Thursday, January 28, 2016

I am not One of Us

What has the world come to? Not that many years ago, you'd get a slap on the back for getting your tax bill down to a minimum. No-one wanted to pay tax and we would look at the rules and regulations closely to ensure that we were getting the full benefit of any allowances to which we might be entitled as a business.

I'm not talking about doing anything dishonest or illegal. There were regulations, published by the Inland Revenue, and you would simply ensure that you were aware of what was possible. Many accountants' prime function would be to justify their fees by spotting something that we'd missed and saving some more precious profits for the benefit of those who had actually made them.

So it seems entirely reasonable to me that an organisation like Google, Amazon, Starbucks or any of the others who have been in the press recently, would obtain advice on how best to arrange their business such that tax or other liabilities were minimised. And minimised within the law. In a week when we hear that Tescos were deliberately delaying payment to some suppliers in order to make their trading figures appear better (although quite how that would fool any reasonably intelligent analyst I don't know) it seems strange that it is the tax avoiders that are getting the full brunt of the attack from the new protesters.

I was going to write 'left wing' protesters but it seems that quite a few mainstream commentators, not known as particularly Leftist or for bashing big business, are moaning about what these companies are 'getting away with'. So Google may only pay a few million tax this year on several billion turnover? OK, so, assuming they're not contravening any regulations, I'd say well done to their financial advisers. If the Inland Revenue don't like it then they should change the regulations for future calculations.

It is also a requirement that those advising Google and others do so to the best of their ability and, if they did not make them aware of methods by which liabilities for tax could be reduced (and hence ultimate benefits for the company,its staff, customers and shareholders enhanced), then they would be failing in their duty. What is a company supposed to do? Yes, we'll take that allowance but, no, we won't use that one. Have any of these moaners and commentators who seem ill-equipped to challenge them in interviews, actually any real clue as to how businesses function?

Looking at Google specifically, I continue to be amazed at just how much I get out of their products and without paying a single penny. All my email communication, most of my office documents, many of my web sites and a whole host of programs linking this to that rely on Google products. This blog does. Add Android, Chrome, ChromeCast and YouTube and most of my working day and evening entertainment and communications are Google-based. Their products work. They work well and I have been using them for ten years or more in some cases. Google must have saved me a fortune in fees that I would otherwise have had to pay Microsoft or some other company. Schools, colleges and institutions of all shapes and sizes have benefited immensely from their products and, whilst other products are available and, in many cases, just as good and also free, a whole generation is growing up with all that is free from Google.

So it would seem sensible to me to encourage Google to continue to perform well and not threaten to 'boycott' them. (I did have to smile at someone on a radio programme today who said they would use another search engine, probably not realising that they were still using an Android phone or Chrome browser or that the results may well still point to a YouTube link!)

Change the over-complicated tax legislation. Work with other countries and come up with some system that blocks loopholes by all means. But moan when companies find legitimate ways around tax laws/ That is not something I expected to hear from the masses.

When I was young and just starting out in employment there was a sort of Us and Them in the air. We respected the tax man, government civil servants and the like, recognised they had a job to do but did our best to ensure they only got what they were entitled to. Now Them appear to be the big businesses in the world and Us has become a Victoria sponge mix of affronted public, politicians of mostly middle to left inclination, most tv and radio commentators  almost anyone working for a nationalised industry but not, interestingly, the Inland Revenue tax negotiators themselves. They do seem to have seen the sense in getting what they can and getting on with life.

It seems that I am no longer One of Us.

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