The Google PAC hearing starts at 9.45am
Matt Brittin, Vice President, Sale and Operations, Northern and Central Europe, Google, and John Dixon, Head of Tax, Ernst and Young
Lin Homer, Chief Executive and Permanent Secretary and Jim Harra, Director General, Business Tax, HM Revenue and Customs
There is only one real question at the next election – which is “how will you deliver full employment?”
The debate about the next election seems to be focussing on Europe, immigration, debt, deficit, cuts, welfare and the like.
They may be important. But they all miss the big issue – which is that there is only one question of importance at the next election and no ons is addressing it because none of the mainstream parties or UKIP have a clue how to deal with it.
That question is “how are you going to deliver full employment?”
Nothing else matters.
With full employment we would not have an immigration issue.
With full employment people could afford homes – which would be being built.
With full employment we would see the deficit disappear as people paid tax and did not claim ebewnfits.
With full employment we’d have fewer people using the NHS.
With full employment our children would have hope and education could really deliver.
With full employment anything is possible.
But right now no one is seeking to deliver full employment.
Why is that?
It claims its UK operation is run from Luxembourg. Amazon UK merely services it on its behalf, only running the warehouses that supply the goods. Under OECD rules this, they say, avoids them having a UK tax bill.
That claim is, however, critically dependent on Amazon UK just running the warehouses. All the management of the UK sales operation would have to be in Luxembourg, where the contracts are completed. And just as Google look to be in trouble for failing to follow the form of the contract in the substance of what actually happens it also looks like Amazon have made the same mistake. As the Guardian report this morning:
Among the key indicators of whether a business is taxable in the UK is the location of those negotiating deals. A UK publishing executive confirmed that his contract was negotiated on behalf of Amazon EU Sarl, the Luxembourg company, by staff from the British head office in Slough.
“The contract may be with Luxembourg but it is the people from Slough who thrash out the crucial details of the contract such as the discount we agree to give them. There are also people in Slough who are charged with overseeing that the contract is properly executed,” the executive said.
Meanwhile, job adverts posted this month on the careers page of Amazon.co.uk invite application for scores of roles in the UK. Among them is a vacancy for a senior financial analyst. “Based at our UK Head Office in Slough, Amazon seeks a Senior Financial Analyst to support Amazon UK’s Merchant Services business,” the advert said.
“This Senior Financial Analyst will help establish revenue targets, lead pricing analysis and recommendations, generate competitive analysis and support key operations metrics and goals.”
The Slough office is also this month looking for applicants to its MBA leadership development programme in the UK. “From day one, you will be given ownership of large, complex problems in various areas of our business,” the advert states.
I provided much further evidence in my ebook of such claims, not least on the Amazon website, where it is implied there is a whole UK management team, as the Guardian also seems to find likely.
If Amazon have this wrong then hey’re taxable on their profits in the UK.
The question is then, why did their auditors not notice and why have HMRC not investigated?
We may know answers for Google this morning.
But it looks like Amazon may follow.
The reality is it is easy to move a file server. And it’s easy to move contracts. But in every business people are needed. And no one can seriously think that all the people who run Amazon are in Luxembourg. There aren’t enough of them. And they can’t do the face to face to make the decisions that are really needed.
It looks to me as though a lot of business models are going to befalling apart very soon.
And you wonder why the tax profession hate Margaret Hodge?
Google are back before the Public Accounts Committee. It’s all the fault of Reuters journalist Tom Bergin who didn’t believe Google’s evidence to the PAC that they do not sell in the UK, and found plenty of evidence to back up his suspicions.
The nub of the issue is a simple one. Google UK claims it never makes sales to UK customers. It says it markets the services provided by Google Ireland which makes the sales, but says it does not operate in the UK. It says it sells into the UK.
The difference between in and into is vital. If Google Ireland only sells into the UK but does not as such make sales here then the profits from those sales can’t be taxed here.
If it did conclude the sales here then it is taxed on the profits here.
And if Google UK’s staff make the sales for Google Ireland here then Google Uk then simply becomes the paying agent for the staff of what is called a permanent establishment of Google Ireland in the UK and that also makes the Google Ireland operation taxable in the UK on the staff it employes here.
