Tax Returns: 3rd May 2016

Ruth Cadbury (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab)
12. What discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the potential effect on small and medium-sized enterprises of proposed changes to filing of tax returns. [904774]
 
The Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise (Anna Soubry)
I talk to Treasury Ministers on a continuing basis, and in my ministerial role I am more than happy to take up the cause of small businesses. I met representatives of the Federation of Small Businesses only last week and they reiterated their concerns about the proposals, but of course this is not a mandatory filing every quarter; it is effectively good bookkeeping. They raised their concerns and I am more than happy to listen to them and, most importantly, to represent them to the Treasury. Also, a consultation is taking place, so there is always room to make sure that we continue to do the right thing.

Ruth Cadbury
I am glad that the Minister is listening. My constituent Sheila Knight is the director of a small local business and she is very concerned about the proposal to make businesses submit data quarterly to HMRC. She says:

“It will cause a huge amount of extra work, expense and worry for absolutely no benefit. Like most small businesses, I collate my accounts information once a year and give it to my accountant. Having to do this four times a year will be a huge imposition and my accountant’s fees will be pro rata more expensive.”​

Does the Minister not agree that what small businesses need is strategic support from the Government, not more bureaucracy and unnecessary cost?

Anna Soubry
It is about reducing bureaucracy and cutting costs for small businesses. It is not a quarterly tax return; it is good, sensible bookkeeping, which good businesses do anyway. Keeping the books in good condition every quarter will help small businesses when they come to submit their annual returns. I am more than happy to meet the hon. Lady’s constituent and explain things to her, because there is a lot of misinformation.

Kit Malthouse (North West Hampshire) (Con)
I am pleased to hear that the Minister has met the Federation of Small Businesses, of which I am a proud member. From that meeting, she will know that 60% of small businesses do not currently operate digital accounting systems. Does the Minister understand the rising level of anxiety in that part of the business community? Does she agree that it might be sensible for the Treasury to consider introducing the system on a voluntary basis, which made self-assessment such a success when it was introduced all those years ago?

Anna Soubry
My hon. Friend makes a good point. There will always be good, full support for this digital movement. The other thing that is of concern to some small businesses is access to superfast broadband, because there is no point in doing this unless a business has it. Many small businesses are reticent to get up to speed—if I can put it that way—but I am confident that, with the excellent work of my hon. Friend the Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy, we are making huge progress and ensuring that all businesses have access to superfast broadband.

Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab)
The Minister has singularly failed to explain how the change will help businesses. I do not know whether she has ever produced a set of business accounts, but the Financial Secretary to the Treasury told MPs in a Westminster Hall debate in January that it would require a

“a summary of income and expenses.”—[Official Report, 25 January 2016; Vol. 605, c. 36WH.]

As every businessperson knows, that can be done only by putting together the full detail each quarter. Whether the Minister calls it reporting, filing or updating, her claim that the change represents a reduction in red tape is laughable. It is a major increase in bureaucracy, administration and costs, especially for those businesses without digital access. The Government should go away and think again.

Anna Soubry
I am one of those who actually had a real job or two before coming to this place. I can therefore assure the hon. Gentleman that, as a self-employed barrister, I absolutely did have to provide accounts each week, but I do not claim to have run a business of more than just myself and maybe one other. The most important thing is that these are not quarterly returns. The hon. Gentleman really should understand what is proposed. It is actually a good way of ensuring that small businesses always keep up to date with how their business is going. The change will enable businesses to do their annual returns considerably better.