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Tax campaigner wins award for contribution to accountancy profession

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Richard Murphy, the chartered accountant and influential campaigner against tax avoidance, has won an award for ‘outstanding contribution to the accounting profession’.

There were three nominations for the award, voted by members of the Association of International Accountants (AIA). The other nominees were Deloitte partner Isobel Sharp, a specialist in corporate reporting and governance, and Paul Pacter of the International Accounting Standards Board.

Murphy, who advises the TUC and the HMRC staff union PCS on tax issues, was a founder of the Tax Justice Network. His views have won widespread support outside the accountancy profession and he features regularly in national press and radio reports.

Many practising accountants and tax advisers say privately that they support much of Murphy’s work, but they object to his robust style, use of what he has called ‘justifiable spin’, and his relentless criticism of tax professionals – including some who have expressed less than complete agreement with his views.

Murphy told Tax Journal: ‘I was surprised and delighted to receive this award. As many will know, I have not courted popularity in my own profession, preferring instead to make sure that issues relating to tax in developing countries, the tax gap – and what the tax profession could do about both if it so chose – remain at the forefront of public attention.’

During the summer leaders of the UK’s major professional bodies backed the government’s efforts to counter and deter aggressive tax avoidance, and the Chartered Institute of Taxation’s president suggested that promoters of some avoidance schemes should face the prospect of sanctions under extended ‘mis-selling’ legislation.

But Murphy argues that the proposed general anti-abuse rule does not go far enough, and he drafted the private members’ bill – introducing a general anti-tax avoidance principle – that Labour MP Michael Meacher tabled in the House of Commons last month.

Murphy’s critics maintain that he overstates the size of the UK’s ‘tax gap’ because he regards as tax avoidance activity that neither legislators nor HMRC consider to be outside the spirit of the law.

He advocates country-by-country reporting of profits by multinationals – a concept he claims to have created in 2003. The idea has gained ground in recent months. In August, MPs on the Commons International Development Committee said UK law should require each UK-based multinational to report its financial information on a country-by-country basis.

Some leading experts have acknowledged that aspects of the tax system are in need of reform because they favour particular groups of taxpayers, such as multinational corporations. However, some believe that campaigners should be pressing policy makers to change the law rather than targeting individual taxpayers.

AccountingWeb won the AIA ‘accountancy media outlet’ award. The AIA was founded in the UK in 1928 as a global accountancy body. It provides qualifications and services for ‘over 7,000 members and 8,500 students, graduates and affiliates in over 85 countries worldwide’, according to its website.