“It is in no way tax avoidance" - quote of the day

Npower has admitted to paying zero corporation tax between 2009 and 2011.

One of Britain’s big six energy companies, Npower, has admitted to paying zero corporation tax between 2009 and 2011, as it pumped billions in to keeping “the UK's lights on"

Speaking at the energy and climate change select committee yesterday, Npower chief executive Paul Massara defended the energy giant’s tax practices, saying “it is in no way tax avoidance, and all of our business is taxable in the UK".

"Effectively we have invested £5bn in the last five years building power plants, creating jobs, creating employment and helping to keep the lights on.

"If we had not made that investment, we would not have the deductibility that we would be allowed. That is a simple accounting UK rule,” Massara told the MPs.

Npower reported a 34 per cent rise in profits to £413m last year.

The energy companies were called before the MPs in the light of worsening public trust in them, as their profits rise but household bills rocket.

Labour MP Ian Lavery said, "In the last three years, [Npower] has reported profits totalling £766m – yet today they admitted they have not paid a single penny of corporation tax over that period. 

"People who pay their taxes unquestioningly are sick and tired of seeing hugely profitable companies use every trick in the book to get out of contributing their fair share."

Another Labour MP, John Robertson, urged consumers to switch energy providers in protest, dubbing Npower “the new Starbucks”.

However, Andrew Watters, a partner in Thomas Eggar LLP, condemned this "current name and shame approach".

"It seems to be a modern version of the ducking chair where the accused is ducked until they accept guilt, or drowns (a sure sign of guilt). Some people see the new General Anti Avoidance Rule (GAAR) as the way to clarify how morality and law interact. Let us hope the GAAR Advisory Committee has at least one member called Solomon."

This story first appeared on economia

Photograph: Getty Images
Photo: André Spicer
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“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.


Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.