The PricewaterhouseCoopers building in Luxembourg. Photo: Getty
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Labour's biggest non-union donation is from PwC – a firm accused of "promoting tax avoidance"

The latest party donation figures show the Labour party's biggest donation, aside from the unions, is in staff secondments from the huge accountancy firm slammed by the Public Accounts Committee.

Rather embarrassing news for Labour after a good run at keeping the tax shenanigans of the wealthy in the news. It turns out the largest donation the party received from a non-union donor in October-December last year was from PwC. The accountancy giant gave the party £386,605. This wasn't a cash donation, but a donation of staff secondments who do analysis and research for the party in the absence of access to the civil service. As both Labour and PwC point out, the secondees are impartial.

This is pretty awkward for the party, not only because the firm is known for its tax expertise, but also due to recent accusations from the Public Accounts Committee. The committee chair and Labour MP Margaret Hodge told the BBC at the beginning of this month that Labour shadow cabinet ministers, such as Ed Balls, Chuka Umunna, and Rachel Reeves, receiving assistance from the firm is "inappropriate".

She was speaking on the day that her committee produced a report accusing the firm of "the promotion of tax avoidance on an industrial scale". PwC disagreed with this analysis but did comment that the UK tax system is "too complex".

Here are the donation figures, published by the Electoral Commission:

Click on table to enlarge

A Labour spokesperson commented:

PwC have provided long standing staff support to all three major political parties on a non-party basis, as happened for the Conservatives and Lib Dems before the last election. Given the complexity of government decisions in areas such as tax policy – and that opposition parties do not have significant access to civil servants – the support provided by organisations such as these helps ensure that there is better scrutiny of government policy. Secondees do not influence opposition policy decisions. Where organisations provide staff to support research and analysis for opposition parties it is right that these are declared – as currently happens – in the Register of Members' Interests

Nevertheless, if the tax avoidance row rumbles on, this donation will give the Conservative party a response to Labour's accusations about Tory donors.

Doubly tricky for Labour is that it actually accepted a higher amount than the Tories did in the fourth quarter of 2014. Adding up public funds to donations excluding public funds, Labour accepted £10,888,480 to the Tories' £8,365,141. This somewhat undermines Labour politicians' claims that they will be outspent by the Conservatives this election.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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Free movement isn't free: the truth about EU immigration

The UK does not need to leave the single market to restrict European migration - it already can.

In the Brext negotiations, the government has unashamedly prioritised immigration control over the economy. The UK must leave the single market, ministers say, in order to restrict free movement. For decades, they lament, European immigration has been "uncontrolled", making it impossible to meet the government's target of reducing net migration to "tens of thousands" a year.

It's worth noting that non-EU immigration alone (which ministers can limit) remains more than ten times this level (owing to the economic benefits). But more importantly, liberals and conservatives alike talk of "free movement" as if it is entirely free - it isn't.

Though EU citizens are initially permitted to live in any member state, after three months they must prove that they are working (employed or self-employed), a registered student or have "sufficient resources" (savings or a pension) to support themselves and not be "a burden on the benefits system". Far from being unconditional, then, the right to free movement is highly qualified.

The irony is that the supposedly immigration-averse UK has never enforced these conditions. Even under Theresa May, the Home Office judged that the cost of recording entry and exit dates was too high. Since most EU migrants are employed (and contribute significantly more in taxes than they do in benefits), there was no economic incentive to do so.

For some Brexiteers, of course, a job is not adequate grounds for an immigrant to remain. But even beyond implementing existing law, there is potential for further reform of free movement - even within the single market.

As Nick Clegg recently noted, shortly after the referendum, "a number of senior EU figures" were exploring a possible trade-off: "a commitment by the UK to pursue the least economically disruptive Brexit by maintaining participation in the single market and customs union, in return for a commitment to the reform of freedom of movement, including an 'emergency brake' on unusually high levels of intra-EU immigration." Liechtenstein, a member of the single market, has recently imposed quotas on EU migrants.

Yet with some exceptions, these facts are rarely heard in British political debate. Many Labour MPs, like their Conservative counterparts, support single market withdrawal to end free movement. The unheard truth that it isn't "free" could yet lead the UK to commit an avoidable act of economic self-harm.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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