The language, or rather political language de jour, is for the canvassing potential members of the next parliament (Parliamentary candidates in the UK) to merge two very different concepts into one, in the public’s mind. Those words are tax evasion andtax avoidance. We (at the theMarketSoul) believe we potentially know why, but the consequences might not yet be clearly understood.
At a recent televised debate attended by potential next Business Secretary representatives (politicians who would be in charge of the Business, Innovation and Skills [BIS] department) from the three major political parties, one of the candidates challenged the audience thus:
“You (tax advisers) know the difference between aggressive tax avoidance on the the one hand and tax planning on the other.” No the question was actually this: “Please raise your hand in the audience if you donot know what aggressive tax avoidance is.” From the podium the verdict came that about half the audience raised their hands. And therein lies the problem: Are you making this a moral question now? Because until someone is able to clearly define and explain how morality and tax planning are linked; we at theMarketSoul cannot help but think: Where next in this one sided ‘supposed’ quasi debate?
It really depends on how you ask the question:
Is taxation moral? Is paying tax moral? What level of taxation is moral? Is being moral, paying your taxes? If you don’t pay taxes, are you immoral?
Let’s just pause for a moment: #Tax avoidance talk is all the rage at the moment…
In order to redress the balance of negative sentiment, combined with a political(ly) charged environment with electioneering by all major political UK parties posturing new populist policies (say that fast a few times); we thought it a good idea to put a little perspective on the matter of #Tax avoidance (tax planning we prefer to call it). Remember this is #Election2015 coming up on 7 May 2015.
So HSBC bank (more specifically the Swiss subsidiary of their Private Banking arm) got themselves into difficulty over the past couple of weeks with the BBC Panorama programme revelations as reported by Richard Bilton.
Accused of large scale collusion on tax avoidance or even evasion practices, the liberal and politically left leaning media in the UK have quite rightly got themselves embroiled in a multi-layered debate from both tax avoidance and the morals thereof to standards of editorial judgement, when corporate advertisers are the subject of negative headlines (the Daily Telegraph).
However, to grab a headline back for ourselves (and balance the debate):
“Britain, wake-up, you are a corporate TAX Haven” and to cap it off, you are not that popular with other higher taxing G8 jurisdictions.
The overall corporation tax environment in the UK has significantly improved if you are considering a Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) route into the UK over the life-time of this last Conservative-Liberal Democrat led parliament.
With corporate tax rates for both small and large enterprises almost aligned at 20% and 21% respectively from April 2014 onwards, for net profits assessable to corporation tax, the UK is one of the lowest corporate tax regimes in the G20 club.
What are the implications of this?
More FDI is attracted to the UK and therefore the potential to create more jobs and reduce the dependency on government handouts reduced.
What has not yet happened though, is that the tax receipts from corporations subjected to corporation tax in the UK increased significantly. This is partly due to timing issues; Capital and Investment allowances reducing the overall tax take and further aggressive tax avoidance activities by these Multi-National Corporations (MNC).
On the whole the average effective corporation tax rate actually paid in the UK is therefore less than the 21% head line rate for large businesses with profits over £300,000. This is due to the cash tax rate paid by corporations being reduced by capital allowances and research and development credits bringing down the effective rate paid as a percentage of the net profit assessable to corporation tax to well below 21%. These legitimate reductions are known as reliefs.
PwC put together a league table of effective (most attractive to least attractive jurisdictions on that is called “international tax competitiveness”. In 2014 the UK ranked 16th, with only Ireland and Denmark, (two fellow EU member states) beating the UK from the EU member state block.
We will continue to develop this theme over the next few weeks leading up to the general election in the UK.
We have been following the G20 ‘get those naughty multinationals in the tax tent’ debates raging for a few months now, with amusement we have to add; here at theMarketSoul and have the following short thought piece to contribute to the debate.
We know the ‘outrage’ really is all about the what the OECD calls the ‘general erosion of the tax base’, which in our opinion is just a distraction for proper structural reforms in the western democracies contributing to the G20 and OECD coffers.
The real issue is the power of civil society structures, such as multinational corporations, versus nation states. We constantly get an earful on how undemocratic corporations are from a liberal social leftist media and how dangerous unfettered corporate power is.
