They’re all at it. It’s not just Starbucks , Google and Amazon that are running rings round HMRC and the tax laws, it’s virtually all the top UK 250 companies which are deliberately cheating UK taxpayers of the tax receipts due. No less than 98% of the FTSE-100 companies have a subsidiary in a tax haven, the only purpose of which is tax evasion/avoidance on an industrial scale. Only today yet another massive tax scam has been exposed, this time involving Britain’s largest mobile phone network – Everything Everywhere (EE) – which scooped up £3bn profits for the French and German companies that own it, but paid not a penny in corporation tax in the UK. Vodafone, O2 and Three are little better. EE defends itself by saying “its accounts are transparent and it takes a responsible approach’ (UMG – the usual meaningless guff). How do they get away with this? Largely through tax breaks, management fees, royalties, and offshoring. But probably the most important ingredient in all these tax fiddles is opacity which enables their manoeuvres to remain hidden. Yet there are ways to counter all of these dodges
First, there needs to be a legal requirement that UK multinational corporations must publish the accounts of all their subsidiaries on public record, and certainly on their own website. Second, the most direct way to tackle the opacity in the tax affairs both of large companies and of super-rich individuals in the UK is to require by law that the tax returns of the top 250 in each group should be put on public record, as already happens in the Scandinavian countries. I have accordingly laid before the Commons the UK Corporate and Individual Financial Tax and Financial Transparency Bill, drafted by Richard Murphy, one of Britain’s foremost tax specialists, which will achieve both these objectives. The bill is due to receive its second reading on 6 September. HMRC has commented on this that “HMRC officials cannot discuss the details of the tax affairs of identifiable taxpayers – individuals or corporates – except in limited circumstances set out in legislation. Our legal advice is that if Parliament requires HMRC to discuss the tax settlements of names companies, a change would be required to the primary legislation governing HMRC”. Quite so. That is the purpose of my Bill.
There are several other needed changes in this Bill. It requires for the first time that the details of beneficial owners be submitted by each company to Companies House. Because some unscrupulous company executives/owners won’t voluntarily comply with this obligation, the Bill also requires banks to collect under money-laundering obligations the real trading address of a company, who its directors and beneficial owners are, and where they are located, and then submit this information to Companies House who would then publish it. The sanction for failing to comply would be to remove the limited liability of the company, and the directors and beneficial owners would then personally become liable for its debts. The impact of all these measures would utterly transform the sickening scandal of corporation tax today.