“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
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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