As well as confusing Hansard with talk of ‘big fairies’, Labour’s Jim Sheridan has no fewer than 101 written questions for answer today on how many contracts a number of government departments have awarded to a series of companies known to be taking part in tax avoidance schemes. He also asks for details of how many meetings the departments have held with those companies.
The questions are for the Business department, Cabinet Office, the Treasury, the Culture, Media and Sport department, Ministry of Defence, Energy department, Education department, Home Office, Scotland Office and the Work and Pensions department. They ask about ministers’ and officials’ dealings with Amazon, Google, Symantec, Dell CSC, Xerox, and Oracle.
The first two are well-known for paying astonishingly low rates of tax, but Tory MP Charlie Elphicke revealed in the Commons last week that his own research had found that Dell CSC, Xerox and Oracle paid no corporation tax at all last year, despite earning more than £474 million from government contracts. In that debate, Elphicke said:
‘We urgently need reform. No Government contracts should be awarded to businesses that are fleecing our tax system, and the Government should examine how much UK tax companies pay when deciding who gets plum Government contracts. If taxpayers’ money and a Government contract are being awarded, we should look at the taxpayers’ money we are paying out and the tax money that we get back when we assess the value for the nation of awarding a particular contract.’
As the Public Accounts Committee’s inquiry into tax avoidance showed, there is cross-party revulsion at the practice and so when these answers are published, they will attract attention back onto tax. But as Elphicke argued last week, there needs to be a wider discussion about reform of the tax system itself, not just about its villains, if the government is to avoid situations like this cropping up again and again.