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One minute with… John Whiting

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What’s keeping you busy at work?

It’s curious how being a part-timer does make one busy balancing work and private commitments. Workwise, my Revenue Scotland time has inevitably been dominated recently by the Covid-19 crisis plus some challenging tax issues; at the TDB we have just appointed a new chair, Susan Humble, so it has been pleasing to contribute to her arrival and settling in. But the key issue on my plate is currently ‘reading in’ to my new role as GAAR panel chair and preparing to succeed Patrick Mears in mid-April.

Has a recent tax case caught your eye?

As a cricket-lover, ‘Root2’ caught my eye and had me wondering what the England captain might have been up to. Thankfully Root 2 Tax Ltd v HMRC [2019] UKFTT 744 is nothing to do with Joe but is worthy of study by anyone following how avoidance schemes are being challenged – something that interests me in my new GAAR role. There seems a clear extension here of how the Supreme Court’s Rangers case findings are being applied to challenge non-loan arrangements.

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

I remain a firm believer in consultation and in simplification. The two are linked: good consultation can help show how to avoid unnecessary complexities, particularly in terms of extra admin. I would make it compulsory that every tax change must be consulted on, with a view to checking that it is ‘worth it’ in terms of increased burdens and that the practical implications have been bottomed out.

What is the most pressing challenge facing the tax profession?

Trying to look beyond the current crisis is difficult, but I think what will start to loom significantly before too long will be some fundamental questions of a ‘what are we here for’ nature. What will the job of the tax professional be as businesses of all shapes and sizes become more automated? Is there an argument that being a tax adviser should bring responsibility to do more of HMRC’s job of confirming tax bills are right? How do we ensure the highest professional standards? Is licencing (not regulation) a way forward and, if so, how should it be established? Leading on from that, one issue that has come up regularly with me, both at HMRC and the TDB, is whether and how HMRC should report to their professional body (PB) practitioners who, let us say, ‘go wrong’. Traditionally, HMRC hasn’t done this for reasons of taxpayer confidentiality (arguing that reporting on an adviser would necessarily mean disclosing some client data), but HMRC now has memoranda with some PBs. Should we fear HMRC reporting bad work to the PB? Clearly there are issues about ensuring the reporting is fair and appropriate. Also, to me a key issue is distinguishing work that is, for example, not up to date (which may well mean the adviser needs help and support rather than any punishment) from deliberately bad work (which may well merit reference to the TDB).

What do you know now that you wish you’d known at the start of your career?

Nobody knows everything. In my early days, it seemed to be an admission of weakness or failure to have to ask someone else. But any good adviser knows that consulting with colleagues over a problem usually gets to a better solution. The GAAR advisory panel certainly follows this principle!

What should we be look out for in 2020?

I’d love to say that HMRC will dust off the OTS reports on aligning income tax and NICs, because there really was a blueprint to improve the tax system there. However, the big issue is inevitably going to be how are we going to pay for all the (very necessary) government support that is happening. The tax system will of course have a part to play.

You might not know this about me...

I was recently appointed treasurer of the Richard III Society. The society’s mission is to promote research into the life and times of Richard III, a monarch who has been badly served by many (including one W Shakespeare). The society is transitioning to corporate status which brings some interesting business challenges as well!

Issue: 1482
Categories: One minute with