According to Vince Cable “No one keeps their cash in tax havens for the quality of investment advice; these are sunny places for shady people.” True to form, Vince hit the nail squarely on its head with a whammy of a quote, and how we all clapped enthusiastically. But who actually piles the cash into these rogues’ coffers in the first place? It could be you.
Many of our enthusiastic clappers routinely rock up outside Boots, on a sunny Saturday, aggressively jabbing angry posters-on-sticks skywards, in tandem with chants of “Boycott Boots! Boycott Boots!“
Ultra-cool agitprop will require you to join a flash mob in Top Shop, parking your butt adjacent to a rack of animal-print leggings and remaining in lock-down until a bunch of determined rozzers help you outside again.
Then it’s off down the street to the Vodafone shop to hoist aloft a suitably hostile banner, all the while tweeting every twist and turn of your progress on your not-Vodafone-phone.
And oh yes, I’ve got all those T-shirts.
As you’re on this site, you shouldn’t need reminding why lots of angry citizens routinely give Boots, Top Shop and Vodafone the shakeout. This trio is in the champions league when it comes to tax avoidance, and being spotted in any of their outlets could seriously damage your social liberal credentials.
Sadly, it has so far seemed beyond the wit of HMRC to come to grips with these guys, as Willard Foxton points out over at the New Statesman:
Over the last few years HMRC spent £633,000 on publicity around tackling high-end tax evasion, compared with £17.5m on publicity around tackling benefit fraud. By that crude measure, HMRC considers tackling benefit fraud about 27 times more important than tackling high-end evasion.
OK, so Willard’s talking about evasion rather than avoidance, but isn’t the difference just a question of us showing sufficient political will to reframe a tax law or two?
It would probably be unwise to hold our collective breath for that to happen so, in the meantime, it’s up to you and me to vote with our wallets. We’re actually quite good at that, except when it comes to t’Internet. For the high street giants are by no means alone. Tax avoidance in the virtual world is stratospheric.
The latest shady customer to hit their poolside deck chair in a sunny place is everyone’s FB security blanket. Yes, Facebook is facing allegations of tax avoidance after it paid just £238,000 in UK corporation tax on earnings of £175m. Apparently, FB’s profits took the scenic route through Ireland, thus avoiding paying millions in UK tax. But will you be quitting Facebook? Fat chance. Research out this week shows that a third of us would rather give up sex for a week than live without our mobiles.
You will, by now, probably be wondering how the title of this piece can be justified. So let’s move on to examine the daddy of them all, the Don Corleone of Vince’s sunny places: Amazon.co.uk. Britain’s biggest online retailer generated sales of more than £3.3bn in the country last year but paid no corporation tax on any of the profits from that income.
That’s scandalous. Work out for yourself how many libraries, hospital beds, hungry kids or shivering pensioners – whatever your pet cause – that those missing tax revenues would sort out.
And can you honestly say that you’re happy for your dollar to be sucked out of the country in this way?
Put that way, it’s difficult to argue with. So let’s use our considerable combined muscle to bring these internet vampires to book. Use Facebook to start a campaign against Facebook and their tax dodging. Be bold, show your mettle, be a trailblazer and join another social network while you’re at it.
Lobby for all Liberal Democrat Facebook pages to be taken down and make a big media splash about the reason why.
Lobby for a fit-for-purpose internet-based sales tax to be levied in the country of purchase, rather than the country of business residence. That is controversial, and throws up all manner of conundrums, I know, but it’ll kick-start the debate that must be had if we’re to stem this haemorrhage.
And bloggers, next time you encourage me to join you on FB or click through to Amazon to buy a book, you’ll be clicked straight through to my junk folder.
* Kirsten de Keyser sits on the Camden Liberal Democrat Executive and is a member of Social Liberal Forum and Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine. She blogs here.