Labour’s John McDonnell has called for a new “Hippocratic oath” at Britain’s large accountancy firms, warning that they must work to maximise the amount of tax their clients pay.
Speaking to the BBC at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, the shadow Chancellor branded the so-called “big four” accountants a “cartel”.
He also warned that public anger over tax avoidance was building.
But he paid tribute to business that pay their taxes.
Mr McDonnell, who has never attended the WEF before, said there was a “sense of complacency” at the Forum, and warned that “beyond the Davos compound”, the benefits of global growth were not being felt by all.
There was, he added, an “avalanche of discontent”.
He reserved his harshest comments for accountancy firms, whom he said must change “their entire ethos”, and rediscover their moral purpose.
“They have used their supposed ingenuity, over decades, to devise some of these bizarre schemes on an industrial scale,” Mr McDonnell said.
“I think they should be ashamed of themselves.”
“If they don’t act,” he cautioned, “they will be open to real public opprobrium”.
The big four accountancy firms are Deloitte, PwC, EY and KPMG. The BBC asked them to respond to Mr McDonnell’s comments, but they chose not to.
Reacting to Mr McDonnell’s comments, Conservative MP Robert Jenrick, Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury said: “Since 2010, we have raised an extra £160 billion in taxes for public services by tackling tax evasion and avoidance.
“If John McDonnell was serious, he would back the anti-avoidance measures we are taking in the Budget that will raise an extra £4.8bn, instead of opposing them as Labour have done so far.”
‘Need to deliver’
Mr McDonnell also had some strong words for the so-called Davos elites, especially those who talk about reducing inequality, but “haven’t delivered”.
“Labour is likely to go into government, so we are attending Davos, to come here with a straightforward warning,” he said.
“You need to deliver, and when we get in to government we will make sure you do.”