The guiding principle of my work is this quote:
Compassion, to be effective, requires detailed knowledge and understanding of how society works. Any social system in turn requires men and women in it of imagination and goodwill. What would be fatal would be for those with exceptional human insight and concern to concentrate on ministering to individuals, whilst those accepting responsibility for the design and management of organisations were left to become technocrats. What is important is that institutions and their administration be constantly tested against human values, and that those who are concerned about these values be prepared to grapple with the complex realities of modern society as it is. (Grigor McClelland, 1976, Quaker Faith & Practice 23.47)
I would like you to keep these sentiments in mind as you read this post.
Last night the European Parliament debated #VATMOSS. You can read the EUVAT Action campaign’s summary of the debate here. It’s titled “Too Little, Too Late”, which is an indication of how disturbing the debate was. One remarkable fact revealed was the reason why a £100k threshold has been considered out of the question throughout this debate: it was apparently already discussed by the Commission, and turned down, back in 2004 – yes, eleven years ago. In EU logic, the idea that a rule conceived for corporations in 2004 is applicable to one-man e-commerce businesses in 2015 is not up for discussion.
We also learned that VP Andrus Ansip, who is responsible for the Digital Single Market of much recent note, is awaiting the findings of a report “this summer” before deciding whether to recommend a £100k #VATMOSS threshold in 2016.
Here is what the campaign says about the report:
The ‘report’ he mentions is, we believe, being created by a consultancy firm who attended a breakfast meeting, hosted by Vicky Ford MEP (thank you!), at which we delivered the Keynote speech in late March 2015. The primary representative from the consultancy firm refused to take our contact details and refused to work with us in any way on the report, despite us having interviewed nearly 2,500 micro businesses in our quantitative research study, EU-wide. So we have minimal faith in the output of his report. After all, it is ‘consultants’ who told the EU over the past 10+ years that no micro business would be affected by these new rules, because none of us sells direct to consumers or outside of our home country…
So much, then, for grappling with the complex realities of modern society as it is. The Campaign’s concerns here are not sour grapes. They are a disturbing allegation about a workplace culture which drags legislation out for years in the name of democracy, yet refuses to take the actual experiences of those worst affected by that legislation into consideration for the future.
I worked in a bureaucratic, complex, and top-heavy public sector organisation back in 2004 – funnily enough, the year the threshold was last debated – and left the organisation after less than a year much older, much wiser, and much more cynical. Like the EU Commission, the organisation made a great pretense of being socialist and democratic, but had that thing going on where they only valued advice if a man in a business suit delivered it on a five figure retainer. So they spent a lot – A LOT – on consultants. The employees in the organisation, including me, had all been hired for our specific areas of expertise, but we got used to our work being overridden and even directed by outside consultants. When employees pointed out how the consultants’ grand plans did not match up with the reality of the lives of the public we were meant to serve, it was the consultants’ words, and not our own, which were believed.
This, then, may well be my own personal baggage speaking, but when I read the section about the consultancy report in the EU VAT Action briefing, it looked all too familiar. To the outside world it would appear that the EU Commission is preparing a whitewash, and one that may well be calculated against the EU Vat Action campaign.
There are two kinds of consultants. One kind works for the client, asks the right questions, seeks out the right audiences, and forms a conclusion based on the evidence. The other makes the client work for them, asks the questions the client prescribes, and arrives at a preordained conclusion which tells the client what they want to hear. We have already seen that, in fact, with Patreon and VATMOSS.
So which kind of consultant is at work here?
There is no valid reason why the actual experiences of 2,500 businesses directly affected by the law in question should be ignored by the consultancy firm being paid a lot of money to study it. The members of the Campaign have donated six months of time and labour free of charge, often at the cost of the principals’ own self-employed businesses, with a view towards making things right for everyone. They have cheerfully grappled with the complex realities of modern society as it is. Should that effort, and the collected testimonies of 2,500 business owners, somehow matter less to the EU because it is not the work of men in business suits with a luxury office?
I would implore Mr Ansip to remind his consultants that all evidence, regardless of the source, must be taken into consideration. We have grappled with the complex realities of modern society as it is. The EU must now do the same.
About the author
Heather Burns is a digital law specialist in Glasgow, Scotland. She researches, writes, publishes, consults, and speaks extensively on internet laws and policies which affect the crafts of web design and development. She has been designing and developing web sites since 1997 and was a professional web site designer from 2007-2015. She holds a postgraduate certification in internet law and policy from the University of Strathclyde. Learn about hiring Heather to write, speak, or consult.