So the question is does Google sell in the Uk or not. And remember, it has 700 or so sales staff here, compared to many fewer serving the Uk in Ireland. The odds against the sales really being made in ireland are stacked against it by sheer numbers, bit as Tom Bergin found large numbers of these UK staff think they’re selling and not marketing.
The difference is important then. Marketing according to my short OED is:
the action or business of promoting and selling products or services, including market research and advertising.
It creates a feel good factor that assists a sale.
Selling closes the deal, sets the price, determines the delivery and so on.
And as Reuters note:
In late March and early April, the website advertised dozens of London-based sales jobs, whose responsibilities included “negotiating deals”, closing “strategic and revenue deals” and achieving “quarterly sales quotas.”
That does not look remotely like marketing; that looks like selling. And the reality is that if these deals are closed face to face in the UK with the details then just being mailed off to Ireland for contractual purposes Google is in deep trouble. And if they can hold their line they’ll survive, but Amazon will be next.
So, what’s likely to happen? Margaret Hodge has three witness: Google, Ernst & Young and HMRC.
Google will stonewall. They’ll say Bergin is wrong. They’ll say their staff are using shorthand for what they actually do. They’ll say they only market. And when Hodge gets heavy and asks for detail I suspect they’ll say it’s commercially confidential and refuse to discuss. If they do, they’ve lost. Only absolute openness and being right will win this one for them.
The questions to E & Y will be about whether they advised Google to do this, how they audited the deal and what evidence they sought to support the view that Google’s claims were right and whether they were auditing the form of the contract and not is substance. With luck they’ll question what E & Y told HMRC, but I suspect that will be blocked as client confidential in which case the committee will have to fall back on questioning how audits in particular are undertaken.
And HMRC? They’ll say they cannot discuss Google. So it will be systemic again ad the focus will be on what evidence HMRC seek to secure from their client relationship manages on a large company’s site. These people have frequent contact with a company. The question is whether they’re cosy relationship people or bloodhounds checking to see whether the claims the company makes are appropriate, or not.
I suspect Google have best chance of blocking. E & Y and HMRC can’t. There are systemic issues for them. And since the tax risk in Google comes entirely down to this one issue the targeting is easy. The question is how did they make sure Google did not sell here when all the evidence suggests and all common sense and 720 people on the ground who have sales targets and look like they close sales deals and have sales targets all suggest they do sell here?
It’s not an open goal. And countless hours will have gone into briefing the defence. But Google are on a sticky wicket. I think you know which side I’m on.
I’ll be live tweeting the events.
Amazon’s main UK subsidiary paid just £3.2m in tax last year, according to accounts filed on Wednesday, despite overall UK sales of £4.2bn.
Amazon’s taxes for last year are only marginally higher than the £2.5m the company received in government grants during the year, according to the annual accounts published at Companies House.
The online retailer’s tax charge brings to £6m the total corporation tax raised from Amazon.co.uk Limited in a decade. The company’s tax bill was £1.9m in 2011, but these sums may not actually be paid to HM Revenue and Customs because of cumulative losses across the Amazon group.
I explained how Amazon achieve this in ‘Over here and Under Taxed’. Available here.
And for all the cynics: I know Amazon is not taxed on its sales, but then it can’t be, as they’re not here. That’s the whole issue, so the comparison in this case is a lot more relevant than is usually true. Barring Google of course. And that’s tomorrow morning’s fun and games.
The UK’s investigative and satirical magazine Private Eye has produced a major new investigation into corporate crime, handled via the United Kingdom. The subtitle of the piece ‘how UK ghost companies made Britain the capital of corporate crime” is quite apt, notwithstanding the best efforts of jurisdictions like New Zealand to outdo the UK.
The article is not online, unfortunately, so if you’re in the UK you’ll have to go out and buy a copy on the newsstands – it’s available now. There’s far too much in here to give it full justice, but a couple of paragraphs should give a sense of what’s going on here:
“Limited liability partnerships”, of which Vector Aerospace LLP was one, joined the lexi- con of British corporate law only in 2000 as a result of heavy lobbying from Britain’s big accountancy partnerships, which wanted to limit their liability for carrying out dodgy audits without becoming limited companies and so incurring extra taxes. [See Treasure Islands, and the Ratchet chapter, for the extraordinary story of how the accountancy firms got Britain to enact its LLP laws.] The new corporate vehicle allowed them to have it both ways by stipulating that an LLP would have limited liability but would not be a taxable entity itself (see Partnerships in crime).
