The Office of Tax Simplification is on its way

A Treasury press release tells us:

The Chancellor George Osborne and Exchequer Secretary David Gauke today established the Office of Tax Simplification (OTS).

The Chancellor has appointed a Board of tax experts who will be responsible for leading the work of the OTS over the next year. The Board Members are Michael Jack (Chairman) and John Whiting (Tax Director).

Their responsibilities will be to identify areas where complexities in the tax system for both businesses and individual taxpayers can be reduced and to publish their findings for the Chancellor to consider ahead of his Budget.

The OTS will undertake two initial reviews over the coming year. They will focus on tax reliefs and small business tax simplification (including IR35). The OTS will publish the initial findings from their work on reliefs in late autumn and on small business tax by the 2011 Budget.

Good thing really that when, pre-election and pre-coalition, I wrote about the Conservative plans to create the OTS I said I (mostly) quite liked the idea:

Regular readers may have noticed my love of tangling with bureaucracy. (I did though decide discretion was the better part of valour when an a US immigration official gave me a form with a footnote which didn’t make sense. To anyone else subsequently who has been befuddled by that footnote too: I apologise. I can only say I was thinkings guns, deportation, Guantanamo.)

One pattern that is regularly repeated is that an outsider, dealing with a process for the first time, can often spot ways it can be made simpler or easier. Sometimes those thoughts turn out to be erroneous because there is actually a good explanation for an apparently baffling process. But often the thoughts turn out to be spot on because those who manage the system have so many other factors to worry about that simplicity never quite gets a proper look in.

So the idea of creating a team who is dedicated to making tax rules simpler is a good one. Placing the team outside the usual Treasury and HMRC structures means it is unlikely to lose its focus on simplicity as it will have only that one reason for existing …

But why make it a quango? The essential part of its success would be to have created a constructive tension between its drive for simplicity and government’s habit of complexity. That tension could be just as well nutured by beefing up a Commons select committee and adding an Office of Tax Simplification as its research arm – with the added bonus that this would also add teeth to Parliament’s attempts to be a genuine check on the actions of government.

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13 Comments

  • Ooh! Ooh! Office of Tax Simplification! What a story! Tories are just super aren’t they?

    What about the real story today Mark, mirroring what most of your party resignations know to be true:
    http://today.yougov.co.uk/commentaries/peter-kellner/honeymoon-over

    When are you going to write about that Mark?

  • Stuart Mitchell 20th Jul '10 - 5:24pm

    The worry here is that “simplification” could simply be an excuse for making tax more regressive. Think “flat rate income tax”.

  • ROB SHEFFIELD 20th Jul '10 - 7:59pm

    Excellent- more Quango’s 🙂

  • Anthony Aloysius St 20th Jul '10 - 11:26pm

    “Excellent- more Quango’s”

    But this is a Good (i.e. Conservative) Quango, not a bad (i.e. Labour) Quango.

  • Andrew Suffield 20th Jul '10 - 11:28pm

    I love the idea Mark should be following everything and post about it instantly.

    And also the idea that he is somehow obliged to write about everything that happens anywhere in politics. Because, y’know, he’s the only blogger on the internet.

    (Reminder: Lib Dems always poll really low when there’s no actual campaign going on, then turn out significantly higher votes when there is an election. Strangely enough, the campaigning actually works. Who’d have thought it?)

  • While I support the idea of tax simplification, I suspect the end result will be a more regressive tax system.

  • @Andrew Suffield

    “Reminder: Lib Dems always poll really low when there’s no actual campaign going on, then turn out significantly higher votes when there is an election. Strangely enough, the campaigning actually works. Who’d have thought it?”

    ROFL!!!

    Yeh, that is exactly what happened during the last general election; a truly amazing campaign *significantly* improved the LibDems share of the vote on polling day…

    Your going to need a campaign that would Obama to shame to avoid annihilation at the next general election, but it won’t because by then the new Conservative and Liberal Party will be up and running with Cleggron as leader.

    On the topic of tax simplification, this will be another PR ploy to cover the introduction of more regressive taxation; just like the raising of the personal allowance threshold.

  • Andrew Suffield 21st Jul '10 - 9:29am

    Yeh, that is exactly what happened during the last general election; a truly amazing campaign *significantly* improved the LibDems share of the vote on polling day…

    Indeed. Polling before the start of the campaign was firm at 17%. The vote share on election day was 23%, for a massive growth of 35% (or an absolute 6%).

    (Tories polled around 40%, got 36%. Labour polled around 30%, got 29%. An embarrassing campaign for both of them)

    Your going to need a campaign that would Obama to shame

    Sure, let’s compare that. Before the campaign marathon started, Obama was polling around 45%. On election day he took 53%. That’s a growth of 17% (or an absolute 8%).

  • On the whole – a good idea. I agree with Mark though – it should not be another Quango.

    I am not happy they are all Tax Experts – Where are the outsiders who can ask – Why?

    ( not fishing for a cushy job – honest! )

  • James from Durham 21st Jul '10 - 3:37pm

    I do tax at work. I am not holding my breath here. The road to tax simplification is strewn with the dead bodies of former chancellors.

    The thing is that any simplification is going to have winners and losers. The winners will smaile quietly all the way to the bank. Then forget about it. The losers will whinge on endlessly and cause bad publicity and cost votes. It’s just easier to let the tax code grow and grow.

    The fact that they have put some guy from the big 4 in charge will wreck the show. They need the complexity to do complex avoidance. They won’t go with a GAAR, which would really enable simpification. There are plenty of serious experts without the conflicts of interest of Big 4 partners, who could have been appointed.

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