With a stronger-than-expected economy post Brexit (my own powerfully pro-Union views, both United Kingdom and Europe, were never to do with the economy which is a red-herring), and indeed the perhaps surprising Conservative victory in Copeland, Mr Hammond may be tempted to leave well-alone in the forthcoming budget.
I doubt he’ll do much about Inheritance Tax. While there was something deeply mean-spirited about the way the new reliefs are being phased in (and how sickening must it be to know that if a loved one had lived a few days longer one might have been so much better off), the relaxations are starting to make a material difference, a couple of years after they were first announced. Whatever the misty-eyed good intentions of the socialists, death taxes are surely a most distasteful way of addressing social inequality.
Others have more crystallised balls than mine, and I’m sure you’ll find plenty of useful speculation elsewhere. I know my own business partner tax-guru John Handley is gearing up for a technical monster of an article next month, so forgive me if I indulge myself with something of a tour d’horizon, to borrow a neat phrase lifted from Jimmy the Music’s page (second-hand as it happens; he nicked it from Le Carré).
There seems to be a new pragmatism within HM Customs & Revenue presumably emanating from the Treasury, since the arrival of Hammond, Mrs May and Financial Secretary to the Treasury Jane Ellison. They just seem business-like, and while there was an element of the silent assassin about the Prime Minister’s arrival in office, that’s an image that gets things done (qv Jim Hacker’s delight in being described as “dictatorial”), and the cynic in her cosying up to Trump, I have been wondering in these columns if it might not be quite good news for the taxpayer, and their much put-upon agents.
You’ve heard me banging on about the work my firm does in the field of what we call remedial tax, and what the revenue describes as “what we might regard as fraud”. Either we’re getting better at it, which I suppose is possible, or the revenue are becoming reasonable, or if that’s not the right word, ‘realistic’; given the personalities in government that in itself may not be an unrealistic view. It’s early days but I was chatting to John earlier, and he brought my attention to the Chair of the influential Treasury select committee, Andrew Tyrie’s criticism of HM Revenue and Customs for its handling of legal disputes against film partnership tax avoidance schemes, saying they have led to financial distress for some investors. The issue of “financial distress” misses the point about the retrospective nature of the interpretation of legislation, and it’s just one bloke saying “wait a minute” (you need to imagine that in Billy Connolly’s voice, the accent of my childhood, try saying it without pronouncing the “t”s), but he’s relatively senior, and it’s at least a start, a move away from the hang-avoiders-legitimate-and-otherwise brigades that have blighted the tax industry which by and large was peaceably going about its lawful business until Blair landed us with Brown (which in my opinion was his only, if all damning crime).
I’m conscious that this has fallen short of a rant; I’m sure the budget will enrage me in time for the next edition.
Douglas Shanks is DSC Metropolitan Chartered Accountants temporarily mellowing partner