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 Images
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Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.