Saturday, 22 June 2013

5 reasons why you can't take this government seriously on tax justice

At the G8, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, sought to make clamping down on tax havens the centrepiece of the summit. As Prem Sikka explains, the post-summit communique was 'high on vague promises, low on delivery'.

But even before the inevitable puncturing of Cameron's hubris, there were several reasons why this government cannot be taken seriously on tax justice* ...

1. Government minister says he wants the UK to be a tax haven

Last year, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said it was "a compliment" for the UK to be described as a tax haven, and added: "That is exactly what we are trying to do."

2. George Osborne slashing taxes for big business and the rich

If there's one hallmark of a tax haven, it's low or minimal tax rates. Corporation tax was slashed from 52% in 1979 to 33% by 1997. New Labour cut it further, to 28%, and Osborne has already driven it down to 23% - and aims to get it down to 20% by 2015. This is how he described it at the last Budget:
"A headline rate that is not just lower than our competitors, but dramatically lower.
18% lower than the US.
16% lower than Japan.
12% below France and 8% below Germany.
An advertisement for investment and jobs in Britain." 
Actually, it's an advertisement to for big business to pay less tax - undercutting both other nation's tax rates and shifting the tax burden onto the working poor (as we have previously shown). Of course, cutting the top rate of tax from 50% to 45%, also facilitated avoidance.

3. Many government ministers' wealth is based on tax avoidance and evasion

As Guardian investigations have proven in the case of Cameron's family fortune, and as Channel 4 Dispatches showed in the case of George Osborne, Andrew 'plebgate' Mitchell, and Phillip Hammond.

4. You can't collect taxes without the resources to do it - and this government is cutting resources

HM Revenue & Customs is the body tasked with collecting taxes owed, tackling evasion and clamping down on contrived avoidance schemes. Combined the tax gap (uncollected, evaded and avoided) is estimated at £120 billion ... every year.

Yet the government is slashing the resources available to HMRC - as this PCS infographic shows:

5. Treasury minister in charge of tackling avoidance and evasion is in denial

Treasury minister David Gauke seems to be in a constant state of denial and cover-up

There's five reasons why this government cannot be taken seriously on tax justice. Please use the comments to add more!!

* For a serious look at tax justice, see the Tax Justice Network

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

G8 summit: High on vague promises, low on delivery

Prem Sikka

The G8 summit in Lough Erne was preceded by much hype and promises  about action on tax avoidance and corporate secrecy, but it has  delivered little. The leaders' communiqué commits governments to nothing more than vague promises.

The most welcome development is that the ten-point communiqué  endorses automatic exchange of information in matters relating to tax evasion, assuming that something is always classified as “tax evasion”  rather than its greyer cousin “tax avoidance”. Thus if a resident of the UK has stashed cash in a tax haven, then that jurisdiction would be obliged to inform the UK tax authorities.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has published its proposals,  but the G8 has made no mention of any time scale for implementation. Neither does the communiqué say anything about how this information exchange is to be co-ordinated or enforced.

More importantly, how the UK is going to persuade its secretive Crown Dependencies to sign the exchange? How will places such as the Cayman Islands comply with this protocol when they do not levy income or corporate taxes, and thus do not have the infrastructure for collecting  data about taxes or tax avoidance vehicles?

The promise to reveal beneficial ownership of companies looks  attractive, as anonymous companies facilitate tax avoidance/evasion, money laundering and flight of capital. The communiqué states that this

"could be achieved through central registries of company beneficial ownership and basic information at national or state level. Countries should consider measures to facilitate access to company  beneficial ownership information by financial institutions and other regulated businesses. Some basic company information should be publicly accessible."

A number of things are noticeable. There is no intention to let the public know the details about ownership of companies. There is no mention of any timescale within which any reforms are to be implemented.  Maybe this absence of detail is indicative of oppositions that some  governments are likely to encounter from their local economic elites.

The US has a particular problem in that its own tax havens Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey need to be persuaded to embrace openness, something they have so far resisted. The UK will also have to do much to  get anywhere near the promise. At present foreign companies, including  those registered in secretive tax havens, can be directors of the companies registered in the UK. Shares in UK companies can be held by nominees, who may not be resident in the UK. Yet there is no commitment to introduce any legislation. The  failure of the UK to lead by example may also embolden the UK Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories to resist some of the changes.

