On 31 January the heads of tax of the Big Four accountancy firms will appear before the Public Accounts Committee, which seems to be intent on reinventing itself as a modern Star Chamber though without the option of the headsman’s axe, says Simon Sweetman.
Quite how the PAC morphed into the modern equivalent of Stalin’s show trials I am not sure, but it seems to have that role now, though liquidation of individuals rather than companies seems not to be on the agenda. It is something to do with the fact that MPs, having no real individual power, enjoy the chance to throw their weight around a bit.
These suspects are being asked, it seems, to distance themselves from complex and artificial tax avoidance schemes, or explain how they don’t do that sort of thing (just introduce clients to the people who do). Doubtless they will all express their shock and horror that anyone should think so poorly of them.
Will this be a turning point in government attitudes to avoidance? Or will it just be an opportunity for MPs, already frothing about Amazon and Starbucks, to showboat about their distaste for tax avoidance without actually having to do anything about it? So far there has been a great deal of posing about and expressions of disgust but little in the way of concrete proposals. At Davos David Cameron “laid into” corporate tax avoidance – but what is he going to do about it (apart from slashing HMRC’s staff)?