Archive for August, 2012

Taxing morals

Saturday, August 18th, 2012

Denis Healey, former (Labour) Chancellor of the Exchequer, is quoted as saying:
Every man is entitled if he can to order his affairs so as that the tax attaching under the appropriate Acts is less than it otherwise would be. If he succeeds in ordering them so as to secure this result, then, however unappreciative the Commissioners of Inland Revenue or his fellow taxpayers may be of his ingenuity, he cannot be compelled to pay an increased tax.

It has been agreed in law that anyone can so arrange their affairs to pay as little tax as possible. Morality has never been, until now, an issue – even for Denis Healey. Is the change in attitude a result of politicians being deprived of their own little scams? Or that HMRC have recognised their inadequacy in tackling the tax avoidance industry and are creating an atmosphere in which a general anti-avoidance rule will be accepted?

Why is the Institute of Chartered Accounts in England & Wales (ICAEW) jumping on the bandwagon and taking the moral high ground – and suggesting we all do the same? It’s nothing to do with us (accountants). It is not our job to take account of the ‘public interest’ or make moral judgements (except as normal members of society). Where would that end? There are so many shades of grey and everyone has an opinion (and people can be very moral in judging other people’s actions) which is likely to change depending on how the ‘facts’ are presented. Newspapers, and politicians for that matter, don’t care much for facts when it’s headlines they are after. We (accountants) are already compelled by law to advise the authorities if we have reason to believe anyone is gaining advantage from breaking the law – any law. It’s done under the perfectly reasonable banner of money laundering (intended to combat drug dealing and terrorism), which makes it seem acceptable – but it is not a far cry from a society of mistrust, ‘walls have ears’, ‘careful what you say’. Anne Franks would likely recognise the problem. The authorities are struggling to maintain control – this isn’t restricted to tax collection – and they are turning increasingly to fear tactics with increased penalties for anything that goes wrong. And go wrong they certainly will when the systems are so complex. Now the moral menace.

Society likes fairness. In fact it relies on it, otherwise resentment sets in – and resentment can be destructive. Our tax and benefit systems are so complex, at least in part, because they try to be fair. Fairness is the intention, but the complexity often leads to the opposite result. It provides loopholes through which some find a way to distort the original intention and gain an advantage. Not very sporting, certainly, but –
‘……however unappreciative the Commissioners of Inland Revenue or his fellow taxpayers may be of his ingenuity, he cannot be compelled to pay an increased tax.’

It is not the ingenuity that should be stopped. Ingenuity is to be applauded. It is the loopholes that should be stopped. This is where the authorities, HMRC in particular, want to introduce a general anti avoidance rule (GAAR) (or Give Another Advantage to the Revenue) to combat anyone trying to pay less tax than – what? Sounds easy when your affairs are simple, but the complex rules contained in the law are not there to cater for simple situations. A general rule that says ‘thou shalt not avoid, evade, or otherwise pay less tax than you should’ sounds perfectly plausible but it may create many more problems than it solves. It would create uncertainty. One of the ‘rules’ underlying tax legislation is that taxes should be certain. Not just certain that they should be paid, but certain in the amount to be paid. It’s difficult enough already without a layer of moral judgement to contend with.

Good game – all about the in-play.

Thursday, August 16th, 2012

Gambling is a disaster waiting to happen. Before it goes too far, will someone please stop Ray Winstone telling us it’s all about the in-play. It isn’t. It’s about watching a game of football – and surprisingly, last night, quite a good game – even from England.

I wasn’t once concerned which corner flag would next flutter in the wind. If it was too balmy I suppose it wouldn’t flutter at all – but this whole thing is absolutely barmy. How has it got to this point? Is the economy so desparate that the only people with sufficient funds to sponsor football are the gambling companies? Football is already corrupted by money – players and managers seriously overpaid. Constant marketing of betting on events in the game is nonsense. Football is not an adults-only sport. This is strong advertising, selling gambling to everyone watching the game – sold as though it should be a normal part of the game.

Gambling is already recognised as a potential problem, like under-age sex and drinking alcohol (not necessarily at the same time). No-one under 18 is even allowed in a betting shop. How, then, is it considered acceptable to sell the idea of gambling to under-18s, under-10s?

The forty-sixty rule

Monday, August 13th, 2012

A word to anyone turning forty: If the speed of the last forty years tells you anything, it’s to spend the next forty wisely.

And to anyone turning 60, You don’t have to worry about the next sixty.

A long way to Tipperary? You should try Rio

Monday, August 13th, 2012

I thought travel was quite fast these days, but yesterday they said it’s four years to Rio – must be rowing (or cycling).

What a happy and glorious fortnight we’ve just experienced? And most of the time it didn’t rain over us – God save the Queen. Most of the budget for the closing ceremony went on the fireworks – there didn’t appear to be much left to spend on the acts. Television coverage of the Games was generally excellent, although some of the interviewing was naff. Phil Jones interviewing the marathon winner from Uganda suggested he had a language problem – most of us would have struggled with the bo****ks he was talking.

Sports personality will be a packed show this year. They’ll need the stadium just to house the candidates. The headliners are likely to be Mohamed Farrah, Jessica Ennis, Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton and Bradley Wiggins (with his back to back events), but Katherine Grainger’s gold medal was also something special. Her first silver medal, twelve years before, would have been a triumph, the next would be disappointing, the next – a disaster. By this time most would think they had peaked, and that was enough.

