Today, 20th December 2011, the Telegraph and the Daily Mail are both running front page stories about HMRC’s cosy relationship with big corporations – a cosiness that’s led to their getting to dodge paying at least £25 billion of owed tax. (They also don’t have to pay on time and don’t have to pay interest on the amount they owe – privileges not available to the 99%.)
Fourteen months ago
On October 27th 2010, just one week after George Osborne announced the deepest cuts to public services since the 1920s, around 70 people ran along Oxford Street, entered Vodafone’s flagship store and sat down. We had shut down tax-dodging Vodafone’s flagship store.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
That a Parliamentary committee finally sat down and looked at David Hartnett’s comfortable relationship with the companies he was supposed to be pursuing for billions in tax is greatly to the credit of UKUncut and Private Eye and 38Degrees and many another activist who wrote to their MP and the newspapers and protested. The report is expected to trigger the launch of the National Audit Office’s investigation of 10 particular tax disputes by the retired judge Sir Andrew Park.
But that force of public opinion made two iconic right-wing papers decide they were better siding with the 99% than the 1% – that, I believe, is purely down to those hundreds of people who over the past 14 months have walked into banks and businesses and declared that they wanted these corporations to pay their tax or get shut down.
Pursue benefit cheats – who cost the UK at most $4bn – you get a hotline. Pursue tax cheats, who cost the UK over $25 billion – you get arrested.
But things change:
The MPs found that owing to a “mistake”, admitted by HMRC, Goldman paid up to £20m less tax than had been due on its bonus payments. Vodafone settled a long dispute by paying £1.25bn, but the committee heard allegations that the tax bill should have been £6bn or more.
The committee hearings found that two undisclosed firms had struck similar deals, and suspect that there may be other questionable deals among £25bn of outstanding unresolved tax bills.
Hodge said: “You are left feeling that the sort of deals that are made with big business are different – sweetheart deals in some instances – from the sort of way in which corner shops are treated, small business are treated or hard-working families are treated.”
You can listen to UKUncut activists talking about their plans for legal action on 5 live Breakfast and Today on iPlayer.
Today UK Uncut Legal Action “an NGO inspired by the anti-cuts direct action group UK Uncut” announced that on Thursday 22nd December it will issue proceedings in the High Court on Thursday.
The campaigning group made the decision to go forward with the case after receiving what they term a ‘dismissive’ response from HMRC to letters from their lawyers demanding the alleged sweetheart deal agreed between David Hartnett and Goldman Sachs is quashed.
They’re asking for donations of £1 from each supporter – their lawyers are taking the case on a “no win no fee” basis, but if they lose, they may be liable for HMRC and Goldman Sachs legal costs. Goldman Sachs is the company that now runs the government in Italy and Greece. This is worth doing.
Never doubt it can be done.