How to be a tax-reforming chancellor

This report from the UK think tank Institute for Government sets out recommendations for tax reform.

The tax system is in desperate need of reform. The new government’s majority gives it an opportunity that none has had for the last decade and a half. However, major reform will be controversial and not easy to legislate. To help make structural changes, the chancellor should set out a clear vision, seek advice from many sides and go out of his way to win support for reform. These are among the recommendations in this report, which draws on interviews with former chancellors, other former Treasury ministers and former senior civil servants.

The report recommends that the chancellor should: Set out a clear vision for the tax system to give taxpayers more clarity, help explain to the public why sometimes contentious changes are needed and help resist the pressure to tinker. Seek advice, look at the evidence and take implementation concerns seriously. The tax system is complicated and few people – even experienced professional advisers – have a good sense of how the whole system works in practice. Communicate more with the public and media to tackle myths and promote discussion of the problems and the need for reform. Involve other Cabinet ministers in the development of tax policy – particularly where it interacts with other policies – to avoid unintended consequences and ensure that tax is the right tool to use. Build support for contentious changes by making a persuasive case to the public for change, and packaging reforms together to show the benefits that are made possible by unpopular changes. Carefully consider whether the benefits of acting early might be outweighed by other costs. Previous chancellors have announced major tax changes early on in the life of a new Parliament to take advantage of the government’s political capital, to give time for resentment to fade and benefits to be appreciated. But acting quickly may allow too little time for consultation or explanation.

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