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Corporate giants facing Treasury tax crackdown

TAX-dodging multinational companies and wealthy individuals are to be targeted in a £10 billion crackdown announced by George Osborne today.

The Chancellor's latest attempt to make people and companies pay their fair share of tax will involve targeting the Swiss bank accounts of the well-off and tackling so-called "transfer pricing", whereby companies legally arrange their international transactions so they pay as little tax as possible.

Mr Osborne's move, the full details of which will be revealed in Wednesday's Autumn Statement, coincides with the publication of a report from MPs in which they accuse Starbucks, Google and Amazon of "immorally" minimising their UK tax bills.

The Chancellor will announce an array of measures, costing £154 million over the next two years, which will focus extra enforcement resources and technology on multinationals, the wealthy and offshore evasion. The Treasury believes the move will bring in an extra £5bn by 2015.

Yesterday, Starbucks announced it was looking at its "tax approach" in Britain in the wake of fierce criticism for paying no corporation tax on its profits during the last three years. In October, it emerged the US coffee giant, which has generated sales in excess of £3bn in the UK since 1998, has paid less than 1% in corporation tax.

Amazon, the online retail giant, reportedly paid just £1.8m in tax despite making £3.4bn in sales in Britain, while internet search engine Google is said to have paid £6m in tax on sales of £2.5bn.

The other part of the £10bn UK Government crackdown involves a deal with Switzerland, which will raise more than £5bn in previously uncollected taxes from Swiss bank accounts during the next six years.

"The Government is clear that while most taxpayers are doing their bit to help us balance the books, it is unacceptable for a minority to avoid paying their fair share, sometimes by breaking the law," said Mr Osborne. "We are determined to tackle this problem and HMRC is making good progress but we are giving them additional tools to bring in more."

Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, added: "In restoring the public finances, our first priority must be to tackle those who avoid or evade tax. It is simply not fair that at a time when most people are making a contribution to balancing the nation's books, there is a small minority of taxpayers who try to escape their responsibility."

Today's extra investment is on top of the £900m already announced by Whitehall to deliver an extra £7bn a year in unpaid tax. This means that during this five-year Westminster Parliament, about £1bn will have been spent by HM Revenue & Customs to bring in an expected £22bn by 2014/15, some £9bn more than in 2010/11.

In his Autumn Statement, the Chancellor is also due to confirm that the General Anti-Abuse Rule on tax avoidance will come into force next year together with a number of other measures, including building on the UK-US agreement on sharing information to crack down on tax evasion and use it as a blueprint for action elsewhere.

The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, in its report today, criticises Starbucks, Google and Amazon for the "unconvincing and, in some cases, evasive" evidence they gave on why their corporation tax payments were so low.

MPs warned there were many multinationals exploiting tax laws to move offshore profits that were clearly generated in the UK, and called on the Coalition to "get a grip". It accused HMRC of looking "way too lenient" over the way it dealt with big-name firms that were "getting away

with" paying little or no corporation tax.

Committee chairwoman Margaret Hodge said: "Global companies with huge operations in the UK generating significant amounts of income are getting away with paying little or no corporation tax here. This is outrageous and an insult to British businesses and individuals who pay their fair share."

Anti tax-avoidance group UK Uncut is planning protests across some of Starbucks' 700 UK outlets on Saturday. Yesterday, the US coffee giant, which insists it pays its "fair share of taxes" in full compliance with UK law, said it was "committed to the UK for the long term" but added: "We are looking at our tax approach in the UK. The company has been in discussions with HMRC for some time and is also in talks with the Treasury."

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