Kitemarks for Paying Tax, the End of the Energy Industry and Paul Dacre's Ten-Foot Lizards
Wilby, Peter, New Statesman (1996)
Oscar Wilde is supposed to have said that socialism took up too many evenings. Now it involves rather a lot of shopping trips or, at least, mouse clicks. Amazon, Google, Starbucks, Apple, Facebook and many others should be boycotted because, we are told, they do not pay sufficient tax. Several of the guilty companies, I fear, have become almost indispensable to my working life and it is not always easy to find acceptable alternatives.
In any case, the ethics are not straightforward. For example, AbeBooks (owned by Amazon) allows me to purchase from second-handbook-shops in Hay-on-Wye, while many Starbucks outlets are franchises that are owned not by the corporation that paid no UK corporation tax in the past three years but by humble folk, often immigrants. Besides, even if! get my books from the local bookshop or drink coffee at a greasy spoon, how can I be sure that their owners are paying their fair share of tax?
One solution is for HMRC to introduce a Kitemark-style system, allowing companies that pay full corporation tax to display an official logo inside and outside their stores and on their websites. It could award stars, with a maximum of five for those that also pay VAT in full and on time and can show that their directors pay full UK income tax. It could also publish an online "good taxpayer guide" with a searchable database so that if, say, you wanted to buy socks from a company that contributed properly to the UK exchequer, you could find it with a couple of clicks.
In truth, however, the onus should not be on us. The simplest answer is for the government to close the tax loopholes that companies can legally exploit, including the numerous tax havens under British jurisdiction.
Fuel for thought
David Cameron proposes legislation forcing energy companies to offer just four tariffs, with customers automatically put on the cheapest unless they choose otherwise. In effect, the government, with Ofgem, will dictate energy prices. Heating, lighting and cooking fuel are essential to life, so I have no objection to that. Yet as the energy companies have only ever been able to compete on price--the gas or electricity being identical, whoever supplies it--can anyone explain the point of persisting with a competitive market? Why not cut out the middlemen and renationalise the energy industry?
The Daily Mail has published, over an awesome 12 pages, an expose of ten-foot lizards (sorry, I mean normal-sized human beings) who are conspiring to destroy our free press. It is a masterpiece of what I call "link" journalism. …