The new hybrid had great appeal: not just to respectable accountants, but also to those who were up to no good. For if an LLP’s members can also claim that they are not taxable in the UK, there is nothing to trouble the taxman and no inconvenient questions will be asked by the authorities about what the LLP is up to.
This is pure tax haven activity, and Britain is rapidly heading down this road. One last TJN-related section from the story:
“In 2009/10, a study by campaigning accountant [and a TJN Senior Adviser] Richard Murphy found that of the 2.6m companies on the UK companies register, just 69 percent were even asked for a tax return by the authorities and only 45 percent actually submitted one. While it is impossible to measure precisely how many of Britain’s ghost companies are part of interna- tional criminal networks, it is in these helpfully crowded and murky waters that some of the world’s most serious organised crooks swim undetected.”
. . . . and much, much more: this is just a taster. You can see the authors, Andrew Bousfeld and Richard Brooks, in a short video clip here. Among other things they watch a postman stuff large quantities of letters through a letterbox, and they’re clearly visible through the glass door.
“All these letters have landed face down,” Brooks says ruefully: “that’s what you call tough sh*t.”
The text piece finishes like this:
“Epic levels of money laundering, illicit arms dealing, frauds, counterfeiting and government corruption are the result, all thriving on emasculated British company law and political and official indifference. A clean-up is indeed badly needed. Right here and right now.”
Never a truer word written.NB: Reposted from Tax Justice Network, with permission
Il gattopardo is (I understand) Italian for leopard. It’s important to appreciate this when reading this abstract from the Journal of the Macroeconomic Policy Institute:
Thomas I. Palley
Gattopardo economics: The crisis and the mainstream response of change that keeps things the same
Gattopardo constitutes change that keeps things the same. Gattopardo is relevant for understanding the economics profession’s response to the financial crash of 2008. This paper explores gattopardo economics as it applies to the issues of the macro-economics of income distribution; the global financial imbalances; and inflation policy. Gattopardo economics adopts ideas developed by critics of mainstream economics, but it does so in a way that ignores the thrust of the original critique and leaves mainstream analysis unchanged. Gattopardo economics makes change more difficult because it deceives people into thinking change has taken place. By masquerading as change, it crowds-out space for real change. That makes exposing gattopardo economics a matter of vital importance.
Oh boy, are we suffering from gattopardo economics that so far has only changed the spots.
And yes, we do need to expose it, often.
Hat tip: George Irvin
The CBI issued a statement on its seven new tax principles last week. As with most things said by big business on tax these need unpacking to work out what they really mean. here’s my interpretation:
1. UK businesses should only engage in reasonable tax planning that is aligned with commercial and economic activity and does not lead to an abusive result.
Means: Don’t get caught by the 0.01% of tax planning covered by the General Anti-Abuse Rule and you’ll get away with almost anything.
2. UK businesses may respond to tax incentives and exemptions
Means: Play the system for all its worth and lobby for more concessions continually
3. UK businesses should interpret the relevant tax laws in a reasonable way consistent with a relationship of “co-operative compliance” with HMRC.
Means: Sweetheart deals work, so keep up the sweet talk
4. In international matters, UK businesses should follow the terms of the UK’s Double Taxation Treaties and relevant OECD guidelines in dealing with such issues as transfer pricing and establishing taxable presence, and should engage constructively in international dialogue on the review of global tax rules and the need for any changes.
Means: Google, Amazon and Starbucks played by these rules, you just go ahead and do the same and in the meantime the CBI will spend a great deal lobbying against any change in the rules
5. UK businesses should be open and transparent with HMRC about their tax affairs and provide all relevant information that is necessary for HMRC to review possible tax risks.
