Our good friends at the Fair Tax Mark in the UK have been pioneering a means for businesses to demonstrate their commitment to tax transparency, and to paying the right amount of tax at the right time and in the right place. (And what business wouldn’t want to do that?) Already the Fair Tax Mark has been obtained by businesses ranging from local traders to some of the biggest UK companies in the FTSE100 – and now people in the UK can find their nearest Fair Tax shop or office at over 2000 locations with the interactive Fair Tax Map.
Why does Fair Tax matter? You know why. Please check out http://www.fairtaxmap.com and spread the word.
For months the public and governments around the world have been totally mystified at the lack of any plan coming from the UK government on how it intends to extract itself from the European Union following the Brexit referendum in June 2016.
On Sunday the British Chancellor of the Exchequer revealed the hand of the May government. As seems to have become the tradition, he did so in a European newspaper. It appears that the UK is now openly threatening to turn itself into the world’s largest tax haven if the EU does not yield to its demands for free access to the European market.
2016 was the year when the world underwent profound political change. Most notably there were a series of political earthquakes in the US and Europe, with the election of Donald Trump and the decision of the UK to exit the European Union.
Going into 2017 these changes look likely to have a deep and lasting impact on tax policy and the distribution of wealth.
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.”
The economists Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, Facundo Alvaredo and Anthony Atkinson have played a big role in helping analyse and popularise the role that tax rate cuts for wealthy folk play in fostering economic inequality, particularly the income shares of the top 1 percent of people compared to everyone else. As they put it in 2013:
“The evolution of top tax rates is strongly negatively correlated with changes in pre-tax income concentration.”
Their findings have of course been attacked, not least by certain players keen for taxes on wealthy people to stay low.
Now there’s a new US-focused study by Douglas Campbell and Lester Lusher, called Drivers of Inequality: Trade Shocks versus Top Marginal Tax Rates. It seeks to check on these findings: