Charlie Elphicke MP: Labour is responsible for tax avoidance culture
Charlie Elphicke is the Member of Parliament for Dover and Deal. Follow Charlie on Twitter.
Everyone is disgusted by the industrial scale tax avoidance culture of big multinational companies. Last week, Labour Leader Ed Miliband joined the ranks of the concerned, saying of the abuse of our tax system, "As so often under this Government, I think it is evidence of one rule for those at the top and another rule for everyone else."
Except Miliband has a problem. The problem is that the culture of industrial scale tax avoidance grew up under 13 years of Labour Government. Income tax receipts rose 81% while corporation tax receipts hardly rose just 6%. So income tax receipts went from £76.8 billion a year in 1997-98 to £139.3 billion a year in 2009-10. Meanwhile corporation tax (leaving out oil tax levies) went from £28.6 billion a year in 1997-98 to £30.2 billion in 2009-10 – a rise of just 6%.
During this time Ed Miliband was either advising Gordon Brown's Treasury or a Minister in the Labour Government itself. While Labour's Margaret Hodge, now the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee laying into Google as "doing evil", was also a Minister in that Government. A Labour Government that was asleep at the wheel when it came to tackling tax avoidance by multinationals. They were too busy snuggling up big businesses like these with their prawn cocktail offensive. They failed to keep tax law up to date for the Internet age. The result is a culture that is unethical, unacceptable and irresponsible. This is not a culture that has anything to do with the current Government. It is part of Labour's toxic legacy.
Tackling tax avoidance is something people are seriously concerned about. A recent YouGov poll found that 62% of the public considered (legal) tax avoidance unacceptable. A ComRes poll found that 84% agreed that the Government should crack down on tax avoidance by businesses operating in the UK. Indeed 60% were prepared to call the bluff of every large corporation that threatens to disinvest from the rich UK market saying the Government should crack down on business tax avoidance even if it causes unemployment or some companies to leave the UK.
There is a real need for reform. The Government has made real efforts to tackle the problem. These include a tax general anti-avoidance rule, anti tax haven measures and seeking international action to change the tax rules. These will make a difference. The key changes needed short of a radical rework of the entire business tax system include reforms to tax the rules governing presence and transfer pricing. On tax presence, it's laughable to hear Amazon claim to be in Luxembourg when you can see their warehouses from the motorway. And insulting they paid less in tax than they got in Government grants last year. On transfer pricing, it just doesn't wash that Starbucks can have a large mark up on coffee beans shipped into the UK and pay no tax here.
Amazon, Google and Starbucks are just the very small tip of a very, very large iceberg. The problem is deep set and it is systemic. There needs to be radical action on tax reform. Yet Labour's years of inaction give them little right to campaign on the issue, let alone criticise a Government that has been making real efforts to tackle the tax avoidance culture.