Who’s tougher on tax avoidance – Labour or Conservatives?

17 March 2016

George Bull

The fact that the question can – or has – to be asked reflects the roles which successive governments play in contributing to the design of the tax system in the UK. So how does that design look now? And which party is tougher on tax avoidance?

Over the course of my career, I have had cause to think about this on a number of occasions. The simple answer would be the 'Conservatives'. But that probably does no more than reflect the fact that – over my working lifetime – the Conservatives or a Conservative-led Coalition have been in power for longer than Labour. So the feeling that the Conservatives have more anti-avoidance legislation to their credit is as much to do with parliamentary cycles and the fiscal mood of the day as it has with the political persuasion of the party in power. 

Whether or not one agrees with the answer, the fact that the question can – or has – to be asked reflects the roles which successive governments play in contributing to the design of the tax system in the UK.

So how does that design look now?

To be honest, as the dust from the most recent Budget settles, I find my existing concerns about two fundamental aspects of the UK tax system reinforced:

  • We all know that the UK has a horrendously complex tax system. The Office of Tax Simplification has been widely praised for doing what it can to remedy that. But, based on the documents published on Budget Day, there is absolutely no doubt that the government is making the tax system more complex faster than the Office of Tax Simplification can simplify it. There is no sign that this trend will change in the future.
  • While governments are fond of 'roadmaps' and 'directions of travel', the truth which emerges from so much piecemeal, disconnected and sometimes contradictory or incompatible tax legislation is precisely the reverse. It is impossible to detect an overall policy direction in the UK tax system. The levels of complexity are now becoming dangerous: certainty and stability are being eroded and the burden of compliance being placed on honest individuals and business is rising inexorably. 

This is not going to end well. 

If you would like to discuss any of these points further, please contact George Bull or your usual RSM contact.

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