The introduction of a key policy tool against multinational companies’ tax avoidance has been handled so badly that developing countries are now exposed to worse inequalities. In a new report published today, we call for immediate changes to limit the damage done.
The British Prime Minister today hinted that she is considering further corporate tax cuts and increases in corporate welfare after US President elect Donald Trump signaled he would seek to slash the US federal corporation tax rate to 15%. Theresa May’s speech signals a renewed commitment by her government to what it misleadingly called ‘tax competition’. In our view, the policy is an act of economic recklessness which puts the UK at the head of a global race to the bottom on corporate taxation that the world really does not need.
The Methodist Tax Justice Network, the Global Alliance for Tax Justice and one of our senior advisors Professor Sol Picciotto have just published a very useful up-to-date account of where the OECD and G20 have got to on tax reform, along with a useful explanation of the Unitary Taxation alternatives which you can download here.
Facebook UK’s accounts for 2015 were published today, online at Companies House. TJN Director of Research Alex Cobham commented:
“Facebook UK’s accounts show specific issues, but point also to the real problem: that major multinational companies appear to be able to pick and choose, unlike the rest of us, where and how much tax they will pay. British Prime Minister Theresa May has said her government will fight back against tax avoidance – if she is serious, she will immediately implement the tax transparency measure that was passed in the new Finance Bill so that the public can see which companies are meeting their UK responsibilities.
“There are two main points of interest in these accounts: first, it appears that Facebook UK has paid no tax, despite the misleading spin being put on the company’s position; and second, Facebook continues to claim that its UK operations are significantly less profitable than elsewhere.
“We can already see headlines stating that Facebook paid more than £4 million in tax last year, and comparing that favourably to what it paid the preceding year. But in fact, Facebook has used the accounting treatment of share options for staff – that is, of large payments to what are likely to be typically the most highly remunerated individuals – to create a tax benefit of around £15 million. The effect is that the £4 million tax charge of last year, and a further £11 million of future tax payments, will be cancelled out completely. So in practice Facebook UK appears to have paid nothing in corporate tax to the UK public purse – less, even, than the £4,327 in 2014 that sparked public outrage.
“The second point to note from Facebook’s accounts is that even with this effective incentive to declare UK profit and the associated tax liability for this year, the UK operation still appears to be relatively unprofitable. Globally, Facebook declares a profit equal to roughly 20% of its revenues. In the UK, the accounts show that over £200 million of revenues have instead given rise to a loss of £50 million. Is this a true reflection of the UK market’s worth to the global business? We may never know, because Facebook UK’s parent company is registered in Delaware – one of the most financially secretive jurisdictions, with no requirement to publish accounts, and a significant part of the reason why the United States is increasingly recognised as a leading tax haven.
“The public demand for multinationals to declare taxable profit where they do their business will not go away. Policymakers must step up and make this a requirement. After an amendment to the 2016 Finance Bill, HM Treasury now has the power to require multinationals to publish country-by-country information on where they do their business, where they declare their profits and where they pay tax. The government should enact this basic transparency measure as a matter of priority. Companies like Facebook can then decide whether they are happy to defend their tax strategies to the public – or if instead they will change their ways.”
Back in July the G20 club of powerful countries issued a communiqué in which they enthused about “the benefits of tax certainty to promote investment and trade,” and they mandated the OECD and the IMF “to continue working on the issues of pro-growth tax policies and tax certainty.”
It’s taken as a given that something called ‘tax certainty’ is a wholesome thing. Here’s the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) giving it the old motherhood-and-apple-pie:
“Certainty, along with simplicity and stability, is one of the cornerstones of a good tax system: but why is it important? How can policymakers encourage certainty?”