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.

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.