Trusts are a key vehicle for providing secrecy and avoiding taxes. The communiqué advocates more information about them too, but not for the general public. It says that the information about them should be  accessible by law enforcement, tax administrations and other relevant authorities including, as appropriate, financial intelligence units. So the public bears the cost of tax avoidance perpetrated through trusts but will not be permitted to know the beneficiaries. Again, there is no  mention of any time scale. Once again, the UK will have much to do because there is no public record of the number of trusts, or their beneficiaries.

With tax revenues, developing countries can lift their population out of poverty. So it is welcome to note that the communiqué states that “Developing countries should have the information and capacity to collect the taxes owed them … Other countries have a duty to help them”. But, once again, there is no firm commitment to deliver any policy changes in the G8 countries.

With a daily diet of revelations about tax avoidance by giant corporations, such as Google, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Starbucks and eBay, there was a feeling that the G8 would start a dialogue about changing the system for taxing corporate profits. The communiqué states that “Countries should change rules that let companies shift their profits across borders to avoid taxes”, but change to what? There is no commitment and no foundations have been laid for taking the matters forwards at the next G20 or the G8 meeting even though alternative models exist.

The kindest thing that one could say about the G8 communiqué is that as a result of public anger, issues such as tax avoidance and corporate secrecy are on the political agenda. However, the summit has not delivered.

Perhaps, the expectations were too high. After all, most G8 leaders are facing declining popularity at home. The UK Prime Minister is facing dissent within the Conservative Party, the policy disagreements with  coalition partners Liberal Democrats are becoming more vocal (e.g. over benefit and tax cuts), and his popularity ratings are down. Similarly,  with intransigence by the Republican Party US President Obama can’t push through his preferred policies through the legislature. So they all  need some trophies to take home, which look and sound good but will not commit them to any firm legislative action.

Another thought is that with no representations from Africa, India, China and Brazil, the G8’s terms for ending tax avoidance or corporate secrecy may not be acceptable to the emerging economic powerhouses. So the action will move to next year’s G20 summit. As always, corporate elites will be operating behind the scenes and colonising the political  agenda. Any progress on eroding secrecy and tax avoidance is going to be slow, and that is a good reason for civil society to continue to campaign for change.

This article first appeared on The Conversation website

Price rises pile pain on struggling workers

Will Stone

Workers struggling with wage freezes and below-inflation rises were hit by higher prices for basics last month - and worse is set to come, the Office for National Statistics said.

The consumer prices index rise 0.3 points to 2.7 per cent in May.

Officials predict it will top 3 per cent over the summer.

But average earnings increased just 1.3 per cent in the year to April, meaning millions of workers have had a real-terms pay cut.

The retail price index, which includes housing costs, rose 0.2 points to 3.1 per cent.

A 22 per cent rise in air fares, the fastest increase since records began in 2001, helped push up CPI.
Overall transport prices rose by 0.4 per cent between April and May, and the cost of clothing and footwear also rose 1.2 per cent.

Furniture, carpets and garden tools also became more expensive.

Politicians, unions and economists issued a stark warning that plummeting wages are dragging Britain downwards.

Shadow Treasury minister: Catherine McKinnell MP
TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady warned: "Forty consecutive months of real wage falls means people have less to spend on the high street," leaving the economy stuck in the gutter.

Shadow Treasury minister Catherine McKinnell said that "the cost-of-living crisis is deepening," noting that because of inflation and low pay people's spending power is now £1,300 a year less on average than when the coalition came to power.

Left Economics Advisory Panel co-ordinator Andrew Fisher said: "Today's rise in inflation exacerbates the squeeze on wages being felt by workers - sending ever more into poverty and reliance on food banks.

"To tackle low pay, we need stronger trade union rights, a significant rise in the minimum wage and a credible plan to create jobs."

He urged the Labour Party to ditch support for pay freezes for low-paid public-sector workers.

