On Saturday mornings it is my habit to go to the local Starbucks and buy a tall cappuccino and a granola bar. I am at the age where my body can no longer cope with most other forms of indulgence so this feels like a precious luxury. The problem is - and I really do need some help here - I simply can’t find an excuse not to give up my treat.
I am neither a virtuous person nor, being increasingly pompous and curmudgeonly, do I like climbing on to other people’s campaigning bandwagons. That’s why I have thus far resisted the call for consumers to boycott companies which seek to evade paying tax on their UK profits. But this truly pathetic performance at the Public Accounts Committee by a poor sap from Amazon’s public affairs department has forced me to get off my plodding high horse and consider joining the demo (although of course only in a personal – not RSA – capacity).
I know the most prominent companies which allegedly pay little or no corporate tax despite huge real profits coming from UK based activities (for example, Starbucks, Amazon, Facebook and eBay) do pay other taxes, but given the ingenuity companies show in relation to exporting their profits it must be assumed that they only pay national insurance, VAT and business rates because they are virtually impossible to evade.
Any company that operates in the UK benefits from tax funded state services ranging from NHS treatment for their staff, to policing and the maintenance of roads and public transport. So companies which do not pay their share are deliberately free riding. This isn’t just bad for the Exchequer it is damaging to social solidarity and our sense of fair play.
Furthermore companies which evade corporation tax also have an advantage over businesses – including those wholly based in the UK – which pay their fair share. Not only is this unfair but it is anti-competitive and thus bad for productivity and innovation (surely any self-respecting supporter of the free market should also disapprove).
I don’t actually think the people running these companies are individually morally reprehensible. They are under an obligation from their shareholders to maximise their international profits. Company managers and tax advisors are merely fulfilling their corporate duty when they pursue complex tax dodging schemes. But this underlines the need for action. The aim of naming and shaming and a boycott is not to attack individuals but to balance the incentives so that the risk of a loss of market share and of brand value is greater than a reduction in profit.
So there you have it. Although I don’t trade on eBay and I haven’t visited my Facebook site for about two years, I will now have to walk nearly 200 metres to the bookstore to buy that new novel I fancy and, much more tragically, give up my Saturday breakfast.
I am only too willing to find an excuse not to have to make such terrible personal sacrifices but can anyone - moved as you must be by my plight - offer me a rationale?
We shouldn’t underestimate how far our societies have pulled apart. Yet there is hope for renewal, says Anthony Painter. The question is not whether we come together – but how.