Tuesday, August 31, 2010

So what was that HMRC survey all about?

You may have seen headlines in the printed and online media last week claiming that "One in five businesses consider relocation over punishing tax regime" or that a 'poll' reveals that companies claim that "Red tape burden is on rise". I'll save the publishers' blushes by not providing links to them.

The background to this 'story' relates to a survey commissioned and published by HMRC last year. The results have only just been published.

In 2009 HMRC engaged TNS-BMRB to conduct their Large Business Survey. This involved 1,088 telephone interviews with large businesses in autumn 2009.

So the first thing to note is that the data is at least 9 months and possibly a year old. It may have a value to HMRC but it is almost irrelevant as a measure of current opinions.

HMRC have published the telephone questionnaire that was used and this shows that the target respondent was head of tax. If there was no one in that role the caller asked for the head of finance. It is also clear that this was:
a survey for HMRC to explore large business customers’ experiences of doing business with them.
and that:
The research will focus in particular on perceptions of change to HMRC’s relationship with it’s customers. The aim of the research is to help HMRC to be more responsive to businesses such as yours.
Deep in the questionnaire there are two questions which have been the focus of media coverage:
To what extent does HMRC's ADMINISTRATION of the UK tax system affect how competitive the UK is as a place to do business?
In the last 12 months. has your organisation considered re-locating the business, or parts of the business, from the UK to another country for TAX PURPOSES?
Looked at in the context of the whole questionnaire these seem startlingly out of place. Almost every other question relates to the relationship with and service provided by HMRC.

Going back to the 'news' stories referenced above, there are no 'claims' here. The first of the two questions asks for opinions out of context. The second question also seems designed to secure partisan responses. Many company Chairman and Chief Execs, seeing reference in the papers to the subject last year will have wanted to "consider" moving their business offshore. Once their Head of tax or FD has explained the necessary consequences however, few are taking the idea forward. Indeed, going back to last autumn when the question was asked, most will have wanted to wait for the outcome of the election. Views expressed under the previous regime are almost irrelevant now.

So what was the point of these two questions? Any ideas?

Copies of the full questionnaire and the report (outputs from the survey) are available on HMRC's website.


  1. David Winch (The Cambridge one!)August 31, 2010 at 10:23 AM

    You ask "So what was the point of these two questions? Any ideas?"

    Maybe they were in there to create something controversial for journalists to write about 9 to 12 months later!