Andrew Cave considers a new initiative by KPMG.
Few issues are so divisive as taxation. General elections are won and lost over it; governments constantly change it and newspapers love stories about who is not paying enough or none at all.
All this makes tax a minefield for companies and the firms advising them, particularly when devising tax avoidance strategies.
Fund managers with offshore trusts, banks with overseas accounts and foreign companies with operations in the UK all get brought before the court of public opinion. The judgments are usually highly subjective, volatile and emotive.
Amidst all this noise, is it actually possible to have a reasoned, open forum on the subject where parties with differing views can air them without the air turning blue with invective?
Responsible Tax for the Common Good is an attempt to do precisely that. Curated by think tank CoVi and supported and sponsored in the UK by chartered accountants KPMG, this project seeks to explore the meaning and purpose of tax for the benefit of all and what responsible tax behaviour looks like.
It launched last October as a consultation project focused on tax advice, inviting stakeholders ranging from taxpayers to academics, journalists, government officials, politicians, non-government organisations (NGOs) and KPMG’s clients to inform its thinking.
However, Robert Phillips, former chief executive at public relations group Edelman who now runs consultancy Jericho Chambers, a strategic adviser to KPMG, says the initiative goes back 12 months earlier to a conversation with Jane McCormick, a KPMG senior tax partner.
The conversation was about ‘why their communications were failing them and why they were constantly in the firing range with regards to tax’, he recalls.
‘I felt that they weren’t fully engaged with all the people that need to understand not just what the purpose of tax is but the purpose of tax advice. They were so busy trying to deal with all that was oncoming that they never had the chance to make the case that tax is actually a good thing and why it’s important to society. The bottom line is that without tax you don’t have roads, hospitals and schools.’
Phillips, author of Trust Me, PR is Dead, believes trust can only be built through actions, not words, and that organisations wishing to be seen as trustworthy need to make themselves vulnerable to stakeholders.
You can read the full article by Andrew Cave on CorpComms