Nice Night in Davos

Dave, Boris, Gideon and guests enjoy dinner last night(24 Jan 2012)

Dave, Boris, Gideon and guests enjoy dinner last night(24 Jan 2012)

As prime minister you get GDP figures the day before they go public – I wonder if they talked about over their lavish meals
As Dave, Boris, Gideon and guests enjoy dinner last night in Davos (24 Jan 2012)
All in it together?


A roll call of corporate rogues who are milking the UK

The scale of unpaid tax now outstrips the entire deficit. Forcing the elite to pay up is a matter of both justice and necessity


in The Guardian

Starbucks TUC protest Oxford Street

Police officers protect a Starbucks outlet in Oxford Street during the TUC anti-austerity protest in London on 20 October 2012. Photograph: Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters

‘Only the little people pay taxes,” the late American corporate tax evader Leona Helmsley famously declared. That’s certainly the spirit of David Cameron and George Osborne’s Britain. Five years into the crisis, the British economy has just edged out of its third downturn, but construction is still reeling from government cuts and most people’s living standards are falling.

Those at the sharp end are being hit hardest: from cuts to disability and housing benefits, tax credits and the educational maintenance allowance and now increases in council tax while NHS waiting lists are lengthening, food banks are mushrooming across the country and charities report sharp increases in the number of children going hungry. All this to pay for the collapse in corporate investment and tax revenues triggered by the greatest crash since the 30s.

At the other end of the spectrum though, things are going swimmingly. The richest 1,000 people in Britain have seen their wealth increase by £155bn since the crisis began – more than enough to pay off the whole government deficit of £119bn at a stroke. Anyone earning over £1m a year can look forward to a £42,000 tax cut in the spring, while firms have been rewarded with a 2% cut in corporation tax to 24%.

Not that many of them pay anything like that, even now. The scale of tax avoidance by high-street brand multinationals has now become clear, in no small part thanks to campaigning groups such as UK Uncut. Asda, Google, Apple, eBay, Ikea, Starbucks, Vodafone: all pay minimal tax on massive UK revenues, mostly by diverting profits earned in Britain to their parent companies, or lower tax jurisdictions via royalty and service payments or transfer pricing.

Four US companies – Amazon, Facebook, Google and Starbucks – have paid just £30m tax on sales of £3.1bn over the last four years, according to a Guardian analysis. Apple is estimated to have avoided over £550m in tax on more than £2bn worth of underlying profits in Britain by channelling business through Ireland, according to a Sunday Times analysis, while Starbucks has paid no corporation tax in Britain for the last three years.

The Tory MP and tax lawyer Charlie Elphicke estimates 19 US-owned multinationals are paying an effective tax rate of 3% on British profits, instead of the standard rate of 26%. It’s all entirely legal, of course. But taken together with the multiple individual tax scams of the elite, this roll call of corporate infamy has become an intolerable scandal, when taxes are rising and jobs, benefits and pay being cut for the majority.

Not only that, but collecting the taxes that these companies have wriggled out of would go a long way to shrinking the deficit for which working- and middle-class Britain’s living standards are being sacrificed. The total tax gap between what’s owed and collected has been estimated by Richard Murphy of Tax Research UK at £120bn a year: £25bn in legal tax avoidance, £70bn in fraudulent tax evasion and £25bn in late payments.

Revenue and Customs’ own last guess of £35bn has been widely recognised as a serious underestimate. But even allowing for the fact that it would never be possible to close the entire gap, those figures give a sense of what resources could be mobilised with a determined crackdown. Set them, for instance, against the £83bn in cuts planned for this parliament (including £18bn in welfare) – or the £1.2bn estimated annual benefit fraud bill – and you get a sense of what’s at stake.

Cameron and Osborne wring their hands at the “moral repugnance” of “aggressive avoidance”, but are doing nothing serious about it whatever. They’ve been toying with a general “anti-abuse” principle. But it would only catch a handful of the kind of personal dodges the comedian Jimmy Carr signed up to, not the massive profit-shuffling corporate giants have been dining off.

Meanwhile, ministers are absurdly slashing the tax inspection workforce, and even introducing a new incentive for British multinationals to move their operations inbusiness to overseas tax havens. The scheme would, accountants KPMG have been advising clients, offer an “effective UK tax rate of 5.5%” from 2014 (and cut British tax revenues into the bargain).

It’s not as if there aren’t any number of measures that would plug the loopholes and slash tax avoidance and evasion. They include a general anti-avoidance principle (of the kind the Labour MP Michael Meacher has been pushing in a private member’s bill) that would outlaw any transaction whose primary purpose was avoidance rather than economic; minimum tax (backed even by the Conservative Elphicke); and country-by-country financial reporting, and unitary taxation, to expose transfer pricing and limit profit-siphoning.

