Don't hate the player... Google just plays it well

You can't blame companies for paying the smallest amount of tax they can.

 

Does tax avoidance count as evil? Stingy, yes. Tight fisted, certainly. Unfair, perhaps. Illegal, apparently not. But evil is a difficult word to define. Google’s unofficial strap line has always been “Don’t be evil” but this is getting harder and harder to take seriously.

Google’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt has defended his company’s meagre tax on its UK earnings by saying that Google's behaviour reflected the way all big international companies manage their taxes.

The question of whether our morality is decided by common practise is a question for another day and one with, arguably, no real answer. 

The problem that Google faces is whether or not it should be paying the smallest amount of tax it can. Ask any private person in UK if they would ever voluntarily pay more tax that they are required to do and they probably wouldn’t even understand the question, it’s that daft. You pay what you have to nothing more. Then you claim back everything you can and try and get some tax credits while you’re at it.

Google is doing the same. The problem here is that Google is having to defend its self when it’s the system that’s broken, not the company. Here’s (a very brief) explanation how Google, and for that matter any of the other multinationals who were criticised for supposed tax dodging, do business within the EU.

The company (which ever one it is) has offices all over the EU. Each of these offices carries out a particular role for the company. The sales of the company happen within one particular country (in Google’s case from Ireland) and the corporate tax is paid in the country where the sale takes place.

This is how the EU market is meant to work, making it as easy as possible for businesses to sell their products or services around the EU.

Anyone angry at Google for paying this amount of tax in the UK must consider how this legal form of tax avoidance came about. If the system allows for this to happen then it is not the fault of the people or companies within the system when it does. The system has to change; companies (especially multinational corporates) aren’t going to change on their own but will if the laws require them to.

As the saying goes: don’t hate the player, hate the game. Google is just playing it well.

Photograph: Getty Images

Billy Bambrough writes for Retail Banker International at VRL financial news.
 

Photo: Getty
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In the row over public sector pay, don't forget that Theresa May is no longer in charge

Downing Street's view on public sector pay is just that – Conservative MPs pull the strings now.

One important detail of Theresa May’s deal with the Democratic Unionist Party went unnoticed – that it was not May, but the Conservatives’ Chief Whip, Gavin Williamson, who signed the accord, alongside his opposite number, the DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson.

That highlighted two things: firstly that the Conservative Party is already planning for life after May. The deal runs for two years and is bound to the party, not the leadership of Theresa May. The second is that while May is the Prime Minister, it is the Conservative Party that runs the show.

That’s an important thing to remember about today’s confusion about whether or not the government will end the freeze in public sector pay, where raises have been capped at one per cent since 2012 and have effectively been frozen in real terms since the financial crisis.

Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, signalled that the government could end the freeze, as did Chris Grayling, the Transport Secretary. (For what it’s worth, Gavin Barwell, now Theresa May’s chief of staff, said before he took up the post that he thought anger at the freeze contributed to the election result.)

In terms of the government’s deficit target, it’s worth remembering that they can very easily meet Philip Hammond’s timetable and increase public sector pay in line with inflation. They have around £30bn worth of extra wriggle room in this year alone, and ending the pay cap would cost about £4.1bn.

So the Conservatives don’t even have to U-turn on their overall target if they want to scrap the pay freeze.

And yet Downing Street has said that the freeze remains in place for the present, while the Treasury is also unenthusiastic about the move. Which in the world before 8 June would have been the end of it.

But the important thing to remember about the government now is effectively the only minister who isn’t unsackable is the Prime Minister. What matters is the mood, firstly of the Cabinet and of the Conservative parliamentary party.

Among Conservative MPs, there are three big areas that, regardless of who is in charge, will have to change. The first is that they will never go into an election again in which teachers and parents are angry and worried about cuts to school funding – in other words, more money for schools. The second is that the relationship with doctors needs to be repaired and reset – in other words, more money for hospitals.

The government can just about do all of those things within Hammond’s more expansive target. And regardless of what Hammond stood up and said last year, what matters a lot more than any Downing Street statement or Treasury feeling is the mood of Conservative MPs. It is they, not May, that pulls the strings now.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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