Last night, I opened my phone to a rather surprising but welcomed notification from the Guardian, saying that Google had agreed with HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs), to pay £130 million in back taxes. This news comes at much suprise because we’d all been led on to believe that the corporate world had us in their pockets and we could not do anything about tax evasion, but clearly Google have been struck by some form of guilt about not paying their fair share of UK tax, which goes into funding our much-beloved health, education and other public services.
The whole notion of tax avoidance whether it be on a large, corporate scale, to small individual cases of unpaid council tax, this is a huge debate and incredibly important. We all know what happened when Ed Miliband tried to attack the banks and large corporations; he lost the general election to the Tories. So going after corporate greed is a dangerous game for politicians, especially when a good number of cross-party politicians are good friends with those at the head of the banking system and the media; an issue that socialist democrat presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is trying to solve in the US.
What Sanders raises is the idea that when politicians run for office, they get huge donations from those big companies that want to have significant input on the creation of legislation that could benefit their profit margins.
For example, Jonathan Harmsworth, 4th Viscount Rothermere-the owner of the Daily Mail holds non-domicile tax status and has his money in offshore accounts so that he can avoid paying tax in the UK, even though he owns a UK based multi-billion pound company. Now, the problem here is not just that he does not pay his fair share; he is a supporter and friend of David Cameron and Geroge Osborne, and has donated to the Conservative party in the past. Therefore, Rothermere can get away with his tax avoidance scheme because if the government suddenly decided to go after the tax avoiders, they would lose a whole lot of funding.
But that is only one example amongst a million others. There are even bigger examples like the whole scam with Cameron supporting the fossil fuel business which is allowed to continue burning and burning and burning-causing long term problems to the health and safety of the entire planet. People who have been hit by floods this winter will know what I’m talking about. This is a real issue that is almost certainly a matter of life and death.
So when I read the article on Google earlier, it made me think about the altercations that this could have on the rest of the multi-billion, tax avoiding companies that pretty much rule the world. Apple, Amazon, HSBC, Starbucks, Topshop……the list goes on. Will this move from Google force HMRC to clamp down on the rest of the corporate world? Will more companies start to repay their back taxes to level out the playing field? We cannot be sure, but there is hope. This could be the change that we so desperately need in our incredibly corrupt tax and corporate system.