Today I listened to the Prime Minister at Davos giving a welcome pledge to prioritise tax and transparency at this year’s G8.
This is overdue. Globalisation means we need a grown up debate about how countries use their tax systems to attract inward investment.
The Government has to strike a balance between making the tax system competitive and fair. As a profession we spend a great deal of time working with policy makers to achieve this balance.
Which was why I was disappointed to hear the Prime Minister again dismiss accountants, this time as an ‘army’ of avoiders, or 'clever accountants' as he put it.
We don’t recognise that description. Our members do not support illegal tax evasion or the kind of aggressive tax avoidance that we believe to be unethical. In fact, an effective accountancy and finance profession can and does help solve many of the problems the Prime Minister wants to address.
We play a key role in making the UK’s tax system work. Professional accountants everywhere are helping their clients pay the right amount of tax to the right governments at the right time.
It’s true, as the PM says, that countries without this professional capacity struggle to collect the right amount of tax. Which is why ICAEW is working in places like Nigeria to help tackle the problems he outlined this morning.
The PM should remember the accountancy profession employs a quarter of a million people in the UK alone, generating more graduate jobs than any other sector. Accountancy also generates around 1% of GDP and is one of the driving forces behind the business and professional services sector which ran a £7.4 billion trade surplus in 2011, making a reality of the UK’s ambition to export for growth.
I believe the 1.5 million small businesses our members advise and support would take issue with the way in which the PM has sought to caricature what we do this morning.
My message is simple. Our profession is part of the solution: promoting trust and confidence in business at all levels.
It is time the PM stopped castigating this vital economic sector and recognised just what we contribute to growth.