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One minute with...Andrew Scott

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Your practice focuses on a very broad range of direct and indirect corporate tax issues. What’s in your in-tray?
All sorts: unallowable purpose; capital allowances; cross-border group relief; VAT partial exemption; and, generally, getting myself before as many clients as I can whilst remembering that HMRC is now the other side. It is, I think, indicative of the future direction of HMRC travel that most of the issues relate to transactions that would undoubtedly have been seen as entirely benign even only a year ago. The dragon of avoidance has been slain, and HMRC is turning its attention elsewhere. 
What caught your eye in the Finance Bill?
I’m going to cheat on this one by mentioning something that I worked on while at HMRC and is not yet in the Finance Bill but will be soon: the taxation of the profits of property dealers or developers. It is an example of a tax measure with a conceptual soundness underpinning it that might, perhaps, explain why the reaction to it has been relatively muted. It was great fun to work on, and I’ll read the clauses with a particular interest. 
If you could make one change to UK tax law or practice what would it be?
As I’ve had a hand in literally hundreds of pages of tax law, I’m loathe (though tempted, of course!) to take the normal route of making a plea for less complexity. Perhaps, it’s time for the general tax law community to hold a mirror to itself? There remains a significant amount of literalism in interpretation by tax professionals both inside and outside HMRC. When combined with an unrealistic desire for 100% certainty (again, both inside and outside HMRC), the result is unnecessary argument, which itself generates the legislative twitch to remove the doubt in the first place.
Can you comment on the challenges you faced as a drafter of UK tax law?
Turning policy into law is an immensely difficult job. It is rare to have enough time to do a proper job and the expertise in the policy making and drafting apparatus within government is at times too thinly spread. There is the famous Bismarck quote about the legislative process (‘laws are like sausages, it’s better not to see them being made’), which is not far off the mark. I do feel that there are times when it is an absolute triumph that anything at all is produced. 
Looking back on your involvement in the HMRC governance process, is there room for improvement? 
I feel very lucky that I was a member of the Tax Disputes Resolution Board at a time when tax was front-page news. The quality of the papers put before the TDRB was exceptional and, in my view (but I would say this, wouldn’t I?), the discussion of technical issues was of the highest standard, as was the careful deliberation as to how to resolve the case. It is a shame that only a handful of people within HMRC see this. The PAC, NGOs and the media prefer a different narrative, of course, and there must surely be a way for HMRC (aided, I would suggest, by others) to be more on the front foot. I don’t think that bewailing the fact that the media don’t get it is enough.
Aside from your immediate colleagues, who in tax do you most admire? 
Aidan Reilly, head of international tax in HMRC. He’s highly tax literate with a very good feel for policy, is an excellent team player, isn’t risk averse (others are) and is great fun to work with.
I remember the time when…
Before the miracle of Leicester City, perhaps the biggest sporting upset was England’s victory against Australia on the final day of the Headingley test in 1981. The odds were 500-1 against an England victory. We only went because admission was free for U16s and nearly turned straight back home when England lost their final wicket as we were taking our seats. 
Issue: 1309
Categories: One minute with