Weekly news review: Margaret Hodge to take on the Queen's finances

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Margaret Hodge going head-to-head with the Queen, the on-going threat of child computer hackers and an X Factor musical written by Harry Hill (yes, really) all made the headlines this week. Steven Perryman hacks into this week’s news

Margaret Hodge takes on the Queen

It’s the week of love. A time for the heart to soften, the iron facade to drop and to just ‘feel the love’ (all accompanied by a touch of Chopin, obviously).

Although not if you’re Margaret Hodge, chair of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). Perhaps she didn’t get any cards this year? Or maybe she just doesn’t like the mawkish notes of Poland’s famous composer and virtuoso pianist? Either way, there was no rest for the wicked this week.

With the tax maestros of the Big 4 barely out of the PAC door (I know, it’s a bad pun), Hodge has re-focused her sight on big IT companies. She’s brave, if anything. Taking on top drawer tax accountants proved a tough gig; the big cheeses from IT firms like Microsoft and Dell could prove equally fruitless. Visions of the representative baffling the MPs with ‘IT speak’ is already whetting our appetite.

Never one of shirk a challenge, Hodge has also decided to take one of her biggest challenges yet: the Queen. This week AccountancyLive reported that PAC is to investigate the Queen’s finances later this year, in a bid to establish whether the monarch and the Royal Family provide value for money to the taxpayer. Again, a brave move given that the Queen came top in a BBC survey of the UK’s most powerful women this week.

Speaking of powerful figures. This week also saw the resignation of a man who led thousands of people on a journey which, at times, felt like a spiritual experience. No, not the Pope.  It was Andy Hunt, Chief Executive of the British Olympic Association.

Tax avoidance in big firms, meanwhile, continues to rumble on longer than a bellyache from a Tesco lasagne with OECD calling for an overhaul of international corporate tax rules. Elsewhere AccountingWEB reported that anti-poverty charity ActionAid has accused Associated British Foods of engaging in tax avoidance schemes designed to prevent paying millions of pounds in tax to the government of Zambia.

HMRC taken to task on credit fraud record

HMRC and its role in fighting tax avoidance resurfaced this week with Chris Tailby, who served as director of HMRC’s anti-avoidance group between 2004 and 2009, telling Accountancy Age that Big Four and industry tax specialists should be recruited to help fight tax avoidance. Really? I would never have thought of that. Cheers Chris.

Although the Government department does need all the help it can get with news breaking this week that doubts still linger about its ability to sustain service levels as it makes further cuts.

Still, it’s not all bad news. Oh, actually it is. Not content with IT companies and the Queen, Margaret Hodge is still on HMRC’s case too. This week she told the department to ‘get a grip’, after it missed a target to tackle tax credit fraud and error by more than £500m.

It can claw some of that shortfall back with a new self-assessment taskforce which it launched this week. The new operation will look at around 400 taxpayers in London and the South-East, with an expected yield of £6m (or, more likely, £3m using the credit fraud as a guide).

John Lewis announce surprise job cuts (no thanks to a £6m Christmas advert)

Over on the high street, John Lewis has announced it is set to axe 325 managerial positions, in a move it says forms part of its long-term growth plan, which has also included opening new stores. It’s a head-scratching move, especially so soon after its rather extravagant £6m Christmas advert which was shot on location in New Zealand. Money well spent in hindsight?

The future has also been in the news this week with the BBC reporting that by 2020, the world will see 80 billion connected devices, nine billion mobile phones and five billion internet users, 50% of whom connect through handheld devices. Something to ponder, especially with the same news outlet finding that security experts have identified a group of hackers called The Comment Group which offers hacking for hire.

Not that age is a barrier to such misdemeanors with reports this week that children as young as 11 years old are writing malicious computer code to hack accounts on gaming sites and social networks. Which is not good news for Google who offered 15,000 free microcomputers through the Raspberry Pi Foundation two weeks ago to encourage children to take up coding. Just don’t let them watch War Games at break time, OK?

Elsewhere technology expert, Dean Evans, reported the top five trends to watch out for this year on AAT Comment. Among his picks were virtual reality and wearable computing. The latter looks a dead cert with news breaking this week that Apple is reportedly working on an iWatch. Childhood dreams of talking to your watch Knight Rider-style just edged a step closer.

4. And finally…X Factor: The Musical is nearly here

And finally we return to Valentine’s Day. How did you celebrate? A meal out? Some daffodils from the petrol station? A show, perhaps? Well take heart that a new musical will soon be in town to impress the one you love next year. Hot on the heels of Take That and Spice Girls musicals we have….X Factor: The Musical.

The mind boggles. Pressing questions immediately spring to mind. Will the costume department have enough budget for infinite pairs of Simon Cowell’s high-waisted trousers and grey t-shirts? Will the show include 4Tune, the only X Factor act to feature an AAT member? Yes, that’s right Simon Vitsaides MAAT (he’s the one on the right in the clip below) reached the live finals as part of the vocal group, following an audition Simon Cowell called the best he’d seen:

One thing we do know is that the new show – which has been penned by comedian Harry Hill – will include a number sung by Cowell’s character. The song’s title? Falling In Love With Myself.

And in this of all weeks there can’t be a more appropriate song title than that. Especially if you’re Margaret Hodge.

Steven Perryman is AAT Comment's former Content Editor.

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