|Jolyon Maugham is a new entry this year|
Jolyon Maugham has been running his outspoken blog, Waiting for Tax, since July 2013, but has seen its popularity within and outside of the tax sphere increase substantially during the past 18 months. He has since been invited to write for various British media outlets including The Times, Financial Times, Guardian, New Statesman and Tax Journal, as well as appearing on the BBC and Channel 4. He is also influential on Twitter, tweeting at @JolyonMaugham.
International Tax Review spoke to Maugham about his tax blog and opinion on recent developments.
International Tax Review:Who are you targeting with your blog posts?
Jolyon Maugham: Lots of writers write to autotherapise. Sometimes I do, but usually it's because I want to shift the public debate in a particular field that I'm interested in. Usually I'm writing for policymakers or journalists, but the number of hits I get tends to suggest that I am read more broadly.
But, absolutely, the public is very, very interested in tax. I think what they lack, what they are not very often given, is writing that is of a sufficient quality to introduce them to the issues in a way in which they find interesting and accessible.
You don't want to be some kind of foie-gras duck, you don't want this stuff forced down you, but if people can tell the story in an interesting and engaging way and get to the heart of the policy question, the evidence suggests people want to read that.
ITR: So more of an organic duck?
JM: Yes, I think that is right. People have to choose to go and eat the grain.
ITR: You have talked about the 'message' that you are trying to get across. What do you think – if I can ask you to distil it into something duck-friendly – is your message?
JM: I guess what I don't like is cant and hypocrisy. I'm quite English in that way. If people are prepared to be evil and be frank about it, then they will be punished or rewarded as the public sees fit. But there are so many areas of modern life that are very obscure – you need a real technical understanding to be able to understand what's really going on. And that creates opportunities for individuals, businesses and the government to lie about what they do without being seen to. I think it's important to expose it when they do because the underlying issues are often quite profoundly important.
ITR: Considering your enjoyment in exposing lies on big issues, what "assurances" do you think the UK government gave car manufacturer Nissan ahead of the company agreeing to extend production at its factory in Sunderland, north-east England?
JM: Well. I find the notion that Nissan will have made very significant investment decisions based on comforting noises and kind words from government implausible. The government's reluctance even to give the letter to the Office for Budget Responsibility doesn't exactly dissuade me from that view.
Of course, the government hopes that it will do a sectorial deal for the car industry that will mean there is no additional cost attached to Nissan manufacturing in the UK. But Nissan has no control over whether or not the government will deliver that, all Nissan can do is express, as it did, concern about what Brexit would mean and it must have received assurances from the government – bankable assurances– that it would not be materially affected.
So government is – although we don't know how – underwriting Nissan's risks of carrying on manufacturing in the UK, and even if those implicit or explicit assurances that government has underwritten don't come to pass; even if we do remain in the [European] single market or there is no new tariff or non-tariff impediment to Nissan accessing the single market; the fact of the government guarantee is itself a transfer of value from us to Nissan.
ITR: Following Nissan, we now see pharmaceutical companies queuing up for deals, and agriculture – although that is slightly different because of the subsidies the industry used to get from the European Union.
JM: It does seem implausible that banks will not figure in the government's thinking, given what enormous net contributors they are to our tax revenues. So it's not easy to see where this process stops.
All of these things that we are now offering, with very substantial price tags attached to them, pre-Brexit we did not need to offer at all.
You're pretty concerned if you're a manufacturer about all sorts of consequences of Brexit. Tariffs are going to be major issues for higher-value, lower-margin sectors of the economy. Non-tariff barriers such as the enormous increase in red tape that will result from us being outside the customs union is going to be a concern to everybody.
I'm not yet persuaded that it is better red tape because it is our red tape. Certainly putting myself into the shoes of a businessman or woman I am more interested in the quantity of red tape rather than whether it's English red tape or 'nasty, foreign red tape'.