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Audit Quality Forum - Is business paying its fair share of tax?

The latest Audit Quality Forum held on Tuesday 14 June focussed on the responsibility of business to society, particularly in terms of tax. A topic particularly relevant following the Panama Papers leaks with their lessons about the loss of trust, perceptions of inequality and lack of transparency.

Hosted at One Whitehall Place, the evening began with an opening ‘provocation’ by Alastair Campbell, former Director of Communications and Strategy for Prime Minister Tony Blair, and was followed by three debates chaired by Isabel Oakeshott, Political Editor at Large, Daily Mail.

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The audience were asked what they took away from Alastair’s provocation speech. The key responses included how the media landscape has changed with the explosion of social media where everybody on the internet has an opinion and the need for businesses to think 'strategy and not spin' to solve their problems. Reputation was a critical currency for business and if something felt wrong then it probably was.

During the debates, Jim Harra, of HMRC, addressed a number of questions including how we could move the debate away from corporate tax amounts to looking at the total tax contribution paid by businesses; whether a simpler tax system would make it easier to rebuild public confidence in the tax system and whether tax advisors were a positive influence.

Alison Holder, of ActionAid, was asked to comment on how we could tackle corruption in developing countries to ensure that more of the tax revenue was used for their development; how we could better educate the public that revenues were not the same as profits which were taxable, and the need for international cooperation as the corporation tax issue could not be solved by one country.

Kevin Nicholson, of PwC, was asked whether the attitude of the accountancy profession to tax had changed over the last 15 years, how the profession could do more to stop companies evading paying their taxes, and when does tax avoidance become immoral.

Paul Morton, of RELX, representing business, addressed whether the diverted profit tax will work in addressing some of the reputational problems for business; was there a corporate duty to minimise tax, and whether tax transparency should be mandatory for all businesses.

As part of the debates we asked the audience a series of questions, which are set out below.

When it came to what was the most important change that needed to be made, there was a wide difference of opinion. A large number focused on the need to simplify the tax system; whilst others called for more international cooperation and a global governance system for tax; the need to educate the electorate on what taxes are paid by business; more tax transparency by business and stronger fines for companies who break the law.

You can read a summary of the events of the evening here, or watch the speeches from the event below. 

Watch the main speeches and debates from the evening

Alastair Campbell's provocation

Why are businesses not acting responsibly?

The first of three debates by the Audit Quality Forum looks at what should be a fair tax rate for businesses and why some companies are not seen as acting responsibly when complying with different laws. Giving their views are Alastair Campbell, Jim Harra, Director General Business Tax, HMRC; Alison Holder, Director of Policy, Advocacy and Campaigns, ActionAid UK; Paul Morton, Head of Group Tax, RELX, and Kevin Nicholson, Head of Tax, PwC.

Are the UK and International tax systems broken?

In the second Audit Quality Forum debate the panellists debate how both UK and international tax systems need to change and how effective is tax transparency.

Our Tax hopes for 2020

The final debate at the Audit Quality Forum event looks at what should the accountancy profession do to help businesses pay their fair share, and we ask our panellists to say what they hope will have changed in five years’ time to raise public trust in business.

Photos from the night

The latest debate, on whether business pays its fair share of tax, was prompted by feedback at the 10th anniversary AQF, which explored how difficult it is for business to ‘get it right’ in the eyes of the public. Tell us what you thought about the event.

We would also like to enlist your support to help the AQF choose the next issue for debate that will help us to raise public confidence in business. Send us your ideas and comments by emailing aqf@icaew.com.