Means: Stick to the existing rules and lobby like fury against country-by-country reporting which would show where the real issues are
6. They should work collaboratively with HMRC to achieve early agreement on disputed issues and certainty on a real-time basis, wherever possible
Means: Keep working at those nice cosy relationships with HMRC
7. Firm should seek to increase public understanding in the tax system in order to build public trust in that system, and, to that end:
They should consider how best to explain more fully to the public their economic contribution and taxes paid in the UK
This could include an explanation of their policy for tax management, and the governance process which applies to tax decisions, together with some details of the amount and type of taxes paid
I hate to be cynical, but to call these principles when they’re actually an argument for keeping the status quo of multinational corporation tax abuse is absurd.
Wasn’t it St Augustine who said “God grant me chastity, but not yet”? I very strongly suspect that in similar style the CBI are asking for tax reform, but not yet. And that ill becomes them.
HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) stepped up its crackdown on tax evasion on Tuesday, publishing its second list of “deliberate tax defaulters” on its website.
The list includes 15 names owing more than £25,000 in tax, including two pub landlords and a kebab shop owner.
Now I’m the last to deny that tax evasion is an issue. It is: a £70 billion issue.
But isn’t it odd that the multinational corporations we all now know cost the UK billions in lost tax didn’t top the list?
Keep asking why that is , and then note that the board of HMRC is dominated by big business and there are no small business representatives at all. And then you might have your answer.
This is from the FT this morning, by Steingrímur Sigfússon:
Iceland’s response to the financial crisis has been taken as a model for how a country should react to a dramatic economic shock. However, international observers should also take note of our country’s recent election result. Despite guiding the country through a difficult but impressive recovery, the governing parties were ousted. The parties that were blamed for the financial crisis won a slim majority. This raises a fundamental question: in our age of austerity and slower growth, can politicians maintain popularity without the proceeds of a bubble economy? Put differently: can any politician meet the unrealistic expectations of Europe’s voters?
The question, of course, is not that dissimilar in a way to that posed by Martin Wolf on climate change in the same paper this morning.
Steingrímur Sigfússon, who was Icelandic finance minister concludes:
The result from Iceland should prompt introspection not just from politicians, but from voters as well. Are our expectations realistic? Is the only way to meet the insatiable demand for growth to build economies based on quicksand? For that is a recipe for an ever more destructive boom-and-bust cycle.
No wonder we need a Green New Deal to break that approach to destructive growth.
This table has just been published by the OECD and shows the “tax wedge” taken from employment earnings for all 34 OECD countries:
The OECD say of this:
Note then that this “wedge” includes employer’s national insurance – which most people do not appreciate is paid on their behalf.
The UK is at 32.3%, well down the list.
Of course, that may also be why we have such a high deficit: we are undertaxing high earnings in particular.
But there’s no case for saying we’re overtaxed, most especially at high rates. That’s for sure.
As the European Voice has noted:
EU Finance ministers fail to reach deal on tax avoidanceThat’s the depressing out come of yesterday’s ECOFIN meeting. As was also noted: Maria Fekter, the finance minister of Austria, the last country to oppose a revision of the EU’s savings tax directive, said during today’s meeting of finance ministers that while she “accepted” the text of the draft legislation, it was too early to approve it. Luxembourg, which ended an eight-year resistance to the proposals in April, also did not approve the revision of the rules during today’s meeting. The consequence is that Luxembourg and Austria stood up for tax crime and those who facilitate it. Let’s not pretend they did anything else. There is no other interpretation available for their opposition to an arrangement whose sole aim is beating tax evasion. Thankfully the game is not over yet:
The failure sets up the possibility of a row at the summit of member state leaders next week (15 May) where most countries will put pressure on Austria and Luxembourg to give in.
We can but hope.But in the meantime the criminals are in charge in Austria and Luxembourg, and it’s right to name them as such.
I wrote this only a week or so ago, but it seems worth reiterating already:
I have suggested on many occasions that what Labour needs to do if it is to win a general election victory is to deliver a strong narrative that people can believe in. Candidly, I am bemused as to what is quite so difficult about this. Whilst people are complex as individuals what we want is often remarkably consistent, and so predictable.
- People want to work.
- They want fair pay.
- They want a home they can afford.
- They want education for their children if they have them.
- They want health care.
