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One minute with... Simon Concannon

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Name a memorable moment in your career.

Having been involved in the negotiations between various shareholders and other interested parties to take Bradford City FC out of administration, I was invited to welcome the teams on the pitch for the first home match at the start of the 2002/03 season. I stood in the centre circle with 15,000 football fans looking on – and prayed I was not the new signing.

Name a trend in tax practice.

Undoubtedly there has been a major change over recent years (not just the last few months) in the attitude to tax planning. Not only have we seen fewer aggressive schemes being marketed, but clients are regularly asking for advice as to how ‘normal’ their tax planning would be considered. The concern is not just HMRC’s attitude, though more clients clearly want to be in the low risk category, but also how their tax affairs would look if they were questioned more publicly. Fewer clients have confidence that their tax affairs will remain truly private. Where the planning is part of a transaction, the other parties involved are concerned not to be associated with anything which could be seen as aggressive, even in circumstances where they have no direct involvement.

If you could make one change to tax law or administration, what would it be?

Less legislation, more litigation. Whilst few clients seek to be involved in disputes with HMRC, it will only be through more cases going to tribunal and to court that the phrases and concepts used in the tax world will really be understood. It is this which will allow for the much desired tax simplification. The more that disputes are dealt with by further and more detailed legislation, the less we develop a coherent tax system. Furthermore, whilst the new legislation may seem to close down supposed loopholes, it also provides succour to those seeking to base tax schemes on the more curious interpretations of existing rules. Having a more stable base with a developed body of interpretation will give taxpayers and HMRC more clarity and greater confidence in the system.

Looking back on your career, what’s the key lesson you’ve learned?

Ask more questions. Never assume anyone – clients, colleagues or other advisers – will tell you everything that might be useful on first telling. There is a natural temptation to fill in the picture, but it’s always best to stand back and let the picture be completed. In particular, this applies to any situation involving jargon or acronyms, which are employed throughout the commercial world and which almost always mean different things to different people.

What caught your eye in this year’s Finance Act?

Aside from the obvious areas, such as accelerated payment notices, there are a few smaller but practically useful changes. The grace period for the acquisition of shares under options on a takeover to still qualify for corporation tax relief is a welcome simplification. The new self-certification procedure for approved share option schemes is similarly helpful in speeding up the process of setting up new share schemes, though the lack of formal HMRC approval takes away a big chunk of the practitioner’s comfort.

Tell us a secret.

I recently completed a version of the Gurkha challenge in the Yorkshire Dales, covering 100 kilometres on foot in 24 hours. At the end, my feet were so sore that it was one time I looked forward to spending a nice sunny day sitting at my desk.