Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Too little too late

Treasury Minister Stephen Timms had a lengthy comment published today by the Guardian newspaper. The theme of the comment was tax evasion and avoidance, largely a response to the Guardian Tax Gap series of the past two weeks. But Timms steered well clear from any mention of tax havens, or aggressive tax avoidance, or HMG’s abysmal record of blocking attempts to strengthen international cooperation.

No, what's interesting about Timms’ comment is not what he says (heard it all before from Treasury Ministers going back to the 1970s) but the comments he has elicited underneath the web article. Try this, for example:

18 Feb 09, 12:16am (about 19 hours ago)
Too late now, Mr. Timms. You have known or should have known about these issues since 1997. We want a government that will provide real leadership, not do what the bankers, management consultants and fat cats tell them.

and this:

18 Feb 09, 12:34am (about 19 hours ago)

"As a Treasury minister, I understand the need to make sure the tax system works fairly."Yes Minister. This is a very brave but futile words Minister. Do tell us what you achieved over the last 12 years.The "Non Doms", high net worth individuals and the "Tax Planning" industry thrived treating tax payment as a optional obligation for them. They were too big to pay only the plebs do. The middle Income families were taxed directly and stealthily at the pain of imprisonment.At the same time the Government sold its soul and the nations Tax revenue to the highest bidders. It is telling that even Tories recognised the unfairness before this Labour Government did.

or this:

18 Feb 09, 7:56am (about 11 hours ago)
Mr. Timms government , Gibraltar, Jersey, Isle of Man, Caymans. It has never even considered ending their tax-exempt status.And what about the income of non-doms?

and how about the following:

18 Feb 09, 1:50am (about 17 hours ago)
Dear Mr. Timms - can you honestly state that you think that anyone who has examined the bizarrely cosy dealings this administration has had with business, please see for example: would have any confidence in the notion that tax avoidance by big business will be actively clamped down on ? I sincerely doubt it.

There's a common theme here: its called scepticism. During his period as shadow chancellor "Crash Gordon" made bold promises about tackling the tax avoidance industry, but the few measures he has taken have melted into air, and the tax avoidance industry continues to thrive. Sadly, it becomes clearer by the day that this is something the Brits are good at: all those years of practice have really sharpened their skills in this area. And meantime the UK industrial base has been hollowed out, the North Sea oil and gas reserves have long since peaked, and the entire economy is awash with public, corporate and personal debt.

The scepticism is well deserved. As recently as yesterday we were told by sources well connected to very senior people in HM Revenue & Customs that the government's true position on corporate tax avoidance remains one of 'intense relaxation', and the same applies to regulation of tax havens. Despite clear evidence that tax havens have played a pivotal role in catalysing the current crisis, Brown, Darling, Cameron et al, have shown no inclination to do anything about it. Timms' article is too little to late. Words have become too cheap in modern Westminster: we are only interested in action now.


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