Clearly, PricewaterhouseCoopers is very good at its job. It helps many of its wealthy clients and large companies avoid many types of taxation. So it perhaps counts as a compliment that the latest report of the Commons Public Accounts Committee states that it is conducting such work “on an industrial scale”.
That is its business, and it’s simply what tax lawyers and accountants have been paid to do for as long as taxation has been around. What is the business of the wider public and Parliament, however, is when those same tax poachers are also employed by HM Treasury in a gamekeeping capacity – in this instance helping HM Revenue and Customs detect tax avoidance schemes and other “dodges”.
The conflict of interest is fairly plain. It could be argued that the best poachers make the best gamekeepers, and vice versa – but not necessarily simultaneously. PwC is fatally compromised in its work for the Government.
Tax avoidance is endorsed by the state in some forms. When it comes in the guise of individual “tax planning” it is laudable, even cuddly – think ISAs, exempt from all UK taxation. It is a quite different proposition when tax lawyers exploit loopholes in international tax law, and help multinational companies pay far less tax than small businesses who cannot afford their services. The Exchequer is still not receiving a fair and just share of what some of the richest firms and people should be paying towards public services.
PwC has been an active, highly successful player in that lucrative game; there is no need for it to benefit from a further penny of public money if it wishes to continue its artful dodging.
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