I feel I ought to be outraged about the Public Account Committee’s report on the role of the Big 4 accountancy firms in tax avoidance. For some reason I’m not. I think it’s just the inevitability of the outcome.
The fact is that the reports the PAC have produced are so predictable that they needn’t have bothered conducting the committee hearings of oral evidence. From what I saw of Starbucks appearance, Margaret Hodge et al didn’t listen to the limited explanations offered by Troy Alstead (limited by constant interruptions from the Chair, I should point out) and failed to appreciate the significance of certain facts.
Also, I watched the Big 4 session on 31 January 2013 and thought that it was a ridiculous spectacle and a waste of time for all involved. I was pretty annoyed, at the time, regarding the manner in which the session was conducted. And I think that has been the main problem, the conduct of the sessions.
The PAC is rightly echoing the questions and concerns of the public (though it is arguably outside of its remit) and I think this seems a reasonable use of Parliamentary resource, in that respect. So when I say that the PAC is an echo chamber, I’m not necessarily being critical of it.
However, it is just an echo chamber. The reports it produces keep reminding me that they haven’t bothered listening to the answers of the witnesses. Their reports simply reiterates the things that the PAC heard which prompted them to ask the question in the first place.
The PAC refers to witnesses’ agreement or disagreement almost constantly. Which suggests that the committee is merely an opportunity to express an opinion on topical matters, rather than understand them. This is confirmed by looking at the sessions or transcripts and seeing the constant interruptions and banal moralising.
And when you consider that representatives from HMRC and HMT have been quick to pointedly ignore the PAC’s findings, you might understand why I feel that as much as a wasted opportunity, the whole thing has been negative.
I’m all up for discussing morality and taxation. But far from discussing the relationship between the two, the PAC has failed to say, or learn, much about either.