To accept those disappointments (four years apart), to continue training to get even better for yet another four years is extraordinary (the word isn’t adequate but I had a restricted education, albeit approved) – and shows something in her character that’s missing in most of us. Her medal, as much as anything, epitomises not only the Olympic spirit, but one of the essentials of life. Those that win successive golds over many years show a similar tenacity. Their incentive is to stay at the top, but in the knowledge they had been there previously. Katherine Grainger didn’t know if the top was attainable.

I didn’t realise any of this when I was a boy. I thought that sport’s day was a chance for the fortunate few to show off. The philosophy of sport, not just of winning, but striving to be better (than you already are) should be taught to every child (and the rest of us). Not just assume those that are good will get better and those that aren’t, won’t.

Disappointment is a significant part of life (I should know). Keeping it from children does them no favours. Katherine Grainger is a prime example of how to overcome and triumph over disappointment. Her story should be part of the curriculum. Sports personality? I have to go with the face of the games – almost a ‘Dennis’.


Saturday, August 11th, 2012

The success for Team GB (baton change excepted) at the 2012 Olympics fills most of us with some good feeling. I wouldn’t call it pride (it’s not down to anything I’ve done) but it says something about what our countries can achieve. It’s a pity the same success is not reflected in the economy.

Success at the Olympics may inspire others to take up a sport, initially, but it takes much more than that to create the next generation of success. Otherwise where are the successors to Coe, Cram and Ovett? Momentum has to be maintained. There will not be the incentive of another London Olympics for a very long time (although from what we have seen in the last fortnight I think it should be a permanent venue) to contribute to the motivation of the next generations. That will require constant encouragement, facilities and the right coaches – and the right attitude taught to the future prospects, from a very young age. Give children the encouragement, the equipment, the training, the motivation – give them the tools, and they will do the job.

Encouragement does not come from the ‘nobody must lose’ philosophy. That provides no incentive to anyone to perform at their best, or to improve. Let’s hope the real success of these Olympic Games, and at least one of its legacies, is the end of the silly season for the attitude to children’s sport.


Friday, August 10th, 2012

Didn’t Usain bolt? Twice?


Thursday, August 9th, 2012

Yesterday there were two American teams playing each other in one of the silly sports. Jamaica took Gold, Silver and Bronze in the 200m running race, and there seem to be numerous Kenyans and Ethiopeans in others. Why is it acceptable for there to be multiple representatives from one country in some events and only one in others, such as cycling – to prevent one country dominating the sport. It just happens that the UK were dominating that particular sport. Now the strategy has failed, what new rule will be introduced to slow down Team GB? Blindfolds perhaps?

The bike wheels are apparently made in France. An opportunity for the French to be happy and applaud the fact that ‘our’ success is based on French engineering. But no; the Brits appear to be good at something – they must be cheating. Let’s try one pedal per team, see what effect that has. Alternatively let’s make it OK to nudge a GB rider – Oh! They’ve already sanctioned that one.

I thought it would end in tears

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

I thought it would all end in tears. There would be an inquest on why ‘we’ hadn’t performed as well as expected in 2012 after all the investment and lottery funding for sport – but, you see, I’m English – we thrive on disappointment, we are humbled by success. Not quite the done thing to win (all the time). Well, how wrong can you be? Team GB has excelled. What might it achieve with a more competitive attitude in schools, compared with the present approach where no-one is allowed to win or lose?

Top level athletes have not been sheltered from the disappointment of losing. Quite the opposite. It is that disappointment that drives them to improve and not to lose, but, at the same time, learn to accept defeat and the challenge to do better next time. And when they do succeed – what elation and emotion it can create – and not just in the athletes themselves. The energy, effort, dedication and determination is recognised by everyone witnessing the contest. The spectators’ exhilaration is not restricted to the athletes they have come to support or from their own country. The effort required to achieve success is apparent to all, and we all respond with respect, admiration and, perhaps, a tear. Quite incredible!

What generates such powerful emotions from these fleeting moments of triumph (and disaster) when we should ‘treat those two imposters just the same’ – because imposters they are. For all the joy of winning (and despair of losing) tomorrow’s result may be quite different. Winning doesn’t mean best, except for that one moment. Winning is often by the smallest margin (I think .1 of a second is a dead-heat) yet the elation for the winner is not diminished in the slightest. What if we could all generate that enthusiasm, elation and inspiration from the jobs we do, and strive to do better tomorrow because today there was no success?

Why would we want to deprive children of this powerful tool – the ability to enjoy and to create such emotion for themselves and others, and learn to accept that losing is just a part of winning? The taking part is just as important as the winning. One depends on the other. Not much to get excited about if the winner is the only contestant. Surely this is what children should be taught, and what they should experience. If we ‘protect’ or ‘shelter’ them from the disappointment of losing, we also deprive them of the pleasure of winning – and improving – and inspiring others to do likewise.

Sport, at the highest level, may always be elitest – by its nature it must be selective and recognise that not everyone will have the aptitude or willingness to progress. Perhaps this also applies to education generally? The opportunity to participate and become part of that elite will be available to everyone only if competition, winning and losing are part of every child’s education – not only for sport, but for life.