The latter would work better with international agreement. But there is already majority support in the European Union, and it is governments in countries such as Britain – where the City is itself a tax haven – that are resisting reform. When you realise how closely the tax avoidance industry is tied up with government and drawing up tax law, that’s perhaps not so surprising.

But when austerity and cuts are sucking demand out of the economy, fuelling poverty and joblessness and actually widening the deficit, the need to step up the pressure for corporations and the wealthy to pay their share as part of a wider recovery strategy couldn’t be more obvious.

The target has to shift from “welfare scroungers” to tax dodgers, and the campaign go national. Companies that are milking the country at the expense of the majority are especially vulnerable to brand damage. Forcing them to pay up is a matter of both social justice and economic necessity.

Twitter: @SeumasMilne

• This article was amended on 31 October 2012. The original said that Apple is estimated to have avoided over £550m in tax on more than £2bn worth of sales. This has been corrected.

Voters blame banks not over-spending for deficit

From Liberal Conspiracy A new poll (in the USA)shows that the public blame failures in the banking sector for causing the deficit more than they blame overspending.

45% of respondents said “greed and recklessness amongst bankers on Wall Street and in London” was most responsible for the deficit and growing national debt, with 43% blaming “the failure of governments to properly regulate banks and financial institutions”.

‘Over-spending’ options all received significantly lower scores – 28% blamed “overspending on benefits and immigration”; 19% “overspending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan” and just 3% blamed “overspending on schools and hospitals”.

Participants in the poll by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner were asked to pick the top two causes of the deficit and growing debt.

Just 6% placed the blame entirely at the feet of overspending, while more than three times as many (19%) exclusively blamed the failures of the banking sector.

While nearly half the population (44%) saw spending as one of the two main causes of the deficit, more than two thirds (69%) saw banking failures as at least one of the top causes.

Even 2010 Tory voters don’t exclusively blame spending. Just 7% picked only spending options in the poll, while 60% identified banking failures as one of the main causes.

James Morris, Director of GQRR’s European Office, said:

Voters take a broad view of the causes of the deficit. It isn’t enough just to control spending – voters also want to know that politicians are willing to change the culture and practices of the banking sector. The government’s failure to move strongly and rapidly in this area is one reason why their promise of ‘short term pain for long term gain’ has begun to sound hollow.”

This poll also shows why banks face such a struggle to rebuild their reputations. Consumers don’t just see bankers as greedy, they think that greed has directly impacted on their lives and their country. To rebuild trust bankers need to be seen to embrace measures that protect the wider economy. Bankers that becomes the champions of change rather than its enemy are poised to do well.

The survey questioned 3,174 respondents and was weighted to be nationally representative. Fieldwork was conducted 13-16 July 2012.

HMRC is checking taxpayers’ private communications.

The Independent

HMRC is checking taxpayers’ private communications

14 January 2013

Records of taxpayers’ emails, text messages and phone calls, as well as websites they have visited, are increasingly being examined covertly by HMRC investigators. Data obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request (FOIA) shows that HMRC inspectors obtained 14,000 records of taxpayers’ communications data in 2011 ‒ up from 11,500
in 2010. The records concerned show, for example, the date, time, sender and recipient of an email or phone message, or the date, time and address of a website visited.

The information can be obtained under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA), which allows HMRC to authorise its own surveillance requests. It does not have to have suspicions of criminal activity and no warrant is needed.

The actual content of emails and phone messages are not available directly through RIPA requests, but can be obtained by a later request if the communications data raises suspicion of wrongdoing. HMRC did not disclose how many full interception warrants it has obtained.

HMRC can also self-authorise directed surveillance operations under which a taxpayer can be followed in public places. Its response to the FOIA request showed that this type of surveillance has
declined slightly as electronic interceptions have been favoured instead. HMRC refused to reveal the number of successful prosecutions for tax evasion resulting from RIPA surveillance. But it says its use of the RIPA to obtain communications data is ‘proportionate and lawful’ and in 2011 enabled the agency to protect GBP850 million of tax revenue.

Why the UK ls Still In Reccession

FromTax Reseach UK

The Guardian has reported that Eurozone car sales were down 16% in December.
Now that is possibly because there were two fewer trading days, but that seems unlikely.
What seems likely to me is that people are saving.
Economic recovery is dependent upon four things. One is increased consumer spending. Another is increased net business investment. A third is increased net exports. The last is increased government spending. Those are the four variables in the equation.

What is clear is that consumers are not spending here or abroad. That means business is not investing and exports are not rising.

So it’s all down to government spending. And George isn’t playing.
That’s why we’re still in recession. And why we’ll stay that way too, and the deficit won’t clear and the debt will rise. It’s all rather obvious.
As is the solution.

Unless you’re George.

The Welfare State, 1942-2013, After decades of public illness, Beveridge’s most famous offspring has died.

