Saturday, December 04, 2010

Tax justice takes to the streets and hits the news headlines

Some said it would never happen, but activists took to the streets up and down Britain today, targeting major retailers like TopShop, Vodafone, and Boots, for their tax dodging tactics. At the time of writing we hear that activists in Brighton have glued themselves to the windows of TopShop in that city. Similar events were also underway in York, Glasgow, Birmingham, Nottingham and Manchester.

We joined the events in London's Oxford Street, where TopShop's flagship store was successfully blockaded by a large and friendly crowd (held back by a huge contingent of security guards and police).

This is the busiest time of year for London's high streets, and the place was packed with shoppers. Many stopped to ask what was happening and why Philip Green, TopShop's owner, was being targeted in this way. Almost all agreed that his tax dodging was unacceptable and could see the links between tax dodging and public sector cuts. A surprising number of passers-by even joined the demonstrators. The mood was cheerful but raucous: whistles, vuvuzelas and saucepans created an enormous racket - sufficiently cacophonous to persuade the management at Dorothy Perkins (also part of Philip Green's retail empire) to close the shop shutters as we approached - leaving shoppers trapped inside for close to half and hour.

It looks like tax justice has shifted that little bit closer to the centre of the political agenda.

You can visit our photo library of the day's events here. And also watch Britain's Channel 4 news programme, which lead on this story.

The protest organisers, UK UnCut, have just put out the following statement:


* Topshop Oxford Street, the biggest fashion retail store in the world, is occupied and shut down by hundreds of protesters.
* Day of action against tax avoidance targets Sir Philip Green and Vodafone as well as other corporations as the focus of public anger
* 23 different towns and cities have come out in protest
* UK Uncut launches 'Big Society Revenue and Customs'

Amid growing public anger over the cuts, protests over tax avoidance by big business and wealthy individuals have hit high streets up and down the country today.

Under the banner of 'UK Uncut' [1], 23 different towns and cities have so far protested against the tax avoidance conducted by Boots Alliance, HSBC, Barclay and Vodafone [2].

However it has been Sir Philip Green and his fashion empire - Arcadia - which spreads across 2,500 UK stores and includes top brands such as Topshop, Miss Selfridge and Dorothy Perkins that has born the brunt of the protests today[4].

On Oxford Street, London, a sit-in forced the five-storey flagship Topshop store to close, before protesters moved onto close BHS, Vodafone, Boots, and Dorothy Perkins.

In Brighton, 16 activists were arrested following the shut down of a Topshop, where protests super-glued themselves to the window.

Vodafone and Topshops stores were closed in a further 6 cities - Nottingham, Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester, Oxford, Newcastle, with protests occuring in an additional 13 locations - Southampton, Stroud, Portsmouth, Lewisham, Reading, Wood Green, York, Liecester, Liverpool, Bristol, Glasgow, Cambridge and Edinburgh.

Sir Philip Green's empire Acardia is owned by Taveta Investments Limited - a holding company registered to a small office on the tax-haven island of Jersey [5].

Sir Philip Green is not however the official owner of Taveta Investments. Instead, the owners are his wife and immediate family, who reside in Monaco[6].

Monaco is of course famous for its 0% income tax. As a result, when Sir Philip Green - the 9th richest man in the UK with wealth estimated at £4.4bn in 2008 [7] - in 2005 made the largest single dividend payout in UK corporate history to his wife of £1.2bn, he avoided paying a reported £285million in tax to the British public purse[8].

Amid criticism from key MPs, Sir Philip Green was also asked by the coalition government this year to advise them on austerity and cuts within the civil service [9].

Bejamin Neem, 30, said "Philip Green is a multi-billionaire tax avoider, and yet is regarded by David Cameron as an appropriate man to advise the government on austerity. His missing millions need to be reclaimed and invested into public services, not into his wife's bank account."

Today has also seen the launch of the 'Big Society Revenue and Customs' (BSRC) by UK Uncut [10], following the announcement that HM Revenue and Customs faces thousands of job cuts following a 15% cut in its budget [11].

