Anton Colella: PM should listen to accountants on EU reform

Icas chief executive Anton Colella

Icas chief executive Anton Colella

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The Prime Minister should heed the advice of Britain’s accountants, if he’s looking for the real reforms which will keep us in Europe.

The battle with Brussels is on a knife edge and now things are moving at pace. The draft deal published by European Council president, Donald Tusk, will be seen by some as the basis for maintaining British membership of Europe.

But many business leaders will be sceptical that it is enough to guarantee that the great British public don’t hit the exit button.

We welcome a promise to cut red tape, simplify legislation and reduce the burden on business. But many of us have a feeling of déjà vu at that suggestion.

READ MORE: David Cameron: Deal makes EU ‘worth fighting for’

The accountancy profession has come together across the UK and Ireland to suggest real reforms which will make a difference for businesses across the land.

This has resulted in five significant suggestions from the CCAB, which is the umbrella body for 240,000 professional accountants.

First, we have suggested there should be a single statement of EU and national responsibilities – with calls for a charter, operating model, or single document clearly setting out certain basic principles of the EU.

Next, we believe there must be greater accountability and transparency at EU level to address a perceived lack of transparency, democratic deficit and a belief that unelected officials in Brussels may not make decisions in the EU’s best interests.

It has also been suggested that Britain needs to fight for closer harmonisation of reporting regimes, including taxation reporting regimes. This is hastened by the expansion of digital services, to facilitate strong demand across common markets for services and for capital, with the suggestion that the OECD’s base erosion profit shifting (BEPS) protocols could be transposed into EU legislation.

Fourth on the negotiating list is the portability of earned labour benefits. The CCAB research concludes we need to enshrine in a reform deal measures which facilitate free movement of labour with regards to qualifications, pension contributions, health insurance and other earned social benefits in an ageing Europe.

And finally, why don’t we have a vision for business in the EU? Could we further harmonise EU economic structures, including companies being able to submit tax returns to an EU clearing house that would distribute these proportionally to the member states in which the income was earned?

These reform proposals come from research with many leaders on the frontline of business who are members of Britain and Ireland’s accountancy bodies. Their views carry considerable weight and deserve to be considered.

Donald Tusk has already set the mood for the next stage of negotiations by observing: “To succeed we will all need to compromise.”

David Cameron and his negotiating officials would be well advised to take heed of the accountancy profession’s suggestions and strengthen their resolve rather than compromise. These five key reforms might just do more to help British business than the forest of words in the draft declarations issued from Brussels.

• Anton Colella is chief executive of Icas, the global body for chartered accountants

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