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Rachel Reeves
Rachel Reeves
Rachel Reeves

Scrap business rates: A reason to vote for Labour?


Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer Rachel Reeves is proposing to review tax reliefs and replace business rates. The Imprudent Accountant reviews the latest tax pledges coming out of the Labour conference. 

28th Sep 2021
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There is probably a large consensus amongst members of the public, not to mention accountants, holding the view that the current opposition to Boris Johnson’s government is weak and gives the impression of being unelectable.

Having just finished reading Peril, the third book in Bob Woodward’s series about the Trump years, I’m beginning to think that like “sleepy” Joe Biden, Sir Keir Starmer’s greatest strength might lie in antipathy for his opponent rather than his own skill set or charisma.

The much-maligned Donald Trump was proud to describe Boris Johnson as a kind of mini or cut-price version of himself and, at times, one wonders whether the UK’s U-turning Prime Minister might ultimately be Labour’s greatest asset?

An attack on tax reliefs

However, at its party conference this week, Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer Rachel Reeves might have come up with a secret weapon that will appeal to bean counters up and down the country.

She is preparing to launch an attack on tax reliefs, claiming that they “create extra layers of complexity to navigate", and added together they cost more than our entire NHS budget.

“We will look at every single tax break. If it doesn’t deliver for the taxpayer or for the economy then we will scrap it.”

This is music to my ears. For years I have been batting on about the need to simplify our horrendous tax system, which stretches to thousands of unintelligible pages of statutory legislation many of which should long ago have become obsolete and is then supplemented by case law.

Some accountants might disagree, since the complexity provides numerous loopholes that enable canny advisers and their clients to, as Reeves might put it “cheat the Exchequer”, or in more polite tax adviser parlance “minimise liabilities in accordance with the strict wording of tax legislation”.

However, the idea that we might be able to slim down the tax library by removing vast swathes of poorly drafted and badly directed legislation should bring a smile to the face of anyone who ever advises clients on tax.

The Office of Tax Simplification has done its best in the teeth of opposition from politicians who favoured its existence, without ever wishing to take its advice. Presumably, were Labour to get elected, that might change with a vengeance.

The shadow chancellor has particularly set her sights on tax reliefs, especially those that favour what she regards as the wealthy.

Realistically, any changes would take years to arrive and might allow for the industry to help clients arrange their affairs in the optimum fashion, so we shouldn’t be too worried at the moment.

In the longer term, her ideas might presumably mean that the Budget deficit could be reduced relatively painlessly for almost all taxpayers, even some of those who are deemed wealthy by almost any measure.

Scrap business rates

At the same time, the shadow chancellor announced a proposal to reduce and then scrap business rates. This will benefit our own businesses and appeal to around 95% of clients or for any of us who operate smaller practices, 100%, since those that are most likely to suffer as a result of this change would be the extra-terrestrial multinationals, who currently pay what very few would regard as their fair share of taxes.

In reality, as the first paragraph hinted, Rachel Reeves is free to propose what she likes but unless her party can get elected it won’t make the slightest difference.

However, there has to be a chance that Rishi Sunak is taking some detailed notes and might decide to make some changes of his own, which would have a different slant but could also point towards tax simplification and a rebalancing of the rates system for businesses.

Replies (15)

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By Hugo Fair
28th Sep 2021 21:06

"In the longer term, her (Rachel Reeves') ideas might presumably mean that the Budget deficit could be reduced relatively painlessly for almost all taxpayers."

As this statement isn't connected to anything else within the article - and certainly can't be adduced from any of her pronouncements during the Labour Party conference - are we to presume that this article is a pure party political broadcast and unrelated to the normal topics of this site?

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By Michael C Feltham
29th Sep 2021 09:51

Vote for Liebor? Are you joking! Dianne Abbott, the Professor of Counting? Etc...

They couldn't even decide when men were men and women were women; their conference broke up into heated arguments!

Personally, I believe this coming Winter of Discontent, will change the face of British politics immensely. Hopefully, for all time.

The current supply chain problems illustrate how Government has all but collapsed.

The transport Minister, Grant Schapps, affirms there is sufficient fuel; yet one major UK refinery, which supplies circa one sixth of the UK's total requirement is on the edge of going into administration: so who is Schapps trying to kid?

Core problem for voters is that LibLabCon are all basically the same: incompetent motor mouth egos mainly concerned with self-enrichment.

