The OTS is now tolerably well established in the UK. We have tried to keep an eye open for similar initiatives in other countries and develop links where possible. Canada had not featured on the OTS’s map until an approach came for Jeremy Sherwood to speak at a conference on Tax Simplification being organised by the Canadian Certified General Accountants in Toronto. Jeremy was prepared to make the sacrifice and visit Canada, but I played the heartless boss and suggested that a transatlantic trip for an hour’s session didn’t seem that efficient.
Could we perhaps participate in the conference via videoconference? The conference organisers thought that would work – and indeed it would add a real ‘extra’ to the programme. So Jeremy and I put some slides together, sent them off for printing out and found ourselves in one of the video rooms in 1 Horse Guards Road at 5pm one dark December day ready to speak to an attentive group in Toronto.
We spent 20 minutes or so talking through who we are, what we do and how we go about our work. We outlined the projects we had undertaken and were still working on and gave a flavour of the findings and actions that had resulted. The 60+ strong audience seemed to be paying careful attention (we had a good view, slightly oddly from the back of the room) and all seemed to go along well. Any jokes did take time to get a reaction – videoconferencing that far isn’t quite instant!
Questions were then invited and we had a succession of good points to discuss. One particularly interesting thread was the issue of our constitution – who did we report to? (Our reports go to the Chancellor.) Did we have a formal constitution from the government? (No – we are in effect set up through the Coalition agreement but that is not laid down by statute.) What happens if our reports are not taken up? (We naturally hope our reports make sufficient sense for them to be obvious candidates for progress – though we would never expect everything we recommend to be taken up automatically; consultation on anything significant is always going to be needed for a start.)
Overall, this was a constructive (and practical) way to spread the word about simplification. Whether Canada starts work on a simplification project remains to be seen – we sensed there was good support for such an initiative in the conference. If that does go ahead, Jeremy may yet get his transatlantic trip!
Following the publication of the OTS complexity index methodology we have received several responses which the authors have kindly allowed us to reproduce here. We are very pleased that the index has helped spark debate and as we look to refine the methodology over the coming months we welcome further views on our approach. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to contribute.
The first response is from Professor David Ulph of St. Andrews University and a former head of HMRC’s analysis unit. His paper provides an excellent discussion on the concept of complexity and how to measure it. Professor Ulph also provides a useful critique of the OTS methodology which we will be looking to refine over the coming months.
The second response is from Richard Baron of the Institute of Directors (IoD). Richard gives a critique of the criteria in our index and raises some interesting questions about the validity of several of them. Richard also comments on our weighting methodology and whether these should be subjective, arguing that they should not. He also questions whether we could ever get to a ‘robust’ measure of complexity and whether we should really only use the index to spark and stimulate debate.
The third response is from one of the members of our Consultative Committee for the Employee share schemes review, David Pett of Pett, Franklin and Co. David’s argument is that simplifications that level the playing field for smaller taxpayers should be given more weight, even if they increase the length of legislation. Larger taxpayers shouldn’t benefit from the tax system just because of their size and ability to pay for better advice.
To provide an indication of which areas of tax legislation are considered to be particularly complex compared to others;
To develop a tool that will help to prioritise the future work of the OTS; and
In the long term, possibly to provide tax policy makers with a methodology to help avoid unnecessary complexity in future and to help prioritise areas for future tax simplification.
To construct the index we have identified seven key criteria which influence the complexity of tax legislation. By scoring each of these criteria out of 5 and the weighting thee scores the methodology gives a complexity index score out of 10. This relative score can be used to rank all of the tax legislation by degree of complexity.
The seven criteria we have used are:
HMRC guidance complexity;
Number of taxpayers impacted by the legislation;
Average ability of taxpayers involved in the area;
Cost of compliance; and
HMRC operating costs.
The methodology is intended to spark a debate about what complexity is and how we measure it. We welcome comments and views on the index, especially whether we have included the right measures or if you feel there are others we could add.