- Pensions matter to them personally, and for their relatives as they imply security in old age.
- They need security, physically and legally.
- They want to feel they are respected.
- They want to feel they are part of a community.
- Access to entertainment is important.
- For all these things transport is necessary.
What is needed beyond these things? Actually, remarkably little since if these conditions are met most people can live the life that they want. You could say I have omitted material needs – but I haven’t: that is what fair pay is for, coupled with the choice it enables, which should be permitted and encouraged as markets very definitely have a role.
If tax assists and does not impede these goals then it is both tolerated and paid.
In exchange people expect economic stability and will vote against those who do not supply it.
And that’s it: I am sure the list can be refined but in essence this is what people want.
And the difference in political philosophy should almost be as simple. Neoliberals say it’s up to you to achieve these things and then provides an environment that preserves your claim to them against others who have yet to achieve them (this being true across party boundaries, as is now clear) whilst the left should say it is our job to make sure as many people as possible have access to these things because we are all, without doubt, better off when the benefit of them is shared as far as possible.
I am well aware of how naive I will be called for saying this.
My defence is a simple one: people want clear, straightforward messages. They don’t want to know about VAT cuts on windows or enterprise investment schemes in Middlesborough. They don’t even care about deficits if they believe those managing them know what they’re doing. They want to know what people stand for in unambiguous, unchanging over time, terms. So you build your politics on conviction, on the assessment of what people really want, and how you can deliver it. The rest follows.
And right now since only UKIP is doing that.
I believe Labour is moving sharply to the right, and very quickly.
There’s talk of sticking to Tory spending limits despite the disaster that delivered in 1997.
Deficit control is apparently vital, just when the economics of public debt and growth have been destroyed.
Child poverty can no longer be tackled in the way it was, and with it the aspiration of redistribution fades away.
And Blue labour is openly on the agenda, with which many have an issue.
And all this is because, apparently, the electorate won’t buy any other ideas and if they did there’d be an economic disaster as a result of trying anything else.
If true at least some in Labour have conceded the economic argument to Osborne, the austerians, Hayek and the Institute for Economic Affairs.
To only slightly misquote Krugman, the confidence fairy is in town and has cast her wicked spell all over some in Labour.
The result is a giant tack towards not just the middle ground, but the right. And when the economics of the right have so spectacularly failed this is deeply worrying.
If this is the direction of Labour’s travel (and of course, there is time for it to change and I may be wrong) then no wonder people are jaundiced with mainstream politics. This looks like a shift without conviction towards a policy without substance in pursuit of a goal not worth achieving. If it comes to pass do not be surprised if we end up with weak, ineffectual and failing government.
And that’s when the far right move in.
Which is why the left need to be robust now.
This is from the Guardian today:
GP surgeries should be set up at hospitals to ease the growing pressure on accident and emergency units, which are struggling to cope with an “unsustainable” increase in patients, a report from the UK’s emergencydoctors warns.
Family doctors, as well as nurses and specialists in looking after frail elderly people, need to assess and treat as many as 30% of the patients arriving at hospital and keep them away from the casualty departments, according to the College of Emergency Medicine (CEM), which represents the NHS’s 4,000 A&E doctors.
There are three themes implicit in this. First, our demography is guaranteeing an increase in NHS demand.
Second, changes in lifestyle mean people cannot or will not present to GP surgeries. The will not is as important as the cannot: waiting is no longer an option some people will choose when in the past they did.
Third, funding is undermining the credibility of a service on which we all rely, even if we’d rather (of course) never call on it by choice.
The reality is that reorganisation can only deal with so much of this increasing demand. Society has to decide if it will fund this service or not. It does not have to. But people will suffer and die if it does not. That’s an economic reality.
This is by Martin Wolf in the FT this morning:
Last week the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was reported to have passed 400 parts per million for the first time in 4.5m years. It is also continuing to rise at a rate of about 2 parts per million every year. On the present course, it could be 800 parts per million by the end of the century. Thus, all the discussions of mitigating the risks of catastrophic climate change have turned out to be empty words.
