The events of the past few months have shown that the idea of the apathetic Briton, capitulating to the will of the Government, is no more. In scenes not witnessed since the Poll Tax riots of the Nineties, protesters have taken to the streets up and down the country protesting against the economic policies of the coalition Government.
Alongside the opposition to Government cuts, the issue of tax avoidance by British businesses is also becoming a major source of discontent amongst those opposed to public spending restrictions.
Pressure group UK Uncut have organized a number of protests in recent weeks against British businesses accused of deals which avoid paying full UK taxes, with tactics including sit-ins, pickets and flash mobs outside business premises. The chief targets of this new wave of protests are the Arcadia Group, owned by British billionaire businessman Sir Philip Green, and Vodafone, the global telecommunications giant.
The Arcadia Group is accused of avoiding almost £300m of income tax payments, by channeling business income, in a perfectly legal fashion, thorough Sir Philip’s wife Cristina, a resident of Monaco, a well known tax haven. The company owns a number of big-name clothing retailers including BHS, Burton, Dorothy Perkins, Evans, Miss Selfridge and Topshop, all of which have branches in the boroughs of south and east London.
The public’s anger at Sir Philip’s alleged tax avoidance has been exacerbated by his appointment as the Government advisor on how to slash public spending. Figures from UK Uncut show that the £285m which Sir Philip allegedly avoided paying in tax could pay for the new £9,000 fees for almost 32,000 students or pay the salaries of 20,000 NHS nurses.
In response, Sir Philip counters that his companies paid £71m in corporation tax last year and employ 44,000 people.
Vodafone have also been at the centre of accusations about unpaid tax from UK Uncut, which claims the mobile phone operator owes £6bn in unpaid taxes.
HM Revenue & Customs say the figure is an ‘urban myth’ and Vodafone’s tax affairs were resolved in a negotiated payment of £1.25bn in July, which did involve an unspecified amount of unpaid tax being written off.
Campaigners point out that Vodafone got away lightly by its own estimation, having put aside £2bn in its accounts to settle the bill. And its website declares: “The maximisation of shareholder value, will generally involve the minimisation of taxation.”
The write-off has drawn particular ire at a time when wholesale cuts are being made across the board, with campaigners claiming that if the £6bn figure is true, it would almost cover the £6.2bn cuts currently being implemented by the Government.
The chemist chain Boots has also come under criticism for alleged tax avoidance, and protesters have targeted their shops in past weeks. Although the firm’s headquarters are still in Nottingham, the registered office of its parent company, Alliance Boots, has been in the town of Zug in Switzerland since 2008, which has allowed the company to pay a much lower tax rate than in the UK. John Ralfe, the former head of corporate finance at Boots, told The Guardian this month that he calculated that, “the UK has lost about £100m a year in tax as a result”.
UK Uncut are organizing a further wave of protests across the country tomorrow, December 18.
In Hackney, activists will be meeting at 12:45 at the Church tower on Narrow Way, to take action against an, as yet, unnamed business engaged in tax-avoidance.
In Central London, the focus of the protests will be the Topshop and Vodafone flagship stores, both on Oxford Street. The demonstration will be split into two factions, with each focusing on a different area where public spending cuts affect the community.
UK Uncut say that Philip Green’s unpaid tax bill could have funded almost two years of school sports in every school across the country. The protest at Topshop will highlight the proposed £162m cuts in school sports by staging a mock school sports day, starting at precisely 1:04pm with sack races, hula-hoops and beanbags.
The demonstration at Vodafone will highlight the 27 per cent funding cuts for local authorities by turning the brand’s flagship store into a library for the afternoon. Participants are encouraged to bring along books to stage a sit-down read-in, also starting at 1:04pm.
This Christmas, as an alternative to shopping at Arcadia and Vodafone, why not consider supporting one of the many excellent local businesses along the East London Line.
What Philip Green’s £285m unpaid taxes could have paid for:
- The new £9,000 tuition fees for almost 32,000 students
- The salaries of 20,000 NHS nurses.
- Almost two years of school sports in every school across the country.
What Vodafone’s £6bn unpaid taxes could have paid for:
- Keeping council funding at the same level for the next two years.
- Ten years of EMA payments based on the average expenditure over the last five years.