talk tax – I mean, someone has to. For many, a rain-sodden Sunak looking like a suited bath sponge is the defining image of the general election, but the image I can’t seem to shake from my head is from Fawlty Towers because the inability of both parties to level with the public about taxes has more than a hint of the exasperated Torquay hotelier Basil Fawlty and his cries of “Don’t mention the war.”  

Both Labour and Conservatives have pledged to not touch individual taxes. The two prospective Chancellors have played a game of snap in taking increases in income tax, national insurance and VAT off the table. All this has achieved is an empty table and a gaping big financial black hole for whoever gets the keys to Downing Street. 

I get it – people want stability. The last thing businesses, or individuals for that matter, want is even more upheaval. And let’s face it, tax rises are deeply unpopular. But with both parties treating tax like a ming vase, they are at risk of being backed into a political cul-de-sac. The more neither side wants to talk about it, the louder the silence becomes. 

The tax system is complicated enough and there isn’t enough being said about practical ways to simplify it, the need to fund crumbling public services, or even how taxes can be used to improve efficiency and growth. On the latter point, see Philip Hammond’s volte-face on the VAT threshold and his disappointment that the Chancellor raised it to £90,000, rather than lowering it to £20,000. You kept that quiet when you had your feet up in Number 11, Pip. 

The Accountancy Party

So I say, step forward accountants. Perhaps it’s time the profession proudly pinned their AccountingWEB orange rosette to their lapels and launched the Accountancy Party. With an accountant on the voting card at least we’d have some serious discussions about tax. 

And who better than those that translate technical jargon into easy-to-digest picture books for clients on a daily basis? Not to mention, they’re pretty good at sticking to deadlines. And who is more qualified to steer the country forward than those that spend their days knee-deep in cashflow forecasting reports and keeping budgets under control? I rest my case.  

So with the Accountancy Party, tax is sorted. The only question is, what would they do with the power? One pledge that’s at the top of any accountant’s manifesto, and one they’d passionately canvas door-to-door with, would be the need to bung more cash HMRC’s way to improve service levels. 

While a pledge to cut the time taxpayers and agents have to spend listening to HMRC’s hold music won’t cause a stampede of voters to the ballot box on 4 July, an argument can be made that a well-resourced tax department would assist in reducing the tax gap and increase the pot to pay for public services. 

Raise standards

But it’s not just in tax deftness where the UK could benefit from the steady hands of the Accountancy Party. As a profession that’s heavily regulated, they know a thing or two about standards and trust. 

There is already a growing chasm of distrust whenever politicians discuss tax. So when tax is eventually being discussed it’s used as part of an election slanging match. 

This was on full display in this week’s headache-inducing leader debate on ITV where Sunak incessantly yapped on about a £2,000 tax rise under a Labour government. Not only has this wildly misleading back-of-the-fag-packet attack line unravelled in less than 24 hours after the broadcast, but again, let’s be honest, it was a silly argument anyway because whoever wins the election will be putting up taxes. 

Again, an accounting influence is needed. Scrupulous accountants are detail-orientated people, who face anti-money laundering scrutiny, regulatory oversight, carry the pressure of ensuring their client’s affairs are above board and have endured the constant drumbeat at every trade show of the need to become “trusted advisers”. 

As an avid reader of the disciplinary reports, I know there are a few rogue ones in the profession, but spending time in the gladiatorial tax arena of Any Answers, I also know that accountants are meticulous and will argue until the moderator steps in for accuracy and honesty. I think we can all agree that’s something missing from politics.

Hang about!

It’s clear that accountants have the attributes that are so often missing from politics. So, I don’t know about you, but when I get to the ballot box on 4 July I will be putting my X in the box next to the Accountancy Party. 

I mean, isn’t it about time we had an accountant in Number 10? What could possibly go wrong? 

What’s that? There was an accountant in Number 10? Obsessed too much about tax? Was outlived by a lettuce? On second thoughts, maybe the Accountancy Party isn’t such a great idea, after all. 

Replies (19)

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By Mitch
06th Jun 2024 15:14

Hmm - not sure about putting accountants in charge. Liz Truss has accounting qualifications and look how well that turned out!

Thanks (4)
Replying to Mitch:
Richard Hattersley
By Richard Hattersley
06th Jun 2024 16:03

I think we're in agreement there. I did contemplate writing in bold and caps 'LIZ TRUSS' as my final sentence.

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Rob Swan
By Rob Swan
06th Jun 2024 20:39

Nailed it Richard.

I imagine we all got to "Uh-Oh... Liz Truss" long before the final paragraph but, in all honesty, I think we need to emphasize that Ms Truss is possibly the worst example of a true 'accountant' in most - if not all - respects. (Recent AW articles relating to professional standards and regulation, take note; she's CIMA!)

If politicians and government actually did proper 'accounting', rather than the ridiculous fund based public accounting system they prefer, which effectively enables them to count the same thing as many times and in as many different ways as they choose, we wouldn't be in this mess....

On a seriouis note - I know, I'm sorry! - the accounting profession could and should hold the Government and the Civil Service to account for 'terrible accounting' AND speak up about how Government should be accounting, not wasting money - which they do outrageously - and call for Government accounting to match commecial accounting standards. I remember (1980's I think) When Sir John Harvey Jones visited Whitehall in his Trouble Shooter TV series and propsed exactly this - it was not received well.

In the mean time I'll wear my Orange rosette and -YES! - I'll be voting Accountancy... if there's a candidtate in my constituency, of course ;)

Thanks (5)
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By FactChecker
06th Jun 2024 22:06

"One pledge that’s at the top of any accountant’s manifesto, and one they’d passionately canvas door-to-door with, would be the need to bung more cash HMRC’s way to improve service levels."

