Daily Archives: January 25, 2011

Major victory: NAO to investigate HMRC’s dodgy deals

“So great is the concern that the National Audit Office is now launching an inquiry into the way that HMRC reaches tax settlements with major clients. When the NAO report comes out, top tax officials can expect a grilling from MPs on the public accounts committee… The furore is an embarrassment for the government. It means that, in the age of austerity, there is a perception – whether fair or not – that HMRC is selling out to big business.”

HMRC’s shady backroom deals with tax-dodging corporations are going to come under the spotlight. This should help sink the idea that “there is no alternative” to the cuts. And it’s all thanks to people who have taken to the high streets up and down the country.

Last week the National Audit Office (NAO) announced that it was undertaking an “ad hoc” inquiry into how HMRC settles its large tax disputes with major multinationals like Vodafone. As understated ever, this announcement by the NAO may not seem like much, but it’s going to mean a tough time for those at the top of HMRC, like Dave Hartnett, who have been letting companies off enormous tax bills.

As part of the inquiry, HMRC will be required to hand over all of the documents relating to how it settles these disputes. In the case of Vodafone that’s going to involve years of legal documents showing that the total that could have been claimed by HMRC was massively larger than the tiny sum they finally settled for. That won’t make them look good. Then, HMRC’s top civil servants will need go for a grilling by the Commons’ Public Accounts Committee, arguably one of the two most influential parliamentary committees, to try and justify their “massive cave in”. And the NAO are hugely respected for what they do. Independent of government, thorough and measured, their findings aren’t going to make good reading for the coalition.

It’s not just going to make the coalition look bad because failing to collect billions in tax from rich companies is unfair. And it’s not just going to make the coalition look bad because making dodgy backroom deals with giant companies makes you look about as straight as a boomerang. It’s because with every revelation the NAO makes (and if everything we’ve heard is right there will be a few) it will go step by step to killing the coalition’s main argument that “there is no alternative”. When it’s all laid out in black and white that you could claw back billions from the richest companies, claiming that destroying the services that help the poorest most is necessary becomes an open and shameless lie.

But none of this would have happened if people hadn’t hit the streets the length and breadth of the country. The pressure coming from people on the streets has made this an issue – an issue the government can no longer avoid. This investigation does not mean we’ve stopped the cuts, but killing the idea that “there is no alternative” is an important first step.

Taxmen in turmoil as pressure mounts
Probe into the taxman’s deals with big business amid claims Vodafone was let off £6bn bill
UK’s NAO to investigate Vodafone-style sweet tax deals
NAO to probe HMRC settlements with multinationals
National Audit Office to investigate UK tax deals with multinationals

Guest post: Bringing the Hospital to Boots

This is a guest post from the organisers of this action in London on Sunday 30th January.

Under government plans to reform the NHS, private companies like Boots will be able to bid to provide taxpayer-funded healthcare. This is the same Boots that was bought out by foreign investors, loaded with debt, and moved headquarters to a Swiss tax haven.

So we say why wait? The Big Society will bring the hospital to Boots this Sunday.

So how do we turn a Boots into a hospital? Well, there are a few ways:

How to Dress

We need Doctors – much like the NHS, in fact. Do you have an old lab coat? Can you get your hands on a set of scrubs? Do you still have those surgical gloves and stethoscope from when you used to role play with…. well, you get the picture. We need to staff Boots with a healthy supply of doctors, because we’re also going to have:

Patients. Have you recently had an accident that’s left you covered in blood? If not, you might want to buy some fake blood (available at a reasonable cost from all good costume stores) and pretend. Try to be inventive with the nature of your injuries – consider bringing slings, bandages, fake stick-on wounds, and so on. If you need inspiration, try watching the first ten minutes of an episode of Casualty. The aim here is to create a strong visual impact, so let’s be honest, if you have an old zombie costume somewhere, that can double up as an “accident victim” costume, right..?

Please feel free to think outside the box, and don’t feel that those are the only two roles you can play. Perhaps you could be a politician, walking around and telling the doctors to change how they’re working to suit your ideological objectives. Or maybe a tax-avoiding businessman, using your immorally accumulated wealth to undercut NHS services to grab some market share. Be as inventive as you like!

How to Act

Depending on the specific action you’re attending, the Grand Reveal may vary. One suggestion is that all participants should gather in the target store a few minutes in advance of the start time, trying to blend in as best as possible. At the start of an action, whistles will be blown, and all “patients” will fall to the floor. It’s up to the “doctors” to run around reviving them, whilst perhaps spending some time filling out extra paperwork, or talking to the public about the harm that corporate tax avoidance does to public services.

You might want to congregate in a specific area of the store. In order not to inconvenience people buying medicines, it’s suggested that you do this somewhere like the shampoo aisle, rather than near the pharmacy – try to use your judgement.

Offer to “treat” members of the public who want to get involved. Bring spare bandages, and offer to bandage up anybody who wants to join in. Help people to understand that whether they came to Boots that day to protest, or whether they came to buy toothpaste, they’re all on the same side. Blur the line between “protester” and “consumer”, and show that unlike big businesses, the rest of us really are all in this together.

What to Say

It’s important that the public understand what’s going on – if they leave the store wondering how they accidentally wandered onto the stage of some weird play, then we haven’t reached them. Bring leaflets (or collect them from people who’ve printed in bulk) and hand them out to members of the public. Talk to them about corporate tax avoidance, or about supporting the NHS – talk about what’s important to you, and ask what’s important to them.

In summary: Dress up. Smile. Be friendly toward the public. Above all, have fun.