the suits

Last week's announcement that the Government has awarded four private sector contracts to draft parts of the 1996 Finance Bill has generally been welcomed as an aid to simplifying tax legislation.

Mavis Sargent, chairman of the Chartered Association of Certified Accountants tax committee, says the move is especially welcome since recent years have seen "some pretty convoluted drafting". She is optimistic that the changes will lead to some improvement in this area.

Though the new arrangements amount to a pilot scheme confined to some fairly arcane areas of the law, the Treasury does not seem to be taking too many chances. Barristers at the eminent Pump Court Tax Chambers have been charged with putting on to a firm legal footing "a selection of Inland Revenue extra statutory concessions", while Freshfields, one of the leading City firms of solicitors, is looking at simplifying the arrangements under which banks and stockbrokers account for the tax they deduct from foreign dividends and interest. Another well-known law firm, Nabarro Nathanson, is examining implementing the EU simplification directive on VAT.

All of this leaves Mrs Sargent and other commentators hoping that it will not be too long before more core parts of the Budget - potential problems over secrecy surrounding tax changes notwithstanding - are passed to the private sector.

But keen fans of Whitehall manoeuvrings should not be too disappointed. The fourth private-sector contract - dealing with Customs & Excise extra statutory concessions - has gone to Margaret Leates, once a member of the Parliamentary Counsel office and now a freelance draftsman. She is keeping mum and other tax specialists are unable to lift the veil of mystery.