What do accountants want to see from the next government?

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With the UK gearing up for a general election on 4 July 2024, we ask accountants about the policies they’d like to see put in place.

With the country gearing up for the snap 2024 general election on 4 July, political parties are falling all over themselves to reveal what they hope will be vote-winning policies and pledges to tempt voters at the ballot box.

At the time of writing, manifestos have not yet been released. So what do accountants want to see from the next government in terms of policies, regulations, funding allocations and areas of investment?

Funding opportunities for SMEs and complete overhaul of HMRC

Tom Hamilton, Founder and Director, Erdingsworth Business and Tax Advisors

I’d like the next government to implement more transparency and use sense when deciding on changing the rate of any national insurance or PAYE. There should be in-depth consultation with registered agents on the best ways to deal with these issues. I’d also like to see better opportunities for SMEs rather than being treated as an afterthought.

Both HMRC and Companies House need a complete overhaul. Wait times on responses to letters, refunds and the phone lines are not good enough. HMRC in particular needs to be more proactive in tackling tax evaders than it has been and the staff on the phone lines either need to be replaced or retrained, as the current attitude is ‘no experience needed’.

I’d also like to see clearer and easier grant funding from local and national growth hubs. The government needs to sit down with banks and building societies and actually get them to fund SMEs again as currently SMEs face jumping through hoops to get any funding.

Verdict: I’d like to see more funding opportunities for SMEs and a complete overhaul of HMRC and Companies House.

Improved access to finance for small business, continued Companies House reforms

Matt Cusack, Owner and Accountant, Start.Biz

I’d like to see the business asset disposal release increased from £1m to £10m to further incentivise entrepreneurs and for them to be able to share more with teams.

I’d also like to see a reduction in VAT. The 20% rate should be reduced as some smaller businesses and start-ups are priced out of the market as well as consumers to trial their services.

Increased and more stringent regulations on company formation would also be important, so I hope the Companies House reforms continue. In particular, there should be a requirement to use agents when registering with Companies House. As regulated agents, the onus will therefore be on them to check and police undertake proper AML checks. This will also remove false companies being set up.

Access to finance currently is incredibly hard for small businesses. I’d like to see some form of regulation to compel high street banks, who are sitting on war chests, to be obliged to release some to this size of business.

Verdict: I’d like to see improved access to finance for small business, reduced VAT and more stringent regulations on company formations.

Umbrella company regulation to tackle fraudulent and illegal activity

Paul Nesham, Chartered Accountant, Partner, RfM Accountants and CEO, Payroll Compliance Authority (PCA)

Two big areas of concern we’d like the next government to prioritise are non-compliance with legislation and tax fraud.

One main change I would like to see coming out of the election is around regulation of the umbrella company market, which has been mooted by HMRC, including greater detail on when this will be put in place. This is for the sake of the innocent businesses and workers who are impacted by fraudulent operators.

As CEO of the PCA, we see fraudulent activity carried out by a minority of umbrella companies that undertake the payroll function for recruitment firms and other businesses. Through various means, these umbrella companies engage in illegal practices to bypass HMRC, with the ultimate victims being the recruitment businesses and workers, who are stung by unexpected tax bills and other serious consequences down the line.

I would therefore like to see regulation of umbrella companies included in respective parties’ election campaigns, and for the new government to push ahead with implementing regulation as soon as is practicably possible. It is a move that would support workers and businesses, as well as the government, by flushing out umbrella companies that are cheating HMRC out of taxes that are owed.

Verdict: I’d like the new government to push ahead with umbrella company regulation to tackle fraudulent and illegal activity.

Audit market reforms and incentives to address skills shortages

Stuart Brown, Director, Duncan & Toplis

As is the norm with election campaigns, pledges will often be made with the intention of grabbing headlines. That usually involves either restricting or imposing further regulations with little thought as to the consequences five or six years down the line. I hope the next government keenly think through the long-term impacts of any policy decisions before enacting them.

I’d like to see the next government focusing on reform within the audit market. There’s still a significant lag in reform, despite a huge amount of time and money being spent on initiatives to improve competition within the market.

There have also been proposals to amend company size limits. Among other things, this would mean that many firms fall will outside the audit requirements. This may have the undesired effect of reducing the reliability of published financial data. Reduced ‘administrative burden’ must be weighed up against the lack of oversight.

I’d like to see better investment in schools to promote accounting as a career choice, especially due to the talent shortages we are witnessing. Many potential accountants need extra incentives to look at the school-leaver/apprenticeship route rather than university.

Verdict: I’d like to see audit market reforms and more incentives to encourage young people to become accountants to address skills shortages.

Would you like to contribute to future articles like this one? If so, please get in touch with Annie Makoff-Clark at [email protected].

Annie Makoff is a freelance journalist and editor.

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