Labour’s five steps to tackle tax avoidance

David Cameron has failed to bring forward the changes which are needed to bring transparency. Labour would develop a robust and effective corporation tax system.

In tough times it’s more important than ever that everyone plays their part and pays their fair share of tax.

People and businesses who pay their fair share have been shocked by how little tax some companies seem to pay in Britain. Sometimes there are good reasons why, such as because they are investing in research and development. But all too often companies that pay low taxes in Britain are doing so because they can bend the rules to their advantage.

As Ed Miliband says in his interview with today’s Observer, businesses need to act in a responsible way, but the government sets the rules of the game, so they too have a responsibility to act. David Cameron and George Osborne are not just cutting taxes for millionaires, they are also doing far too little to tackle tax avoidance. And they are pushing through deep cuts to HMRC, which risk being a false economy if they make it even harder to enforce the law. 

At the start of the year, we set down a challenge to the government: that they should end the era of tax secrecy. Some companies have not been paying their fair share of tax, hiding behind complex networks of companies and using tax havens to shift their profits out of tax. We said that the government needed to show leadership, bringing forward measures for the G8 that started with the requirement to publish a simple statement for the tax which companies pay in the UK.

But the government has failed to bring forward the changes which are needed to bring transparency. They have also failed to grasp the need to reform of the Corporate Tax system to close the loopholes which are being used by some companies.

This isn’t good enough. David Cameron must deliver real action at the G8 meeting next month, starting with Labour’s five steps to tackle tax avoidance:

i. Labour supports a form of country-by-country reporting. Agreed internationally it would mean large multinational companies should have to publish the key pieces of information which people need to properly assess the amount of tax they pay. This would cover their revenues, profits and taxes in each country that they operate. As well as meaning that multinational companies pay the right level of tax in the UK, this change would be a boost for developing countries. It would stop profits being stripped out from those countries, increasing their tax revenues and reducing their reliance on aid.

ii. Labour would extend the Disclosure of Tax Avoidance Schemes regime, which Labour introduced, to global transactions. The IF campaign have said this would be an effective way of tackling avoidance in developing countries.

iii. Labour would open up tax havens, with requirements to pass on information about money which is hidden behind front companies or trusts. Labour is backing the IF's campaign's calls for the UK to Launch a Convention on Tax Transparency at the G8 to deliver this.

iv. Labour will continue to challenge the government on the impact of their changes to Controlled Foreign Company Rules on the UK and developing countries. Labour has repeatedly tabled amendments in Parliament to introduce a proper assessment of the rules, which have been rejected by the government.

v. Labour also wants to see fundamental reform of the corporate tax system, because the shifting of profits and use of tax havens to avoid tax is also a symptom of a system which is failing to keep up with global economic developments.

That is why Labour is today publishing an update on its review into the full Corporation Tax system. The aim of Labour’s review is to develop a system which is robust and effective in the modern world; supports investment and job creation; deals effectively with the complexities of international business; is fair to all; and is transparent and can be better understood by the public.

Families and businesses who are paying their fair share want to see tax avoidance properly tackled. If David Cameron fails to deliver, then it will fall to the next Labour government to act.

Ed Balls MP is the shadow chancellor and Catherine McKinnell MP is the shadow exchequer secretary to the Treasury

A visitor passes the Google logo on September 26, 2012 at the official opening party of the Google offices in Berlin, Germany. Photograph: Getty Images.

Ed Balls is the shadow chancellor; Catherine McKinnell is the shadow exchequer secretary to the Treasury

Photo: Getty Images
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How can Britain become a nation of homeowners?

David Cameron must unlock the spirit of his postwar predecessors to get the housing market back on track. 

In the 1955 election, Anthony Eden described turning Britain into a “property-owning democracy” as his – and by extension, the Conservative Party’s – overarching mission.

60 years later, what’s changed? Then, as now, an Old Etonian sits in Downing Street. Then, as now, Labour are badly riven between left and right, with their last stay in government widely believed – by their activists at least – to have been a disappointment. Then as now, few commentators seriously believe the Tories will be out of power any time soon.

But as for a property-owning democracy? That’s going less well.

When Eden won in 1955, around a third of people owned their own homes. By the time the Conservative government gave way to Harold Wilson in 1964, 42 per cent of households were owner-occupiers.

That kicked off a long period – from the mid-50s right until the fall of the Berlin Wall – in which home ownership increased, before staying roughly flat at 70 per cent of the population from 1991 to 2001.

But over the course of the next decade, for the first time in over a hundred years, the proportion of owner-occupiers went to into reverse. Just 64 percent of households were owner-occupier in 2011. No-one seriously believes that number will have gone anywhere other than down by the time of the next census in 2021. Most troublingly, in London – which, for the most part, gives us a fairly accurate idea of what the demographics of Britain as a whole will be in 30 years’ time – more than half of households are now renters.

What’s gone wrong?

In short, property prices have shot out of reach of increasing numbers of people. The British housing market increasingly gets a failing grade at “Social Contract 101”: could someone, without a backstop of parental or family capital, entering the workforce today, working full-time, seriously hope to retire in 50 years in their own home with their mortgage paid off?

It’s useful to compare and contrast the policy levers of those two Old Etonians, Eden and Cameron. Cameron, so far, has favoured demand-side solutions: Help to Buy and the new Help to Buy ISA.

To take the second, newer of those two policy innovations first: the Help to Buy ISA. Does it work?

Well, if you are a pre-existing saver – you can’t use the Help to Buy ISA for another tax year. And you have to stop putting money into any existing ISAs. So anyone putting a little aside at the moment – not going to feel the benefit of a Help to Buy ISA.

And anyone solely reliant on a Help to Buy ISA – the most you can benefit from, if you are single, it is an extra three grand from the government. This is not going to shift any houses any time soon.

What it is is a bung for the only working-age demographic to have done well out of the Coalition: dual-earner couples with no children earning above average income.

What about Help to Buy itself? At the margins, Help to Buy is helping some people achieve completions – while driving up the big disincentive to home ownership in the shape of prices – and creating sub-prime style risks for the taxpayer in future.

Eden, in contrast, preferred supply-side policies: his government, like every peacetime government from Baldwin until Thatcher’s it was a housebuilding government.

Why are house prices so high? Because there aren’t enough of them. The sector is over-regulated, underprovided, there isn’t enough housing either for social lets or for buyers. And until today’s Conservatives rediscover the spirit of Eden, that is unlikely to change.

I was at a Conservative party fringe (I was on the far left, both in terms of seating and politics).This is what I said, minus the ums, the ahs, and the moment my screensaver kicked in.

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