I’M struggling to keep up with this. So many firms have been accused of concocting ingenious schemes to avoid the taxman that I can’t remember which ones I’m supposed to be boycotting.
Staying away from Starbucks is no major inconvenience to anyone in Huddersfield, as the Seattle-based behemoth has been good enough to overlook the town during its 15-year colonisation of the British high street.
But I’ll still have to make sure to no longer buy books from Amazon and to stop looking for things on Google.
Actually, I wasn’t sure if the well-known search engine company was indeed one of the companies which has been accused of tax avoidance in recent weeks.
But then I googled “Google tax avoidance” and it turned out that they’re up to their necks in it too.
And there are many other firms who have been shirking their responsibilities in ways which are entirely legal and entirely immoral.
These companies can’t all be shunned, in the way that Starbucks is now apparently being boycotted by the non-Huddersfield section of the UK population.
But it doesn’t mean it isn’t worth the effort of singling out a few of the high-profile companies involved in this. Because make no mistake, cold hard cash is the only thing these organisations understand.
There’s no point appealing to the better nature of a massive multinational – if it had a better nature it wouldn’t have become a massive multinational in the first place.
Starbucks claims it has failed to make a profit in the UK for 14 of the last 15 years.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, in Year 16, the coffee giant did actually make a loss? Not a balance sheet loss but an actual “no-one’s shopping here anymore” loss.
It’s at this stage that the faint hearts start to get nervous.
If we crack down on those who exploit tax laws to move offshore profits that are clearly generated in the UK so they paying low levels of corporation tax here, won’t they just leave the country?
Maybe, maybe not. I’m always dubious when a company claims that the slightest change in trading conditions will cause them to pick up their ball and storm home in a huff.
There are a few occasions when the threat is genuine, but most of the time it’s a bluff which is never called.
If Starbucks would rather leave then they can feel free to do so as far as I’m concerned.
Britain is one of the biggest economies in the world. It’s possible to make money selling coffee in this country while paying the full rate of tax – lots of companies do this every year.
I believe the real danger lies in ignoring tax avoiders, not in confronting them.
As Andy Street, managing director of John Lewis, noted last month, the few who have gone down this path have a dangerously unfair advantage over the scrupulous many.
“There is less money to invest if you are giving 27 percent of your profits to the Exchequer,” he pointed out.
“Clearly, if you are domiciled in a tax haven you’ve got much more money. Amazon will out invest and ultimately out trade us. And that means there will not be a tax base in the UK.”
In other words, if everyone used the same aggressive tax avoidance scheme as it is suggested some big companies are doing the country would be finished.
So what’s to be done?
Well, the noises from George Osborne this week suggest the Government is finally waking up to the problem after months of protests by groups like UK Uncut.
Ministers appear to have belatedly grasped the simple fact that making tax collectors redundant in a recession was an act of folly.
As well as punishing bad behaviour, it would help if the Government encouraged good behaviour.
Wouldn’t it be great if firms which pay their full whack to HMRC could get some kind of tax-compliant watermark to display on their websites and literature?
Consumers would pretty quickly start to look for this symbol when doing their shopping and would avoid the tax avoiders who didn’t have it.
Such a scheme would help the few realise that they need to shape up or ship out.
And in the meantime it would save me and you from having to keep a mental list of the companies we really don’t want to do business with.