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Tuesday, 30 November, 1999, 15:39 GMT
E-petition against tax change
Campaigners say the government does not understand the IT industry

The Tories are backing a petition carrying thousands of electronic signatures in protest at tax changes affecting self-employed IT workers.

Shadow technology minister Alan Duncan said the e-protest could qualify for a place in the Guinness Book of Records.

But its intention was to raise the profile of the IR35 tax change, which campaigners say will destroy 30,000 UK jobs.

The Professional Contractors Group has run a forthright campaign against the tax change, which is intended to stop employees leaving firms to return as self-employed workers.

Many IT consultants argue this unfairly discriminates against their industry and insist they will shift their business abroad once the change becomes law.

In a recent interview with BBC News Online, e-commerce minister Patricia Hewitt said the government had listened to these concerns.

"I am glad to say that Gordon Brown and his colleagues at the Treasury have been listening to what the industry is saying. And they have come forward recently with revised proposals," she said.

But the changes do not go far enough for the vast majority of the IT workers affected by the tax change.

In an article also written for BBC News Online, shadow chancellor Francis Maude said: "The consultation was dismissed as a "sham" by the Professional Contractors Group, who say that Gordon Brown and Dawn Primarolo have repeatedly ignored the people who will be affected by this.

"The changes ministers made were mere window dressing. Even after the consultation, the government expected to raise just as much from the tax as they did before - over half a billion pounds.

"The people who will be hardest hit by this tax are precisely the people who the government say they want to encourage - entrepreneurs who are prepared to take risks to capitalise on their skills, which are often at the cutting edge of technology."

The e-petition move shows the Professional Contractors Group retains the ability to raise quickly large numbers of people who feel angry about the move.

It placed the petition on its IR35 website on Friday and collected 3,000 signatures within 48 hours.

News of the Tories' backing for the petition came the same day the government's Electronic Communications Bill had its second reading debated in the House of Commons.

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See also:
04 Nov 99 |  UK Politics
The e-minister answers your questions
19 Oct 99 |  UK Politics
Opinion: Labour's 'stealth tax on IT workers'
20 Oct 99 |  Your Money
Q&A: Tax reform

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