Obituary: Victor Durkacz
Monday 29 March 1993
VALUE ADDED TAX is not a popular tax, and few who administer it or advise on it do not have reservations about disclosing the nature of their work to neighbours or even friends. Victor Durkacz needed to have no such reservations.
Durkacz's innate honesty and reasonableness left people with the feeling that in whatever activity he was engaged he would bring to it standards that would always be of the best. His death at the age of 40 is not only a tragedy for his family and friends, but represents the loss of a man who, in a cynical world, was not only supremely effective in what he did, but who set the highest ethical standards, which influenced both those involved in administering VAT and those involved in it.
Durkacz recognised the importance of the new-fangled tax before most accountants and lawyers. Having gained a First Class degree in history at Dundee University and a doctorate, the substance of which appeared as a book, The Decline of Celtic Languages (1983), he left the academic world behind and became Director, National VAT Services, at KMG Thomson McLintock in 1985. He later became Group Manager of Deloitte Haskins and Sells Scottish Customs and Excise Group, and finally in 1987 formed his own company, Durkacz and Co, to offer specialist VAT consultancy services.
His first major impact on the VAT world was the thesis he submitted for his Fellowship of the Institute of Taxation - forbiddingly entitled 'VAT Planning for Land and Property Transactions following the 1984 Finance Act'. It was never going to be a bestseller, but nearly everybody engaged on VAT obtained a copy. When VAT advisers or administrators met, it became the subject of a game in which status points could be obtained by identifying errors in the thesis: very few such points were ever gained.
Durkacz was a member of the editorial board of Taxation, and on the Institute of Taxation's Indirect Tax sub-committee. He was also a long-time editor of the monthly publication VAT Intelligence. His more immediate impact on VAT thinking however was in the direct contributions he made to Taxation and to VAT Intelligence. His articles clarified new problems and resolved old ones, and also continually impressed on the revenue authorities the need to administer VAT fairly. Many arguments on major VAT issues included the phrase: 'But Victor says'.
Durkacz never lost a case at a VAT Tribunal. This record is impressive enough in itself, but was made more so by the manner of its achievement. It was very much a matter of diligence and intelligence giving David a victory over Goliath.
The most enduring memory of Victor Durkacz for those who work in VAT is that, in an extremely competitive field, he found time to help other practitioners and do it in such a way that it raised the status of the people he helped. When the VAT Practitioners Group, a collection of accountants, lawyers and other tax practitioners which had come together to seek to ensure that VAT is applied in as equitable and practical manner as possible, set up a Chapter in Scotland, Durkacz naturally became its first chairman. He was concerned with doing things well, but also with doing things properly. Virtually everybody who works on VAT as an administrator or as an adviser owes a debt to him.
VAT was not, of course, all Durkacz's life. He was a quiet person with a wry sense of humour. He was also a devoted family man. He liked nothing better than spending time with his wife, Mary, and young daughters, Katherine and Laura, at their cottage in the country overlooking Trapain Law on the one side and Berwick Law and the sea on the other.
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