Reflections on The Finance Innovation Lab/ICAEW Tax Assembly
The Lab hosted an Assembly on tax and how to restore public trust in the tax system, in association with the ICAEW Tax Faculty.
The event had 80 odd people in the room with a very broad range of views, from the tax profession, government, civil society, academia and journalism. This diversity did not cause conflict or vitriol in the room, but a strong degree of common purpose that somehow we do need to work together to redefine the tax system in a way that the public accept as legitimate.
To frame the event, we had interviewed a spectrum of stakeholders on what they felt the goals of the tax system should be, what was working well and what needed reform. The finding of these interviews were presented on the day and can be read here. There were also opening remarks from Zoe Williams of The Guardian, Rory Meakin of the Tax Payers Alliance, and Paul Johnson of the Institute for Fiscal Studies. Zoe Williams perhaps came up with the most impassioned call, asserting that we should regard tax as a beautiful thing! We also heard a little about PwC’s recent experiment in citizen juries on tax.
Most of the day was spent in small group discussions identifying what we all thought were the most critical root causes to get to grips with. Public disengagement from the tax system was a common concern, and the ICAEW will be looking at how their educational work can help to address this. There was also frustration in the way that the tax system has become more complex over the years, making avoidance easier and helping to exclude many from the discussions as they become ever more technical.
Many in the room were critical of the way politicians implement tax measures piecemeal and shy away from setting out a coherent strategy, for fear of damaging headlines and voter revolts. My own personal reflection of a day’s discussion, between people with often diametrically opposed views on tax, was that a more open public discourse on how we want tax to develop into the future is far more possible than many policymakers, or journalists, think. We need many more of these types of constructive conversation to get to right.