On Monday the UK government accepted an amendment to its Finance Bill proposed by Caroline Flint MP (see her article explaining it here). The amendment means the public reporting of ‘country-by-country reporting of taxes paid by multi-national corporations’ in the UK. Amendment 145 had cross party support from 60 MPs (you can see the debate here) and was accepted without a division. Interestingly, the government also promised to champion the issue at ‘multi-national’ level elsewhere, following on from David Cameron’s championing of Beneficial Ownership and Extractives Transparency.
As Caroline Flint pointed out (see Column 134), she had originally proposed the amendment in June but the government were concerned that ‘introducing my amendment at that time might put UK multinationals at a competitive disadvantage for reputational reasons’. The idea had considerable backing
The backing I received spurred me on to try to amend the Finance Bill in June, gaining the support of eight parliamentary parties: Labour, the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, the Social Democratic and Labour party, the Ulster Unionist party, the United Kingdom Independence party, the Green party, the independent hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon), and a number of Conservative MPs, too. Oxfam, Christian Aid, Save the Children, ActionAid, the ONE campaign and the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development joined our efforts, adding an important and necessary dimension to the argument for public country-by-country reporting.
It was also supported by high profile investigations in 2016 by the Public Accounts Committee that called for country reporting.
The new transparency will help with the closing of loopholes and ‘clever manipulation of [tax] rules’ that she likens to ‘trying to catch jelly’ around the ‘legal and moral difference between tax evasion and tax avoidance’:
Companies often rightly defend themselves on grounds of working within the rules, but politicians and civil servants are often caught out by clever manipulation of those rules. That is not illegal but cannot be said to be in the spirit of what was expected.
This change fits with the push to tax fairness, symbolised by the recent EU decision over Apple:
Around the world, people and their Governments are questioning the loopholes and convoluted legal arrangements that create inaccurate descriptions of multinationals’ trading activities in individual countries. The problem is not confined to tech firms such as Google, but their massive global presence has exposed the fault lines of an old-fashioned tax structure that has not kept up with today’s online business world. Many of today’s high-tech household names were not always so big or so profitable.
She concluded that such reporting was not a magic bullet but would help:
I have no illusions about having a perfect tax system. Keeping one step ahead is a never- ending task for modern tax authorities…Tax policy is not easy. Once one tax loophole is closed, another one opens up [but] transparency is an important ingredient in ensuring that the rules we apply have some bite.