Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Not another boring accountant

In 1997 I had my first call from the BBC. I was on the phone to someone else when my secretary rushed in to tell me that Newsnight wanted to speak to me.

I decided to take the call. My mind was racing. Could they have become aware of my expertise in advising on the changing basis of taxation and the introduction of self-assessment? Did they need a new media pundit to explain the Chancellor’s tax decisions in the budget. Did they want me to expand on a recent article I’d written in the accountancy press? In a split second I saw myself as a regular TV pundit explaining complex tax issues so that a TV audience could understand them. It never happened!

Apparently that morning there had been a full page feature in one of the broadsheets, as a result of a press release issued by one of the largest firms of accountants. It seems that they were sponsoring a new film in which they had insisted that the lead character would be a chartered accountant, rather than a solicitor. Then, as now, films were more likely to feature sexy solicitors and luscious lawyers rather than the exciting and glamorous life of a chartered accountant.

The producer of Newsnight wanted to do a piece about the prospective film and whether there was any real prospect of chartered accountants being seen as anything other than boring.

I remember asking how the producer had got my name. I found out later that they had phoned the Institute of Chartered Accountants and asked if they had any accountants who weren’t boring. Apparently, the PR people they spoke to immediately thought of someone quite senior. But then concluded that he was boring. The same things happened for the next two senior people they thought of. "Oops, no sorry, he's boring too." So, they gave up but tried to make out that they simply didn't want to be seen to be favouring anyone in particular. They suggested instead that the researcher contact Accountancy Age newspaper. Now, I was well-known to a number of the journalists on Accountancy Age and had been featured on the back cover two or three times with some spurious link between accountancy, tax and magic.

As a result, they passed on my details to the Newsnight producer who thought that I'd be perfect. A successful chartered accountant with a sideline as a bit of a magician. And best of all I wasn't boring!

I'll share the rest of this story on this blog on another occasion.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

'Toff Tax' explained

From 17 May 2008 letters page of the FT:

Sir, Peter Hahn suggests titles such as lordships should be offered openly for sale (Letters, May 10/11). This is a sadly regressive step that would ensure titles are allocated only to those who can afford them. These will be the same people who already receive substantial financial recognition for their labours. It would exclude equally deserving but less affluent members of society such as the proverbial postmistress.


A progressive system should be based on taxation. Acceptance of a title such as a peerage might command a 10 per cent surcharge on the higher rate of tax. Lesser honours might command a lower rate of tax. Honours would remain accessible to all in society but only funded by those who passed a certain financial threshold.


This annual “toff tax” would be a lucrative way for the state (not the party) to collect revenue to fund the political infrastructure we demand but will not fund ourselves. It will also allow those honoured to proclaim publicly their loyalty to the nation that honours them.

James Brooke Turner,
London SW2 3TA

Monday, May 19, 2008

Life without timesheets

Hugh Williams FCA is the author of a book 'Life without timesheets' - which sets out how his practice embraced the idea and stopped charging by the hour many years ago.

I've just seen a copy of one of his other books (101 ways to grow your business) in which he shares a little ditty:
When accountants and solicitors charge by the hour
Clients moan about fees and relationships sour
So throw away timesheets
Fix the price of all you do
Bill 'em upfront and clients'll love you!
Whilst I'm not as passionate about this as is Hugh I do know of an increasing number of firms who are 'trashing the timesheet' - at least in so far as they no longer use timesheets to determine the fees they charge.

I  have included several related items on my other blog for ambitious accountants.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

There's a hole in my budget

Topical parody of the old 'Hole in my bucket' song that ends up where it started.

This one features Alastair Darling and Gordon Brown - with both parts sung by Rory Bremner.
It was first broadcast on Bremner, Bird and Fortune in May 2008


Friday, May 16, 2008

Tax helpline in Australia

At an Ecademy event last night I heard about this helpline where callers are told:

1 - If you speak English - press one

2 - If you don't speak English - press two

Seems a bit of a catch-22 to me!

My thanks to Phillip Khan-Panni for the story.


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Typos in the tax office

A tax partner had a tendency to incorporate Latin words and phrases in his advice letters to clients. Forgetting that his temporary secretary was less familiar with Latin than his usual PA he didn't check her typing before signing and sending a letter to a client. He had used the expression: "Ipso facto". Unfortunately this had been mistyped as "If, so Fatso". The client was not impressed!

