Firms are raiding the Treasury to figure out how they can beat it

 

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The heat is being turned up on tax avoiders and it was only a matter of time before the  accountancy profession was caught in the line of fire.

The bean counters’ first line of defence is always that they demystify complicated tax planning for clients, but leave them to decide how to arrange their affairs. But the evidence that they have effectively been raiding the Treasury for ideas of how to do that only besmirches one of our most prosperous industries.

Accountants get everywhere. Such is the throughput of graduates at the Big Four firms, they act as unofficial training academies for the upper echelons of business and government. What makes uneasy reading is that for all the public sector can learn from the private, those lessons cut both ways. David Cameron wants leaders to mount a crackdown on unpaid tax at the G8 summit in Northern Ireland in June. The trouble is that critics elide avoidance – which is legal – and evasion – which is illegal.

It would help to clarify what is within the bounds of acceptable but, for the taxman, closing loopholes is like of whack-a-mole – something else just keeps popping up.

Asking some accountants to refrain from tax avoidance is like asking a banker to turn down his bonus. Naming and shaming isn’t a bad way to go.

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