Ex-RELX tax chief to head up Office of Tax Simplification

John Whiting

As part of the initiative to reduce the complexity of the UK's tortured tax code, the government has appointed Paul Morton as tax director of the Office of Tax Simplification (OTS), replacing John Whiting, who is retiring

Morton is leaving his current role as head of group tax at RELX Group plc, previously Reed Elsevier, a multinational information and media company based in London, to take up the new post, once a successor has been named. He will start attending OTS board meetings from January. Whiting was hoping to retire this autumn, but will remain at the OTS on a part-time basis until such time as Morton is able to take over on a permanent basis. 

With a strong background in the private sector and at major listed companies, Morton has been at RELX for the past 11 years and prior to this spent 16 years at Royal Dutch Shell. In the early days of his career, he also spent four years at Big Four firm KPMG as well as a stint at HMRC as an inspector of taxes in the early 1980s.

He is a key player in UK tax lobby groups and professional institutes, as a member of the tax committees of the CBI and the 100 Group, Council of the Institute of Fiscal Studies, Tax Law Review Committee and business & industry advisory committee to OECD, as well as HMRC’s business tax and large corporates forum.

This will be the first time the OTS has been headed up by a tax expert in a key role from the commercial side of tax, rather than a former Big Four or accounting practice incumbent.

Now the OTS is on a statutory basis, it is expected the body take a more robust stance on shaping tax policy, particularly in terms of making recommendations on ways to reduce the overly complex and tortured tax code, while simplifying the tax process for business. So far it has made around 200 recommendations which have been implemented but many have been minor measures rather than wholesale reforms.

It is currently working on a number of major initiatives including an ambitious review of the possible merger of income tax and national insurance contributions. This been under discussion since 2010, but is mired in complexity due to the variance between NICs for permanent employees and self-employed individuals. Any merger would also create an immediate paper tax rise from the public’s perspective as the current 20% base rate income tax would rise to an effective personal tax rate of 33% when NICs are put into the equation.

Morton succeeds John Whiting, who is retiring as OTS tax director, a position he has held since the OTS was established in 2010.

OTS chair, Angela Knight said: ‘Paul will bring valuable skills, expertise and experience which will increase the ability of the OTS to build on its achievements in simplifying the tax system and make the most of its new status as a permanent, statutory body.

‘Paul is a first-class candidate whose expertise covers a broad range of tax issues. The OTS will benefit greatly from his appointment.

‘I would like to thank John Whiting for his exceptional contribution to the OTS over the past six years. Paul will take over as tax director knowing that the OTS has been put on the best possible footing for the future because of John’s excellent work.’

Financial secretary to the Treasury, Jane Ellison said: ‘The OTS has a vital role to play in advising the government on ways to simplify the tax system for the businesses and individuals who use it, and Paul’s appointment will help the OTS make real progress in achieving that. I would like to thank John Whiting for his outstanding contribution to the OTS over the past six years and for kindly agreeing to extend his time at the OTS.’

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