Friday, April 19, 2024
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Nick Booth: One law for Google and BBC fat cats. Another law for the rest


This Google sweetheart deal is depressing on so many different levels.

Is George Osborne a secret agent for the Labour Party? Is he trying to rub the noses of four and a half million people in the dirt? That’s how many people would have been poring over their tax return last week. We spent days fretting over the mountains of detailed information we have to accurately provide, under the threat of fines, massive interest charges or prosecution. Most of this detail – did Cancer Research claim tax back on those books you donated? – seems utterly trivial and pointless. Unless the point is giving HMRC an excuse to prosecute you for an inaccurate tax return. Which I wouldn’t put past them, since they take no prisoners if you’re of bullyable size.

Oh, but what a contrast in the way Google and Amazon and Starbucks are treated. No, no, you’re alright Google, Osborne said last week, you just pay what you like. Don’t worry about the laws, or the deadlines, or the back tax, they only apply to the little people. I thought he was on our side. Suddenly, the scales have fallen from my eyes, and I see this man as a fiend in human form. I never wanted to join that awful chorus about the Bullingdon Club being ‘out of touch’, but Osborne is making me question it now. Come to think of it, how did he even qualify for that job?

Worse still, Osborne the Google poodle gives the BBC, the political wing of the Labour Party, all the propaganda fodder it needs. That depresses me, because the aristocratic classes at the top of the BBC aren’t exactly immune to tax avoidance. There are 110 BBC management on at least 150 grand a year (according to this BBC Trust declaration) and at any one time between 1,500 and 2,500 BBC ‘talent’ are employed as freelancers. Around 500 of these members of the BBC talent have set themselves up as service companies. So, individuals, representing themselves as companies, to avoid paying tax on earnings that put them in the top one per cent of the world’s rich.

They’re not doing anything illegal, as Google might say, but at least the cloud computing giant really is a company, rather than a newsreader who doesn’t work for anyone else but the BBC. Even when these TV personalities do diversify, it’s still BBC-related work. They might manage to bag 25 grand, on the side, for compering the Search Engine of the Year corporate awards night or for product placing an Apple Macbook Pro in one of their documentaries, but that’s still work they only bagged through their employer. No corporation would bung them that sort of money if they weren’t employed at the Beeb. So they should be paying PAYE. It’s a bit rich to criticise Google when you’re taking steps to avoid your fair contribution to the funds for schools and junior doctors and refugees.

What really depresses me is that I find myself on the side of UK Uncut. I’ve sent them money in the past, as I agree that banks should make some social contribution to the countries that bail them out. The stunts UK Uncut organise can be quite amusing too. But UK Uncut seem to be a bit of an unbalanced organisation. They hate big corporations like Starbucks avoiding tax, but they don’t seem to have any problem with BBC presenters or left wing stand-up comedians dodging their contribution.

For balance, I also support the Taxpayers’ Alliance, as I’ve got a problem with both tax wasters and tax dodgers. And now I’ve got a real problem with George Osborne too.

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Nick Booth
Nick Booth
Nick Booth is a freelance writer.

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