From The Guardian Jan 8 2013 by Aditya Chakrabortty

For much of its short but celebrated life, the Welfare State was cherished by Britons. Instant public affection greeted its birth and even as it passed away peacefully yesterday morning,
government ministers swore they would do all they could to keep it alive.

The Welfare State’s huge appeal lay in its combination of simplicity and assurance. A safety net to catch those fallen on hard times, come rain or shine, boom or bust, it would be there for all those who had paid in. Such universality allowed people to project on to it whatever they wished. Welfare State’s father, the Liberal William Beveridge, described his offspring as “an attack on Want”, one of the
five evil giants that had to be slain in postwar Britain. But for future Labour prime minister
Clement Attlee, “Social security to us can only mean socialism”.

Yet there were critics. Indeed, it is thought that as late as yesterday, an unnamed twentysomething PPE graduate at Policy Exchange was revising a document entitled “What’s Wrong with Welfare?” In the end, however, it was not a rightwing think tank that
killed Welfare. The proximate cause of death was a change in child benefit from being available to all to a means-tested entitlement. That marked the end of one of the last remaining universal benefits, in turn causing a fatal injury to Welfare.

It is a testimony to Welfare’s powerful charm that few immediately accepted its passing. Hours after its official death, bloggers continued to talk as if it were still alive, albeit under grave threat from the perfidious Tories. But analysts later confirmed that the change to child benefit did indeed mark the death of the Welfare State as originally envisaged by Beveridge: a “contributory” system, where those who paid in during their working lives could count on financial help from the government when in need.

It expired peacefully on Monday, 7 January,just weeks after marking its 70th birthday. The system had suffered many attacks over the years, from politicians talking of a “welfare trap”, government means-testing, and frothy-mouthed journalists reporting isolated cases of benefit fraud. For many would-be claimants, Welfare had become a ragged system where, however deserving or needy, they weren’t poor enough to qualify for benefits, or the cash involved was too small to bother claiming.
Though David Cameron spoke of a “something for nothing” culture, the opposite was closer to the truth: Welfare had become a “nothing for something” system where taxpayers chipped in but got very little back.

This was very different from the scenes that greeted Welfare’s birth in 1942. Then, the BBC broadcast in 22 different languages the details of Beveridge’s social insurance scheme and the Manchester Guardian repeatedly acclaimed it as a “great plan” and a “big and fine thing”.
The public was enthusiastic, buying more than 635,000 copies of what was formally titled the “Report of the Inter -Departmental Committee on Social Insurance and Allied Services”.

Yet the golden period of Welfare really came in the 60s and 70s as, thanks to the work of Barbara Castle, Jeff Rooker, Audrey Wise and others, pensions and allowances were made more generous and tied to typical earnings. “If you were poor, you were far less behind than at any other time in contemporary British history,” according to Richard Exell, a senior policy officer at the TUC and a campaigner on welfare issues for more than 30 years. “It produced a Britain that was one of the most equal societies in western Europe.” Just before Margaret Thatcher came to power,a single person out of work would get unemployment benefit worth almost 21% of average earnings; last year, jobseeker’s allowance was nearly half that, amounting to just over 11%. Welfare’s big decline came in the 1980s, as the Conservatives moved more benefits from available to all to on offer only to the poor. This was justified as making public spending more efficient.

But, according to a famous and much quoted study by Walter Korpi and Joakim Palme, such means testing is far less effective and more expensive than universal benefits. In a study of 18 rich countries, the academics found that targetting benefits at the poorest usually generated resentment among those just above and led to smaller entitlements. This “paradox of redistribution” was certainly
observable in Britain, where Welfare retained its status as one of the 20th century’s most exalted creations, even while those claiming
benefits were treated with ever greater contempt. “If you look at unemployment and sickness benefit as a proportion of average earnings, then Britain has one of the meanest welfare systems in Europe,” says Palme. “Worse than Greece, Bulgaria or Romania.” Some of that same meanness can be seen in the way Welfare was discussed as it moved into
its sixth and seventh decades. It was no longer about social security but benefits. Those who received them were no longer unfortunate but ” slackers”, as Iain Duncan Smith referred to
them. A recent study by Declan Gaffney, Ben Baumberg and Kate Bell of 6,600 national newspaper articles on Welfare published between 1995 and 2011 found 29% referred to benefit fraud. The government’s own estimate of fraud is that it is less than 1%across all benefit cases.

The death of Welfare does not mean an end to all benefit spending. Instead, it is outlived by its predecessor, Poor Relief, in which only the very poorest will receive government cash.

Analysts are unsure about the repercussions. “I’m not aware of any country that’s ever had a combination of Victorian-style poor laws and parliamentary democracy,”.says Gaffney.
Instead of a book of condolences, there will be a special edition of the Guardian’s letters page.
In separate tributes, BBC4 will air some respectful but little-watched documentaries; there will also be a truly unbearable edition of The Moral Maze.