Commenting on the launch of BSRC, Benjamin Neem said: "David Cameron wants ordinary people in their spare time to carry out vital state run services that have been cut, so this is exactly what we're doing. If HMRC won't chase down tax avoiders, then we will."

Today's protests are expected to be just the first in a series of actions against Philip Green and other corporations by the BSRC across the Christmas period.

This follows on from protests against the communications giant, Vodafone, last month that resulted in over 30 of its stores being closed by ordinary people who blockaded and picketed its entrances to stop trading [12].

Those protests were sparked after the corporation reached a ‘settlement’ on a long standing tax dispute with HMRC earlier this year, following the change in government. Some experts believe the deal meant that Vodafone saved up to £6bn in tax [13].

On Saturday 30th of October all three Vodafone Stores were closed for the day on Oxford Street, London.

Rebecca Davies, 32, said: "The cuts will hit the poorest and most vulnerable in our society the hardest are based on ideology, not necessity. There is an alternative."

"the tax gap in the UK is an estimated £120bn [14], £25 billion of this down to tax avoidance by extremely wealthy individuals and big business [15], while the government is barely lifting a finger to stop it."

Reflecting on the day she continued, "Today ordinary people around Britain stood up and showed that will not let these unnecessary cuts happen without a fight."

For further comment:
UKUNCUT: | | 07597354939 | 07591992825

Notes to Editor:

[1] Details can be seen on the website

[2] Has all the details of the actions around
the country.


[4] Arcadia also own,
Burton, Wallis, Evans and Topman.

And the office in jersey was shown by Channel 4's Dispatches broadcast on
Monday 18th October.


[7] The Sunday Times Richlist from 2008:

This independent article states: when Sir Philip Green paid his divident he
financed it by taking out a loan. Although this is a common form of
financial engineering in privately owned companies, it had the benefit of
cutting Arcadia's corporation tax bill, as the interest charges on the loan
could be offset against profits. In this way, wealth was simply being
redistributed from taxpayers to Mr Green's family.


[10] Please see for a full explanation on the thinking
behind the BSRC.The BSRC logo is also available to download on the website.


[12] Please see for details

[13] The original investigation was completed by Richard Brookes, a tax
inspector, at Private-Eye, but has since been written about by other

[14] Richard Murphy begin_of_the_skype_highlighting end_of_the_skype_highlighting, a long standing and respected campaigner on the issue
of tax justice has produced a report stating that £120bn is the tax gap to

[15] Richard Murphy begin_of_the_skype_highlighting end_of_the_skype_highlighting, a long standing and respected campaigner on the issue
of tax-avoidance has produced a report stating that 25bn is lost to the
public purse by tax avoidance. £13bn through individuals. £12bn through
large corporations.


Blogger Robin Smith said...

This is all great stuff. Light a fire in people's bellies and get them demanding reform.

What is at the bottom of it all though... in the end. Here is an idea:

Real Reform: Top Shop: Tax evasion or rent seeking?

Most of Mr Green's earnings come, unearned, by skimming off the top of the land rents his corporation acquires. Not from retail sales. Surprised? This is normal and intensifies the larger the corporation.

Would it be better to collect the tax at source or chase after it once long gone I wonder?

10:25 am  
Anonymous Tax Boffin said...

Tax vigilantes! Simply because these people don't like the law and its application, they decide to take matters into their own hands. When they can show actual abuse of the tax system, not conjecture, they should take it up with the Treasury and HMRC.

12:50 am  
Blogger Robin Smith said...

Tax Boffin:

How much evidence of tax abuse do you require... Infinite? I can show you in seconds abuse of the system in a language and context that a child could understand and be able to condemn the perpetrators with. Would that be good enough for you?

These folks are doing what the selfish majority in the general public are not doing:

Asking for a change in the law in the only way left to them.

Clearly democracy is as useful as tyranny when it comes to justice on this matter.

7:07 am  

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