By Andrew Redmond Barr
As the party faithful gather in Brighton for the Liberal Democrat annual conference, members hear from the Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander who has announced a crackdown on tax evasion and avoidance.
Despite Mr Alexander’s claims today that the UK Government was making “good progress” on the matter, it has come to light that last year’s conference pledge to recruit 2,000 new tax inspectors has not been fulfilled.
The number of HMRC staff in Enforcement and Compliance has fallen by 1,529 since the Coalition came to power.
SNP MSP Kenneth Gibson, Convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Finance Committee, criticised the cut in tax inspectors.
He said: “The LibDems’ conference is turning into an exercise in cynicism. While measures to crack down on tax evasion are welcome, Danny Alexander’s rhetoric is not matched by his department’s record.
“Last year he promised to recruit an additional 2,000 tax inspectors, yet the Treasury’s own figures show that enforcement and compliance teams, including specialist and criminal investigations staff, have been cut by 1,529.
“One could say it is a tax fraud itself to promise more tax inspectors when they have been cut by such a number.”
During this year’s party conference the Liberal Democrats have made a new pledge to raise £4bn this year and £9bn by 2015 from schemes to crack down on tax evasion.
Up to 5,000 British investors are thought to hold secret accounts in tax havens. A deal was struck between Liechtenstein and the last Labour government to recover some lost British taxes, expecting to raise £1bn.
The Coalition claims its new plans will raise £3bn despite cutting the number of tax inspectors by over 1,000.
“Fair taxes in tough times means everyone playing by the same rule book, and everyone paying their fair share,” said Mr Alexander today at the Liberal Democrat conference.
“We have this message to the small minority of wealthy people who don’t play by the rules.
“We are coming to get you and you will pay your fair share.”
This year’s Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton has been largely inward-looking as the party tries to rediscover and re-establish its independent identity.
The conference started with an apology from Nick Clegg, who said “sorry” for promising not to increase tuition fees, but did not apologise for the implementation of the fee increase itself.
Mr Alexander has also used the conference to insist there would be no leniency in government austerity measures, referring to austerity as the “foundation” of the UK economy.
As the end of the Coalition’s term in government comes to a close in a few years’ time, the Liberal Democrats will be trying to minimise and reverse the unpopular blurring of their image with the more right-wing Conservatives.
However, so far the party has been largely unapologetic over austerity measures and cuts.