Business leaders have a key role to play in the smooth introduction of Wales’s first home-grown taxes in around 800 years.
That was strong message to members of Wrexham Business Professionals (WBP) at their latest meeting from top officials of the agencies responsible for bringing in the devolved taxes on April 1.
The group is made up of successful businesses and highly skilled professional firms of solicitors, accountants and other business professionals working together to raise the profile of enterprise and expertise that exists in the region and beyond.
Around 130 members and guests at the meeting in the Ramada Plaza received a full briefing on and transaction tax which replaces Stamp Duty Land Tax, and landfill disposals tax, which takes the place of Landfill Tax five weeks before they are introduced in Wales.
The session was delivered by Dr Andy Fraser, head of strategy for the Welsh Treasury, and Sam Cairns, head of operational delivery at the Welsh Revenue Authority (WRA) – a new tax authority responsible for collecting and managing devolved taxes in Wales.
Both stressed the vital role of businesses in the implementation of the new fiscal measures and encouraged bosses to become involved in formulating the taxes.
Dr Fraser, who has had 16 years’ experience of delivering high-profile policy and legislative programmes for the UK and Welsh Governments, described the two taxes as a “great opportunity” for the country.
He explained: “They give us the chance to develop tax regimes which support the Welsh Government’s objectives and agenda.
“We want to work with businesses and citizens across Wales to develop the new tax regime and how it’s administered.
“By April 2019 we are looking to raise and collect around £5 billion worth of tax revenue in Wales and our key principles will be to make the regime as fair as possible as well as clear, stable and simple.”
He said that, apart from the two devolved taxes already agreed, his team at the Welsh Treasury was also taking the lead on formulating proposals for further measures including a new vacant land tax, a disposal of plastic tax and a social care levy.
On the vacant land tax recently outlined by Welsh Cabinet Secretary Mark Drakeford, Dr Fraser said: “We are looking to take forward a proposition to the UK Government which would bring land suitable for development into use.
“There’s a lot of work to do on this but we want to talk to businesses and communities on how it might work.”
He gave the example of the Irish Republic where land left vacant for 12 months attracts a tax of three per cent rising to seven per cent in the second and subsequent years.
However, he stressed the Irish example was not necessarily how it would go if introduced in Wales.
Another issue his team was dealing with was a possible tourism tax which he said had already generated plenty of debate.
He explained: “Wales attracts a lot of tourism and we need to look at a mechanism for taxation that won’t affect the competitiveness of the industry.
“In terms of these new taxes we want to take our time to get things right. We’re very much at the beginning of a long-term process and we want to work with organisations such as Wrexham Business Professionals to help us develop our thinking.”
Sam Cairns from the WRA said that since the non-ministerial department of Welsh Government was set up last October a “great deal of work” had been going on behind the scenes to ensure it was ready to go live with the two new taxes on April 1.
With its headquarters at Treforest near Pontypridd, the authority will have satellite offices in Llandudno Junction and Aberystwyth and eventually be operated by a staff of around 70, he explained.
He stressed the importance of the organisation working closely with stakeholders such as Wrexham Business Professionals in ensuring the smooth introduction of the two taxes.
“We are breaking new ground and want to work with you on what you want to see with tax administration in Wales and to build that into our processes,” he said.
“Hopefully, as we go forward we’ll be learning together and this is your opportunity to help us lead the way tax is administered in Wales rather than just follow.
“We want to see a collaborative and partnership approach and we’re looking for your feedback so we can get things right.
“If things aren’t running smoothly we want you tell us and if there are things that can be improved, we want to put them right as quickly as possible.”
The authority’s new tax calculator is already available online and online registration for the new Land Transaction Tax begins this month.
All the new authority’s services are being provided bilingually, he said, with a dedicated customer service team available to deal with enquiries bilingually.
The WRA is also encouraging legal businesses to register early for LTT on the WRA website to ensure transactions can be carried out on time for clients buying or leasing property from 1 April.
In a later question and answer session there was broad agreement about the concept of “socially responsible taxation” when discussing a possible levy on disposable plastics.
Gill Kreft, chair of Wrexham Business Professionals, said: “The group also acknowledged a balance should be struck between protecting our society and the environment and raising taxes, whilst ensuring tax strategy in Wales powered prosperity and maintained public spending at value for money levels with an improvement in services assured from new taxes.
“There was a robust discussion about land taxes with many members who spoke conceding that housing need must be at the heart of the proposal. One small builder said it was important that construction in Wales remained competitive with that across the border in England.
“Another point raised during the question session was why some land was not developed.
Members explained that lengthy planning consultations and building regulations, bank funding difficulties and utility connections affecting business start-ups were vital considerations before vacant land could be developed and asked for ‘joined up thinking’ in policy making.”
During the question and answer session which followed, the two experts were asked if the WRA’s software would be integrated with that of HMRC.
Sam Cairns said that although this would not be the case from April 1, investigations were going ahead with software specialists to see if it could eventually be possible.
In response to a question about Wales facing the prospect of facing higher business taxation than in England, Dr Fraser replied: “We need to look at competitiveness across the border ensuring we are not restricting or restraining Welsh businesses.”
Third guest speaker of the day was Lloyd Powell, head of ACCA Wales (Association of Chartered and Certified Accountants) who outlined his organisation’s role and the key issues it was currently involved in outside the profession, including consultation on Brexit.
Gill Kreft thanked all three speakers for the insight they had provided and added: “I hope Dr Fraser and Mr Cairns take back with them to Cardiff a great impression of the level of real interest and business engagement in North East Wales on the very important issue of taxation in Wales, and the desire to balance the needs of society with an inventive tax strategy that stimulates business and the economy so we can create employment and prosperity for all.”
For further information on the WRA visit gov.wales/wra.