Er? No!
That's exactly where both parties have been getting things wrong (across the whole public sector - not just HMRC) for the past 40 odd years ... equating inefficiency/incompetence with 'underfunded'.

Yes ... "an argument can be made that a well-resourced tax department would assist in reducing the tax gap and increase the pot to pay for public services"
BUT the lack of adequate resourcing is not predominantly due to a lack of funding .. it's due to the combination of poor allocation/prioritisation by a leadership that has no idea either of how to deliver services or how to achieve change.

Harra (and his two immediate predecessors) have demonstrated only one constancy .. a complete inability to understand the concept of strategic planning and the bits that matter (metrics, reviews and adaptation). Those are what deliver the stated objectives, not 'having a vision' and 'winging it' which appears to be the only current approach.

Simply pumping in more money (without tackling career/training opportunities, alongside a steady evolution to adopting technology and a willingness to engage) will have no outcome on the (lack of) performance in evidence now ... merely increase the amount being siphoned of by those 3rd-parties who contribute nothing of value.

Thanks (15)
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By mkowl
07th Jun 2024 08:45

Because we deal with facts not fantasy

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By Open all hours
07th Jun 2024 08:45

Sunak was right to highlight the forthcoming tax rises. Shame Starmer was not quick enough or honest enough to say what Richard said - whoever gets in will increase taxes.

Accountants should be above the squalid debate. We have to work with which circus comes to town.

Our weekly newsletter is featuring an election countdown and we are equally scathing and where possible positive about the lot of them.

Delighted to say a good number of clients have said they can’t work out how the author votes.

I could maybe vote for a party which will grip HMRC, get shot of MTD (and VAR) once and for all.

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By JustAnotherUser
07th Jun 2024 08:47

A bunch of farmers got double cab pick ups u-turned in a matter of days.

357,200 registered members and the eight main professional accounting bodies in the UK still have not been able to cancel MTD.

Accountants and accounting bodies could be a force in numbers to influence these things.

The farmers have the NFU ... "We work with politicians across the political divide to ensure our election manifesto asks come to fruition" ... is there any accountants equivalent? That would be this voice that's lacking.

Thanks (12)
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By e
07th Jun 2024 09:15

If Labour confirms getting rid of MTD, they will win lots of votes, for sure.
But no-one is as brave as Liz Truss... she wanted to get rid of IR35... look what happened... Overall, I think she would have been great for the Great Britain, it's a shame that it is not actually Great Britain that is in charge of their own country... I think enough is said.

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Replying to e:
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By johnjenkins
10th Jun 2024 09:23

Labour don't need to get rid of MTD to win.
I'm with you on Liz Truss. Shame she didn't get the backing of her MP's (they got Rishi in and look how he's turned out).
As you quite rightly say, it really doesn't matter who gets in.

Thanks (2)
Donald MacKenzie
By Donald MacKenzie
07th Jun 2024 10:03

HMRC is NOT under resourced, it is badly run.
Too many staff are (not) "working-from-home".
Too much is spent on postage when email would reduce costs and speed things up.
A recent visit by two HMRC staff travelling from Edinburgh to a two employee business in the Highlands was a waste of resources. The questions could have been put as a questionare, and the meeting held online.
I recently appealed PAYE penalties for a client. It is stupid that HMRC just update their system to clear them. Much better to leave penalties on the account and show credits to clear.
When querying issues for clients the HMRC call handler is often looking at different figures to those on the agent-access screens.
I called SA agent line to correct tax codes (usual situation of HMRC ignoring box saying will pay tax January/July and NOT via PAYE) After usual delay call handler answered, fixed first code but would not deal with my own tax code as I was the taxpayer and they could not do that on the AGENT line. Pointing out my firm has agency for my persoanl tax affairs did not help.
PAYE accounts on HMRC system are a mess. Credits get shuffled about and working out what has been done can be very difficult.
No, HMRC does not need more money to spend, it needs better management.

Thanks (10)
Replying to Donald MacKenzie:
Rob Swan
By Rob Swan
10th Jun 2024 11:25

IMHO the current condition of HMRC is irrepairable. Better to scrap it and start again - which will never happen.

How would one 'start again'? Simples ;) Start on a small scale in a relatively isolated region (South West, North West, North East etc.), with a 'local' tax office properly staffed, resourced and equipped with people who actually know tax and know what they're doing. Then, as experience grows, roll it out gradually.... Bingo!! That's how successful projects happen.

Conclusion: For the indefinite future we're stuck with a bunch of incompetents and a very broken system which does not work and can only get worse.

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Replying to Rob Swan:
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By johnjenkins
10th Jun 2024 13:18

Sounds like the banks.

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By carnmores
11th Jun 2024 08:57

making government services digital is a good idea in the round. I have just certified a passport application . I got an email and a picture of client and was asked to confirm his date of birth and how long I had known him with my credentials. no signing the back of photos and filling in a form. It took 2 minutes, that's the way it should go .

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Replying to carnmores:
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By johnjenkins
11th Jun 2024 09:51

There's nothing wrong with trying to make things easier by digital means, but QU is just a joke and is not in keeping with "making things easier".

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Replying to johnjenkins:
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By carnmores
11th Jun 2024 10:37

whats QU john?

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Replying to carnmores:
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By johnjenkins
11th Jun 2024 11:02

Quarterly Updates (MTD) or are you messing with me?

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Replying to johnjenkins:
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By carnmores
11th Jun 2024 11:10

haven't got there yet John! But i agree .
however its unnecessary if you already file VAT

Thanks (2)
Replying to carnmores:
Rob Swan
By Rob Swan
11th Jun 2024 10:59

That's Passport Office. HMRC is going the 'other way'!

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Replying to Rob Swan:
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By johnjenkins
11th Jun 2024 11:03

There's only one way HMRC are going.

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