Time HRMC got its finger out

Isn’t it time that HM Revenue and Customs got its finger out and started tackling the real scandal undermining our economic recovery.

Forget so-called benefit ‘scroungers’ – the top target of this Tory-led coalition – the real villains are the fat cat tax dodgers, evaders and avoiders who salt away millions in offshore tax havens or benefit from legal loopholes.

The scale of avoidance and fraud has been highlighted by a National Audit Office report focusing just on tax losses and VAT fraud arising out of online trading. An eye-watering £32bn is uncollected each year, including an estimated £9.6bn in VAT.

Compare such figures with the estimated £1.9bn overpaid to poorer families, much of that due to HMRC error rather than downright fraud.

My Labour comrade Margaret Hodge, chair of the public accounts committee, said such a gap was “startling” and HMRC’s response to the challenge presented by the digital economy was too slow.

Her public spending watchdog found the agency did not carry out comprehensive real-time checks across all VAT returns and had yet to produce a comprehensive plan to react to the emerging threat of VAT losses due to online trading. And don’t forget the inquiry only covered one narrow area of tax evasion.

The real tax criminals are not living next door, but quaffing their champagne in country clubs while their money is earning interest on a sun-kissed island.

As for the £32bn uncollected each year, how many life-saving NHS machines could be bought for that? How many extra nurses, doctors and ancillary staff could be hired?

At a stroke £32bn could reverse most of the coalition public service cuts which are causing so much misery for hard-pressed, hard-working families in Blyth Valley and across the nation.