Cameron tells Pakistanis tax non-payment is unfair

David Cameron criticises Pakistan’s tax-dodging rich at a press conference in Islamabad.

In a speech at a press conference in Islamabad, David Cameron told Pakistan's elite that:

Many of your richest people are getting away without paying much tax at all – and that's not fair.

When considering Cameron's words, let's remember that the UK facilitates the very same actions through its sovereignty over 13 of the 24 biggest tax havens in the world, including Jersey, Guernsey, the Cayman Islands and the City of London.

First, it is important to note that the vast majority of people considered "rich" in the UK do pay their taxes. According to Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC), there are roughly 327,000 people who earn more than £150,000 per year – the rate at which the 50p tax is introduced. HMRC predicts that by the end of this fiscal year, the richest 327,000 will be paying 26.7 per cent of the total tax collected in the country.

Nevertheless, a request filed by the London Evening Standard under the Freedom of Information Act in 2007 revealed that in 2004-2005 only 65 of the roughly 400 UK-based individuals who earn £10m per year or more actually paid income tax. The failure was estimated to have lost HMRC up to £2bn in revenues.

The related issue of companies in the UK not paying tax has been brought to mainstream attention by the recent UK Uncut protests – fingering Vodafone, Topshop and Boots, among others, as having allegedly "dodged" paying billions.

The chairman of Pakistan's Federal Bureau of Revenue (FBR), Salman Siddiqui, recently issued notices to the wealthiest 700,000 of Pakistan's 2.3 million rich to give up withheld taxes. Although the number of non-payers is far higher than estimates in the UK, Cameron would be better advised to clean up the UK's own mess first before preaching to other countries.

Surprisingly, Cameron did not make the distinction between tax evasion and tax avoidance in his speech. Whereas the latter is considered legal – when taxes are not paid, using the help of loopholes – the former is considered illegal: non-payment of taxes that breaks the law.

A committee was set up to investigate the costs and benefits of having a General Anti-Avoidance Rule for the UK earlier this year. It has until 31 October 2011 to come to a conclusion.

Liam McLaughlin is a freelance journalist who has also written for Prospect and the Huffington Post. He tweets irregularly @LiamMc108.

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The Land Registry sale puts a quick buck before common sense

Without a publicly-owned Land Registry, property scandals would be much harder to uncover.

Britain’s family silver is all but gone. Sale after sale since the 1970s has stripped the cupboards bare: our only assets remaining are those either deemed to be worth next to nothing, or significantly contribute to the Treasury’s coffers.

A perfect example of the latter is the Land Registry, which ensures we’re able to seamlessly buy and sell property.

This week we learned that London’s St Georges Wharf tower is both underoccupied and largely owned offshore  - an embodiment of the UK’s current housing crisis. Without a publicly-owned Land Registry, this sort of scandal would be much harder to uncover.

On top of its vital public function, it makes the Treasury money: a not-insignificant £36.7m profit in 2014/15.

And yet the government is trying to push through the sale of this valuable asset, closing a consultation on its proposal this week.

As recently as 2014 its sale was blocked by then business secretary Vince Cable. But this time Sajid Javid’s support for private markets means any opposition must come from elsewhere.

And luckily it has: a petition has gathered over 300,000 signatures online and a number of organisations have come out publically against the sale. Voices from the Competition and Markets Authority to the Law Society, as well as unions, We Own It, and my organisation the New Economics Foundation are all united.

What’s united us? A strong and clear case that the sale of the Land Registry makes no sense.

It makes a steady profit and has large cash reserves. It has a dedicated workforce that are modernising the organisation and becoming more efficient, cutting fees by 50 per cent while still delivering a healthy profit. It’s already made efforts to make more data publically available and digitize the physical titles.

Selling it would make a quick buck. But our latest report for We Own It showed that the government would be losing money in just 25 years, based on professional valuations and analysis of past profitability.

And this privatisation is different to past ones, such as British Airways or Telecoms giants BT and Cable and Wireless. Using the Land Registry is not like using a normal service: you can’t choose which Land Registry to use, you use the one and only and pay the list price every time that any title to a property is transacted.

So the Land Registry is a natural monopoly and, as goes the Competition and Market Authority’s main argument, these kinds of services should be publically owned. Handing a monopoly over to a private company in search of profit risks harming consumers – the new owners may simply charge a higher price for the service, or in this case put the data, the Land Registry’s most valuable asset, behind a paywall.

The Law Society says that the Land Registry plays a central role in ensuring property rights in England and Wales, and so we need to ensure that it maintains its integrity and is free from any conflict of interest.

Recent surveys have shown that levels of satisfaction with the service are extremely high. But many of the professional bodies representing those who rely on it, such as the Law Society and estate agents, are extremely sceptical as to whether this trust could be maintained if the institution is sold off.

A sale would be symbolic of the ideological nature of the proposal. Looked at from every angle the sale makes no sense – unless you believe that the state shouldn’t own anything. Seen through this prism and the eyes of those in the Treasury, all the Land Registry amounts to is £1bn that could be used to help close the £72bn deficit before the next election.

In reality it’s worth so much more. It should stay free, open and publically owned.

Duncan McCann is a researcher at the New Economics Foundation