Scotland’s independent think tank
Scotland’s independent think tank

Improving our tax communications and engagement – Tom Arthur MSP

In October 2021 I wrote a blog for Reform Scotland about the Scottish Government’s consultation on the Framework for Tax. I’m pleased to say that we received a wealth of valuable and detailed input from a wide variety of stakeholders. The final version of the Framework was published in December 2021 shortly after the Scottish Budget.

Engagement has always been a key component of our approach to taxation in Scotland. It has now been enshrined as a principle of good tax policy making in our Framework for Tax, which reaffirms that commitment.

It is through these principles that we will ensure that the decisions we make on tax policy in Scotland delivers a fairer, greener and more prosperous country for everyone.

The Framework also demonstrates our commitment to good guardianship in relation to our tax powers and our eagerness to continue to improve. This is why we published an evaluation of the changes made to Income Tax in 2018-19 alongside the Framework.

It is also why we will continue to engage proactively with our stakeholders and continue to be open and transparent.

That is all fine if you have a good grasp of the tax system in Scotland. But what if you don’t?

Understanding of the Scottish tax system is low among people in Scotland – as it is across the rest of the UK. The Scottish Government conducts research into public understanding of tax and in 2021 found that only 39% of those living in Scotland understood the Scottish tax system.

That leaves 61% of people in Scotland not knowing much, or anything at all, about the tax system in Scotland. That needs to change.

This is an area of concern as it not only makes it more difficult for these people to understand the tax system, it makes them less likely to engage and contribute to discussions that ultimately impact them.

I want to help them understand it, even just a little bit more. I know you do too.

A lot of work is being undertaken by the Scottish Government to try and improve public understanding of tax across a variety of platforms.

One of the key products relating to this is the animated video, ‘Raised in Scotland. Spent in Scotland.’ (watch below) This was co-designed with five external stakeholders who worked with the Scottish Government to ensure that the messages were easily understood, but also relevant to individuals in Scotland.

Without wanting to write too much about the video, it conveys a multitude of information quickly and simply, linking all forms of tax to our spending commitments.

I am aware that tax is not a topic that people are instinctively drawn towards. Even though tax is not something everyone finds exciting I believe that everyone should at least understand a bit more about it.

The decisions we make on tax are decisions that impact everybody’s lives and, in the case of young people especially, will impact their futures. I want the citizens of the country to be able to contribute to discussions happening on tax.

Your view matters to the Scottish Government. More specifically, they matter to me.

The video is just one of many steps that the Scottish Government is taking to try to help tackle the issue of public understanding of tax.

The Citizens’ Assembly of Scotland published a set of recommendations on tax, which the Scottish Government has responded to, with many of those themed around making the information more accessible.

An example of this is our tax pages on which have been restructured to meet some of the recommendations. Simple to understand information, such as a definition of the taxes, have now been included at the top of the page. Nothing has been taken away either, and I feel that is equally as important.

We now have a website that meets the needs of all audiences looking for information – be that top level or in-depth background content on how the policy will function.

I ask my officials to be innovative and creative in the ways in which we communicate about tax. I feel that we are getting there and a lot is being done. Content is being produced for a variety of platforms, reaching an expansive group of people. I know that this is an area where there has been a lot of growth, but there is still a good way to go to achieve our aims.

This is now the part where I throw out an ask to you, the reader, to think a bit more about tax and your part in the national conversation.

Whether you are an interested individual or a representative of an organisation, your voice matters. I am very keen to help improve the public debate on tax and for it to be more of a discussion. This is a view shared with the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy, Kate Forbes MSP, and we are committed to doing this.

Talk to your family, friends, and colleagues, create your own social media content or share ours, create your own resources, or try to stimulate debate and help to improve understanding of tax in Scotland.

You have read this far down, so you are clearly interested and want to help improve the public’s understanding of tax.

That leads me to my final question for you – what can you do to help?

Tom Arthur MSP is Minister for Public Finance, Planning and Community Wealth