Friday, 20 February 2015

Tax cheats must be prosecuted

My article in this week's Cornish Guardian focussed on tax dodging. It was as follows:

David Cameron recently claimed that no government had done more to tackle tax evasion and regressive tax avoidance than the present Coalition. It is a claim that does not stand up to scrutiny.

I am appalled at the number of large corporations and wealthy individuals who continue to do all they can to evade tax (illegal) and to aggressively avoid tax (apparently not illegal). And I am saddened at the failure of central government and HMRC to more forcefully take on the tax cheats.

Indeed, recent research by Tax Research LLP, on behalf of the Public and Commercial Services Union, shows that “the difference between the tax that should be paid in the UK if the tax system worked as parliament and HMRC intended, and the amount actually paid” was £119 billion in 2013-14.

At a time, when the austerity agenda of the Westminster parties means less and less money for so many of our vital public services, it does show that – when it comes to tax – the super-rich are treated very differently to the rest of us on PAYE.

This has been demonstrated through the scandal surrounding the HSBC bank, whose Swiss private bank helped clients to serially evade tax on, what one newspaper described as, an “industrial scale.” And, according to a whistleblower and financial authorities in France, the UK government had known about the scandal since 2010 but done nothing.

Challenged in the House of Commons last week, the Prime Minister – with no sense of irony whatsoever – evaded and avoided all the questions that were put to him.

The HMRC has meanwhile reported that two-thirds of those people who had accounts in HSBC’s Swiss bank "were found to be compliant" with UK tax rules. But that means one-third were not. That is truly shocking.

A large number of prominent donors to the Conservative and Labour Parties have been caught up in the scandal. One was Tory peer Stanley Fink. A former Treasurer of the Party, he admitted that he had taken steps to reduce his tax bill but claimed that “everyone” was involved in tax avoidance.

In a separate development, a prominent newspaper has reported that a number of multi-millionaires “who have donated nearly £10 million” to the Conservatives are now being investigated because of a range of tax avoidance schemes. They have been described as “two peers, one knight and some of the City’s wealthiest financiers.”

It is time that a much harder line was taken against all such tax cheats and I believe that should include many more prosecutions.

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