Collectively, humanity has yawned and decided to let the dangers mount. Professor Sir Brian Hoskins, director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College in London, notes that when the concentrations were last this high, “the world was warmer on average by three or four degrees Celsius than it is today. There was no permanent ice sheet on Greenland, sea levels were much higher, and the world was a very different place, although not all of these differences may be directly related to CO2 levels.”
This is an economic reality. We tackle climate change or we imperil life, if not in our own lifetimes then at the very least in those of our children and grandchildren.
The problem, as he notes though, is that this is a distant horror. And the reality of present over-consumption appeals more. So we go on, blindly. His analysis is to why that is the case is compelling.
As he suggests:
Most people believe today that a low-carbon economy would be one of universal privation. They will never accept such a situation. This is true both of the people of high-income countries, who want to retain what they have, and the people of the rest of the world, who want to enjoy what the people of high-income countries now have. A necessary, albeit not sufficient condition, then, is a politically sellable vision of a prosperous low-carbon economy. That is not what people now see. Substantial resources must be invested in the technologies that would credibly deliver such a future.
Yet that is not all. If such an opportunity does appear more credible, institutions must also be developed that can deliver it.
Neither the technological nor the institutional conditions exist at present. In their absence, there is no political will to do anything real about the process driving our experiment with the climate. Yes, there is talk and wringing of hands. But there is, predictably, no effective action. If that is to change, we must start by offering humanity a far better future. Fear of distant horror is not enough.
And yet that horror is already a wholly foreseeable, and nigh on certain, economic reality.
Before anyone sings Osborne’s praises on information exchange let’s remember he is the only person to sign a Rubik deal with Switzerland
George Osborne will step up his campaign to toughen developed countries’ stance on tax havens and company tax transparency by urging his fellow EU finance ministers to sign the delayed savings directive as a first step to creating a global standard on tax information.
In a letter to his fellow finance ministers Osborne says the EU savings directive is an essential precondition of developing worldwide exchange of tax information. Britain, as part of its G8 chairmanship, is campaigning for automatic exchange of tax information between countries encompassing developed and developing countries.
That’s fine, as far as it goes.
But it also ignores the fact that the UK is the one and only country to sign a Rubik deal with the Swiss whose main aim is to undermine the European Union Savings Tax Directive, which it looked like doing for some time. And let’s just recall, that Rubik deal does not require automatic information exchange, and specifically is designed to maintain banking secrecy.
So let’s not suddenly portray Osborne as the man driving this process. He’s done more than most to undermine it.
The latest edition of Tax Justice Focus explores and explodes some of the most persistent and powerful myths in contemporary economics.
Earlier this year we teamed up with the New Economics Foundation in London to produce a series of essays - Mythbusters - which are currently being published weekly in the Guardian newspaper, and can be found here on the nef website. In this newsletter we explore how some of these myths survive and are propagated.
In the opening article Daniel Stedman Jones explores how the ideas of Adam Smith have been selectively interpreted by neo-liberals to shape a particular view of the free market which had little or nothing to do with Smith’s own interpretation.
Aeron Davis considers why the media are so uncritical in their coverage of the activities of the City of London, promoting the myth that the City’s role is too important to be challenged.
William Davies examines the reality behind the much-vaunted enterprise economy, so beloved of neo-liberals, and argues that much of what is termed enterprise boils down to little more than rent-seeking activity.
And finally, Robin Ramsay asks why myths persist for so long in the political discourse. Does it boil down in the end to the awkward fact that most politicians are economically illiterate?
In addition, Krishen Mehta reviews Aaron Schneider’s new book on State Building and Tax Regimes in Central America, and we have a round-up of the major tax justice news stories from recent weeks.
You can download Tax Justice Focus - the Mythbuster edition here, and please feel free to circulate to your friends and colleagues.
- Forthcoming Grand Chamber Panel: AL, BA, BE, BG, DE, HR, IT, MK, RU, SI, TR and YU - 18.03.13
- Prochain collège de la Grande Chambre: AL, BA, BE, BG, DE, HR, IT, MK, RU, SI, TR et YU - 18.03.13
- Annonce d’arrêts: HU, RO, TR 19.03.2013
- Forthcoming judgments: HU, RO, TR 19.03.2013
- Judgment Aydan v. Turkey - Fatal shooting by law-enforcement official