The Fair Tax Mark debate

The public demand for greater transparency on how, when and where businesses pay tax is arguably one of the most critical issues facing tax professionals and their clients today.

The Fair Tax Mark (FTM) was launched in February by high profile campaigner Richard Murphy, who was a panel member at the debate. It aims to offer businesses “that know they are good taxpayers (or want to work towards becoming one) the opportunity to proudly display this to their customers.”

The FTM It has quickly become a source of controversy in the tax community with many tax professionals examining and deliberating both its merits and limitations.

Alongside Richard, the panelists for the debate included some of the most prominent experts and commentators in the field: Mike Truman, the editor of Taxation magazine, Heather Self of Pinsent Masons, and tax barrister David Quentin.

Tim Davies, national head of tax at Mazars, commented:

“Significant media and public interest in tax avoidance and tax transparency has been building for a couple of years now. While there may have been some in the professional community who initially dismissed this attention as an over-simplified misunderstanding of the issues, what last night’s event certainly showed was just how much we’ve moved on and how no one can now afford to keep their head in the sand.’”

He continued: “We are at a point where the profession has stepped up to take ownership of the debate, although significant disagreement around key issues such as the semantics – and indeed the very concepts – of ‘fairness’ and ‘transparency’ remain. One thing around which there is consensus is the need for more public understanding of the issues at hand, and tax more generally. I believe the profession certainly has a big role in helping to facilitate that understanding.”

Davies identified three key conclusions emerging from the debate:

  1. Irrespective of whether the FTM has significant take up (and despite the flaws you might expect in any new idea), we will look back and recognise its contribution to greater transparency in relation to tax disclosure and public confidence.
  2. ‘Fairness’ is subjective and you cannot assess it using a defined set of metrics. Paying the “right amount of tax” has to be in accordance with the laws of the land, how one chooses to interpret complex rules and to what extent one maximises reliefs and incentives. It is problematic to impose your idea of fairness on someone else; rather it is for them to form their own view, given all the factors that influence decision making.
  3. Fairness, transparency and ethics will continue to play a key role in shaping tax policy; for Government and for business. Public and media interest will continue, especially in the lead up to the General Election.