Soaring inflation is also hitting people with savings hard, with none of Britain's 820 standard accounts paying enough interest to outpace tax and inflation, according to

This article first appeared in the Morning Star

Friday, 14 June 2013

Don't be distracted by an exaggerated 'intergenerational divide' ...

There has been some quite silly spinning in recent days about an 'intergenerational divide'. It reached its apogee on twitter (where else?) with this tweet:

The tweet links to an article by Paul Johnson - the director of the Institute of Fiscal Studies. What he says is somewhat different to what Malik tweeted. Johnson says of distrubutional changes in income since the recession, "the differences are not so much between rich and poor" - and points out that "pensioner incomes have continued to rise on average, albeit very modestly".

But when Johnson uses terms like 'rich' and 'poor' he is talking about quintiles (20%) or deciles (10%) at best. The real rich are the top 1% or even less - whose grotesque incomes and wealth continue to grow unhindered (for example FTSE director pay grew by 34% in 2010 and by 49% in 2011). The Sunday Times Rich List also shows that in the last year, the richest 1,000 Britons saw their wealth expand by £35 billion - that's more than all the welfare cuts announced, in total!

In the last five years, since the start of the recession, unemployment has increased by a staggering 49% for 18-24 year olds, but the same is also true for 35-49 year olds. More staggering is that the number of 50 to 64 year olds unemployed has risen by 82% in that same period. So actually the hardest hit by the recession (remember youth unemployment was high and rising before the recession) are older workers.

And pensioners are not having it easy - as DWP poverty figures released yesterday showed. The pensioner poverty rate is 18%, compared with 17% for working age adults (see Guardian article). The UK still lags behind the rest of Europe on what it spends (public and private) on pensions: with our spending just 5.4% of GDP, compared to 6.0% in the US, 8.8% in Japan, 10.7% in Germany and 12.5% in France.

The reality is that we need intergenerational solidarity to defeat the cuts that are hitting both young and old. Whether one section of society is being hit slightly harder is only of secondary importance to us all uniting to stop the bastards that are hitting us!

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Osborne's 45% tax rate has already cost us billions

When George Osborne announced he would slash the top rate of tax from 50% to 45% - he made some ridiculous claims about how the 50% tax rate (in effect for only one year) had not raised much money (see point 2 of this post).

It was clear that £16 billion of tax had been brought forward (mostly in high earners' bonuses) to avoid falling under the 50% rate.

Today it became clear that same thing seems to have happened in reverse: to avoid the 50% tax rate the bonuses of the highest earners have been deferred to fall under the 45% rate.

The Morning Star reports:
"Britain has been conned out of billions of pounds by scheming bosses who put off their bumper bonuses until after bankers' mate George Osborne slashed the top rate of tax"
Indeed. The evidence is clear from table in the ONS Labour Market Statistics released today which shows that compared with a year ago finance sector bonuses were up 75%, in construction up 63%, and in the service sector up 52%.

Given any pick up in the economy is only marginal - and in some sectors non-existent - then it is patently obvious that businesses have deferred bonuses (largely the preserve of the top earners) to collectively avoid billions in tax.

As I told the Morning Star:
"Just as bonuses were brought forward to avoid the 50 per cent rate when it came in, so now bonuses from last year were deferred to avoid paying it again."
"At a time when the coalition is failing to reduce the deficit and has jacked up VAT on all of us, this tax cut for the highest 1 per cent of earners is a disgrace.
"These figures show that Labour would be right to restore the 50 per cent rate and to do so without notice to prevent avoidance through income-shifting."
And indeed to his credit, one of the few sensible things that Ed Balls said last week was that Labour favoured "keeping the 50p tax rate" - and let's hope he meant 'restoring' too should Labour get back in office in 2015.

Laughably the Treasury "dodged the evidence", the Morning Star reports - and instead commented that the 50p tax rate was "not effective at raising revenue" - which is a spurious claim given the billions of income shifted forward and then back to avoid it ... something that would not have been possible had the tax been in place for consecutive years, without the announced reduction.

So there we have it, the rich dodge their taxes thanks to Osborne's forewarned tax cut, the Treasury dodges questions and denies the evidence that contradicts Osborne ...