Saturday, 30 November 2013
Tax justice undermined by cuts
As Margaret Hodge MP, chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, recently pointed out, the UK is at bottom of OECD league table when it comes to tax take.
She said there was a "growing gap between rhetoric and reality" from this government (we've pointed out there are several reasons why you shouldn't take this government seriously on tax justice).
And the HMRC's own half-year report should give further cause for concern - highlighting the impact of staff cuts. Their target is to 'clear' 80% of post within 15 working days. They achieved only 77%. This may not seem like much of a failure until you find the reason: "the deployment of teams from post to phone lines during peak periods of customer demand".
So how did call handling get on? They answered only 72.7% of calls, far short of their 90% target. If self-employed people, small and medium sized businesses don't get their inquiries, requests and queries answered - and answered satisfactorily - are they more or less likely to comply correctly with their tax obligations? And if the message is sent that the department is under-resourced, will wealthy individuals and big business be more or less likely to attempt to dodge their taxes?
It's not just the HMRC's call and post handling that is struggling. Last week it was announced that 1,500 staff in personal taxes and compliance and 480 in debt management are being targeted for a voluntary exit scheme to cut staff costs. These are the staff who collectively bring in billions of pounds of taxes - which fund public services.
As the PCS graphic shows, HMRC is suffering massive staffing cuts - with the latest tranche announced just this week with 3,000 staff brought in to cover short-staffing in the firing line. Since 2005, 34,000 jobs have gone from HMRC and another 10,000 are planned by 2015 under the government's spending cuts.
What's clear is that if we are serious about tax justice, then a big part of that campaign must be to ensure that HMRC has the staff required to take on the £75 billion of tax evasion, £25 billion of tax avoidance and over £20 billion in uncollected taxes.
The tax dodging of Amazon, Starbucks, Google, Boots and others has rightly come unders scrutiny. But there also needs to be rigorous scrutiny about the political undermining of our tax revenue collection system.