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March 26, 2015

Profession challenges political parties ahead of UK election

Politicians representing the four major UK political parties were grilled by members of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS) in a debate held in London on Wednesday in the run-up to the May general election.

In the debate took part four MPs with a different degree of expertise and responsibility over finance matters. The Conservative financial secretary to the Treasury David Gauke and the Liberal Democrat minister of state for pensions Steve Webb stood for the current UK coalition government.

The opposition parties were represented by Labour shadow pensions minister Gregg McClymont; while SNP deputy leader Steward Hosie brought a Scottish voice to the table.

The four MPs took questions from the floor, ranging from cuts on welfare to tax avoidance; from defence spending to SME access to finance. However, the MPs tended either to dodge the questions or avoid giving straight answers. For example, British broadcaster Kirsty Wark, who moderated the debate, spontaneously asked Gauke:

"Do you think you have been a better government with the Liberal Democrats than you would have been on your own?" Predictably, in the face of a very tight election, a rather vague answer was provided.

"Challenging politicians is what we mean by having a profession that acts in the public interest," ICAS CEO Anton Colella told The Accountant after the debate.

In line with the institute’s work to inform the public debate on the Scottish referendum last year, ICAS issued on Wednesday a series of policy suggestions.

Among those, Colella highlighted the simplification of UK tax laws as a means to reduce tax avoidance.

"The Ten Commandments took 200 hundreds words; the American Declaration of Independence 1,300 words; the magna carta 4,000 words. We managed to get a tax law in 21,000 pages and ten million words in one of the most complex tax system in the world," Colella said.

Other policy areas covered by the ICAS manifesto, as the institute called its proposition to UK parties, include different measures in the fields of access to finance, pensions and consumer protection.

"Every party can embrace this manifesto. Whoever is in power can take what we are proposing and adopt it," Colella said.

According to him, the aspiration of the Scottish global institute is to position itself as an influencer in the political and policy arenas while remaining neutral and yet not avoiding the hard questions.

"This is not about ICAS appearing once in the general election. We will be back as soon as new officials are in place," Colella added.

According to recent surveys almost 60% of UK voters would feel dismayed if a Labour-SNP alliance comes out from the polls.

In any case "the way people vote in Scotland will be decisive if there is no majority" as ICAS executive director Atholl Duncan told The Accountant.

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