Any more such examples?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

More US quotes about taxes

"The income tax has made liars out of more Americans than golf."
WILL ROGERS
"Who is the figure behind every great man, the individual who knows his ultimate secrets? A father confessor? Hell no, the tax expert."
LOUIS ARCHINCLOSS

"A tax loophole is something that benefits the other guy. If it benefits you it is tax reform."
SENATOR RUSSELL B LONG
"Taxation with representation ain't so hot either."
GERALD BARZAN
"I'm proud to be paying taxes in the United States. The only thing is - I could be just as proud for half the money."
ARTHUR GODFREY

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Tax Simplification

In 1965 the Chancellor (Jim Callaghan) introduced his Budget Speech with the prophecy that he would so simplify the system that accountants would be put out of business. The 1965 Budget is particularly memorable as it introduced two new concepts - Corporation tax and Capital gains tax.

Adam Broke recalls that the Chancellor's ambitions were thwarted by the inclusion in his proposals of "small minded concepts such as close companies". As a result, Adam, a newly married breadwinner, spent only milliseconds worrying whether he had chosen the wrong career.

It seems that little has changed as recent Budgets that have purported to introduce simplicity into the tax system are also bedevilled by undue complexity, oversights and 'small minded concepts'.

Adam's recollections appear in the May 2008 issue of the ICAEW Tax Faculty's Taxline publication.

Friday, May 09, 2008

GBH to English

Thanks to Trevor Johnson of CCH for reminding me of the following:

The press release following the 2007 Budget which referred to Tackling worklessness in London’. Whatever happened to ‘unemployment?’ Perhaps it is too redolent of the 1970s? On the current self-assessment I am asked ‘Did you receive, or do we consider you to have received, income from a trust, settlement or a deceased person’s estate?’

My response would be ‘If you don’t know whether you consider me to have received trust income, how on earth should I know?’

Tax U-Turns

On 25 April 2008 edition of Have I Got News for You guest Ed Byrne highlighted an interesting phenomenon in the context of the Government U-turn re the 'abolition' of the 10p tax rate.

He said he couldn't understand what all the fuss was about. 'Why are we so critical about such U-Turns?' he asked. "The media highlighted how ill-thought out was the proposed policy change and demanded that it be withdrawn. The Chancellor appeared to listen and announced plans to mitigate the impact and compensate the 'losers'. "(Paul Merton interrupted to suggest that it's not nice to refer to the lowest paid people as 'losers'). "And then what happened? The media criticised the U-turn and slammed the Chancellor for his actions."

"I don't get it" said Byrne. "What do they want? It's as if they're saying - You idiot. What did you want to do a U-turn for? You shouldn't be listening to what people want. Much better you should stick with that awful unpopular policy."

There's more than a grain of truth in the observation I think. (NB: Probably doesn't come across well in print. You had to be there!)

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Tax doesn't have to be taxing

Even without Adam Hart Davies the radio adverts still attempt to perpetuate this myth.

Tax doesn't have to be taxing but it will remain so as long as:

  • Politicians can talk about abolishing the 10% rate but keep it in place for savings income;
  • The tax credits system uses different measures of income from tax return forms;
  • New rules introduced to simplify the tax system increase the quantity of tax legislation;
  • HMRC focus on collecting the maximum amount of tax due under the law whereas taxpayers continue to pay the minimum amount of tax due under the law;
  • There is a difference between those two figures

It's no joke but it's quite fun thinking up more examples of why tax is taxing and will remain so. Please add further examples to this posting.

Friday, May 02, 2008

New non chargeable codes for your timesheet

5316 Useless Meeting
5318 Trying to Sound Knowledgeable While in Meeting
5393 Covering for Incompetence of Colleague
5400 Trying to Explain things to new colleague who just doesn't get it
5482 Eating Snack
5490 Updating status on Facebook
5500 Filling Out Timesheet
5501 Inventing Timesheet Entries
5640 Miscellaneous Unproductive Complaining
6200 Using Company Resources for Personal Profit
6206 Gossiping
6207 Planning a Social Event (eg: holiday, wedding, etc.)
6211 Updating CV
6221 Pretending to Work While Boss Is Watching
6238 Miscellaneous Unproductive Fantasising
6350 Playing jokes on the New Guy/Girl
7281 Extended Visit to the Loo (at least 10 minutes)
8100 Reading online blogs
8102 Laughing while reading blogs