Yet, multinationals are far more democratic, in both structure and performance, than any sovereign government will ever be. If the corporate governance structure is correctly set up, then every corporate entity has an annual AGM at which point the corporate leaders have to resign, on a rotational basis, depending on individual Articles of Association or Memorandum ofIincorporation provisions (depending in which jurisdiction the corporate entity ‘resides’). How often does a sovereign leader stand down, in comparison and leave it to the popular vote to be re-elected? Certainly not on an annual basis, as is the case for most corporate leaders.
This leads us to the real thought piece of this article, namely the fact that corporate ownership and access to corporate ownership should really be extended to as wide a base as possible, rather than a few ‘monied’ or opportunist participants in the market.
Legislation around employee share ownership schemes are still very cumbersome and rules, rather than principles driven.
The real revolution we require is not around a new tax base or recapitalizing democratic bankrupt nation states; however we require a revolution of democratic corporate ownership to sweep the length and breadth of the land, in order to spread the risk, add additional wealth creation opportunities (and hence a widened wealth tax base) for smaller, leaner and meaner governments to address. This a cry from civil society to the inner ‘goodness’ of political society to sit up, take serious stock and work on longer-term solutions to the erosion of their tax bases, rather than the usual headline grabbing short-termist market distorting interventions the G20 governments are so infamous.
Within these two tax methodologies are hidden the minutiae of the tax regime system, but at a fundamental level, any tax raising authority has to look at these two options / methodologies available to them.
Now step back second and consider the tax take flows from these two options:
With Incomes and consumption generally on the wane, where else can the taxing authority turn for sustaining or growing their net tax take? Only on the stock of capital assets held by its citizens, so expect a sustained, possibly nuanced, yet blatant attack on your net wealth over the coming few years.
Another salvo was launched again from the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, yesterday and we expect a sustained rhetoric and action in the next budget cycle. Today, the main stream press are reporting rumour of lower the 50% rate to 45%, to encourage an inflow of entrepreneurial and highly skilled management talent, reversing the recent drain or threat of ‘brain drain’ from taxpayers in this tax rate band.
[All names and references to places in this post has been changed, so as to protect the innocent bystanders]
Cracking down on ‘Tax Havens’ became a stated objective of the G20 last year during one of the meetings held during 2009.
Lets us keep the argument very simple and divide the world into two colours namely magnolia and chocolate brown (close enough approximation of two other colours normally used in arguments), or rather more accurately the regulated world and the unregulated world.
If it is regulated, it moves slowly, is a target and gets nailed very quickly. The credit quake of 2008-2009 resulted in the implosion of this world, which today moves even slower, with a catastrophic collapse in taxable revenue and actual tax take an unfortunate consequence.
So, as our hypothetical magnolia world has ceased up almost completely, the G20 thought it right and proper to start targeting the chocolate brown world. This is the ‘dynamic underground’ of slush funds, oiling the cogs of industry, money laundering, crime, drugs, terrorism and anything that moves outside of the regulated world arena. Apparently this world is alive and well, with cash sloshing around the system that unfortunately does not hit the regulated world’s sides and filters, and is therefore not siphoned off as ‘direct’ tax flows and revenues. If your jurisdiction has indirect taxes, then this cash does get siphoned off, as goods and services are also consumed by the chocolate brown world.
Now if you view these two worlds as two balls or circles, the magnolia one is shrinking and the chocolate brown one is growing in size. So the question really becomes this: Which one do you attack? How do you appease the populist vote? For one of the choices is: “Tax ‘em to death”, because you are already taxing ‘em pretty harshly! (Those living in the magnolia space). Alternatively, you grab the populist media’s h(d)eadlines and attack Tax Havens with the natural association of the chocolate brown world with ‘dirty’ cash. This way you score two potential hits:
This is a great tactic if you believe that the ‘Economics of Taxation’ mean that you either tax the flows of money or the stock of money (capital and other ‘fixed’ forms of property). Flows of money include indirect taxes and maybe this scare-mongering’ tactic does encourage capital movements between jurisdictions, however, as a general approach and tactic to attack Tax Havens, I believe this is doomed to fail.
Tax jurisdictions, fiscal policy and ‘one-upmanship’ is a national and international ‘sport’. Therefore, we can’t have the big boys and girls getting upset at the little boys and girls, just for trying to scrape together a few crumbs off the BIG table, in order to survive, can we? A sense of fairness and a measured and proportionate response is definitely called for in this so-called ‘war on tax havens’. Or am I wrong on this call?