Last year a brown envelope landed on my doormat I had a letter from our friends at HMRC. Due to the fact that over the last few years I have had several streams of income, I had apparently underpaid the Inland Revenue by several thousand pounds. “Not your fault, sir” they respectfully told me, “but your earnings have been covered by a variety of tax offices” none of which appeared to talk to each other, nor to Her Majesty’s Revenues and Customs.
I wasn’t particularly happy about having to pay them. If your employer overpays you, and it is the employer’s fault and you have acted in good faith and have spent the money, you’re entitled to tell them to sod off. But sadly, I hadn’t spent the money, and they knew that, and as a dutiful citizen, I sullenly coughed up the money to enable our government to be able to continue fighting futile wars in distant lands.
So it is particularly galling this morning to hear from the Commons Public Accounts Committee that had I been a large corporation, employing a small army of smarmy accountants, and therefore either knowingly (or because my accountants were not only smarmy but also stupid) defrauded the exchequer of anything up to 25 billion smackers, my chums at HMRC would have rolled over and said, “Don’t worry about it Bob, give us a couple of quid and we’ll call it quits.”
Of course, it’s not as easy as that. It may have cost me a bit in order to establish the sort of cosy arrangement granted to Goldman Sachs. They didn’t just employ a bunch of smarmy accountants to help them avoid paying their taxes to our hard pressed Majesty. ‘Call me Dave’ Harnett, the country’s leading tax official admitted to the Public Accounts Committee that he had been forced to suffer 107 dinners and lunches over a two year period with companies, tax lawyers, and advisers. Now we discover from whistleblowers that Harnett personally intervened in settling outstanding cases and agreed to “sweetheart deals” without even consulting with HMRC lawyers.
I realise now wasted my opportunity. A couple of pints of Mild in the Abbey pub, and a fish, chips and mushy pea supper from the Abbey Fish Bar over the road, and Davey-boy may have had a word with the lads back at the shop, and everyone would have looked the other way whilst I made a quick getaway.
Damned good job we’re all in this together.