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By mkowl
29th Sep 2021 09:56

I am probably in a minority of err 1 but I quite like Starmer. He is analytical and makes reasoned arguments, can see the full picture and importantly for Labour chances that business is not the root of all evil. The idea that private and public sectors should work together as an example. He is probably a tad short of political charisma, but given the chap in No 10 has plenty of that but total incapability to do the job perhaps a change is needed. If he can eradicate the loony left somewhere then he may have a chance in Middle England

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By kjevans
29th Sep 2021 10:07

Business rates, hmmm. Don't they go to the local Council, so wouldn't actually affect central government finances - apart from meaning that some businesses would have more money to pay for more direct taxation - probably on turnover, not profits. However, local government would suffer and aren't Labour all for greater centralisation and one size fits all, so ...?

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Replying to kjevans:
By Michael C Feltham
29th Sep 2021 11:06

50% of UBR (Uniform Business Rates) go to Central Government to waste as they do most revenue...

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Chris M
By mr. mischief
29th Sep 2021 10:09

Step number 1 : instead of extending NI - and making payslips more complicated just for stupid political reasons - scrap it, and increase BRIT to balance the books.

The first Chancellor I remember looking at this was Nigel Lawson. The OTS wanted to do it on day 1, but it's reckoned to cost around 300,000 votes.

I've lost faith in Sunak over this, he's extending NI knowing it's a load of rubbish.

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By maasrw
29th Sep 2021 11:11

Leaving aside earmarked government grants, council tax provides around 25% of my council's income. If that is representative, I doubt that raising digital services tax to 100% would produce sufficient money to replace business rates.

And of course raising it even to Rachel's proposed 12% is clearly going to provoke massive US sanctions, so bye bye the British economy.

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By Rgab1947
29th Sep 2021 11:17

Scrap business rates? Good idea but...... it will be replaced by increased taxes elsewhere or new taxes.

Taxing the rich with all the nonsense of "paying a fair tax" will just have them leave. Oh no they say the UK is so pleasant they will not leave. Huh!!? I am rich and can live anywhere and still have a flat/house in the UK for when wanting to attend at the Royal Albert Hall.

Until Labour gets rid of Momentum and the Corbynistas its just a foul mouthed far left party wishing the return of the good years of the 1970's. And hence would not vote for them even though Starmer, boring as he is, seems a decent guy better attuned to the populace.

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Replying to Rgab1947:
By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
29th Sep 2021 11:44

@Rgab, re getting rid of the far left, that is pretty much what Labour are doing.

It seems to me that Starmer is whilst somewhat indecisive at least a smart chap and in it for what he can do for the country and not what he can do for his mates and his own ego unlike the Blue team who seem utterly corrupt and incompetent.

I think people are OK with mildly corrupt but competent (Tories for past 20 odd years). But I will take incompetent but meaning well (current Labour), over cynically corrupt and wholly incompetent apart from on corruption.

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By Paul Crowley
29th Sep 2021 14:34

Conferences have nothing to do with the real world
Say what you think delegates want to hear, call the others scum, pretend biology is a social construct, and ignore real issues
Nothing real comes out of a conference.

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By killer33
29th Sep 2021 15:13

Wonder which reliefs they have in mind as I assume they already have a fair idea which ones are for the chop . R&d tax credits and employment allowance perhaps. Maybe the higher rate relief on pension contributions.

I hope Labour sort themselves out. The current gvt are really not up to the challenges we face. IMO.

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paddle steamer
29th Sep 2021 15:53

1. Most very small business entities pay no business rates as Small Business Rates Relief exempts them.

2. These tax breaks for the rich, which ones are they, if say BADR then that might put a large boot into entrepreneurial UK, there have been reliefs like rollovers/retirement re the SME sector all my working life, removing them could be dangerous.

3. If it is EIS etc, well, an impact assessment might be useful, what harm will this do re start ups etc, I have no idea but do know I would do the homework before pronouncing.

The trouble with politicians and tax is they have a real problem drawing a sensible line between what is a "tax break" and what is an expense," interest costs", anyone?

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By Nebs
29th Sep 2021 16:03

Whatever any party says now will change by the next election anyway. I'd like to see all taxation proposals recorded, become part of their next manifesto, and be legally binding. A full explanation, tested by judges on challenge, would be needed to make any changes. Then, perhaps, we'd have less silly vote winning promises that never come to fruition.

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By djtax
30th Sep 2021 11:39

Politicians once again ignore small businesses - scrapping business rates is of no benefit to the thousands of micro businesses that fall within the 100% rates relief band - but what chance they still get hit by the tax increases proposed to cover the gap left by scrapping business rates?

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Replying to djtax:
By Paul Crowley
01st Oct 2021 13:41

The people spouting this stuff have no idea what happens in business
They never will

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