The profession should be having ethical rather than technical discussions around the issue of global tax planning, according to Action Aid tax justice policy adviser Toby Quantrill.
Speaking at the AIA Founders' Lecture and Awards last night in London alongside tax expert George Bull, the newcomer to taxation said he believed in creating a global framework for tax that provides a level playing field.
“Tax avoidance by major corporations is increasingly happening in developing countries throughout the world, not just in the EU and USA,” he said. “When companies avoid tax the burden shifts to those who can afford it least.”
From a development perspective he added that it was the impact on poor people that should be considered and that the profession should “ignore moral outrage at its peril”.
“It’s about the outcomes of tax policy, not the detail or technical argument,” he said.
Quantrill, who has more than 20 years’ experience working in the development sector, was keen to stress that he was “not Richard Murphy”, but had observed people from developing countries really starting to engage in the tax debate.
Citing OECD figures, he added that developing countries lose three times income than they gain because of tax havens.
Baker Tilly’s George Bull’s agreed that good ethics can be good for business, but said levelling the tax playing field could harm domestic business.
He added: “It’s important to keep the scale of the problem in mind,” with recent HM Treasury figures revealing 0.8% of the UK’s £490bn total tax revenue was lost through avoidance.
Bull gave an overview of the tax landscape, saying it is harder now to tell who are the “goodies” and the “baddies”, and asked: “Is fair play in taxation an exercise of corporate social responsibility by businesses?”
He also spoke about the government’s piecemeal policy-making over the decades, the various reliefs and incentives, which have allowed gaps to appear in the overall tax structure.
Robert Barrington, executive director at Transparency International UK, also said it was time to stand up and be counted on the issue of tax avoidance.
“Global tax avoidance is a problem and London is a centre of global corruption services.”
He added that we should all be on the same side against corruption, but that sometimes people from the profession facilitated it.
Andrew Lamb, outgoing president of the AIA, wrapped up the discussion by saying: “Ethical corporate tax planning can bring rewards but tax mitigation is legal on an international basis”.
Also on the evening, the AccountingWEB team and financial reporting editor Steve Collings were honoured in the AIA’s annual awards. For a run-down of the evening’s proceedings and shortlisted candidates for the awards, visit the Editor’s Blog.