News that Starbucks is planning to change the way it operates so that it pays corporation tax in the UK will be a small crumb of comfort to ordinary tax payers. Starbucks despite having around one-third of the UK coffee shop market, has only paid corporation tax only once in the past 15 years. In its simplest form Corporation tax is paid by foreign companies on profits made in the UK. UK-based companies pay corporation tax on their taxable profits wherever they are made. Starbucks, sold nearly £400 million pounds worth of goods in the UK last year, but paid no corporation tax at all, because it transferred some of the money to a sister company in the Netherlands in the form of royalty payments, it bought its coffee beans from Switzerland and paid high interest rates to borrow money from other parts of the business.
Starbucks is throwing in the towel in relation to paying Corporation tax; this may be timely as the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee has produced a report calling for HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) to "more aggressive and assertive in confronting corporate tax avoidance". Interestingly enough HMRC revealed that in 2011-12, £474.2 billion pounds worth of total tax revenue accrued to HM Revenue and Customs (the Department) which was £4.5 billion pounds higher than for the period 2010-11. Oddly enough there was a decrease in corporation tax revenue of £6.3 billion pounds.
The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee also heard evidence from heard evidence from Google and Amazon. Amazon has a reported turnover of £207 million pounds for 2011 for its UK Company (Amazon.co.uk), on which it has shown a tax expense of only £1.8 million pound, yet showed a European-wide turnover of €9.1 billion for its Luxembourg based company (Amazon EU Sarl) and a tax of €8.2 million. Amazon.co.uk is a service company in the UK providing services to Amazon EU Sarl for which it receives payment. That company is owned by a holding company, which is a subsidiary of Amazon's group companies.
Amazon subsequently provided a copy of the unaudited accounts for Amazon Europe Holding Technologies S.C.S for 2011 showing a profit of €301.8 million and no tax payments. Amazon also provided information showing that for 2011, £3.35 billion pounds worth of sales were from the UK, 25% of all international sales outside the USA. Yet Amazon has over 15,000 staff in the UK, invoices UK customers from the UK, hires UK staff in the UK, has inventory physically in the UK for UK customers and to all intents and purposes has the majority of its economic activity in the UK, rather than in Luxembourg, but pays virtually no corporation tax in the UK.
The inability of HMRC to properly curb aggressive tax avoidance schemes which are costing the UK billions of pounds was flagged up by the National Audit Office (NAO) The NAO revealed that HMRC was dealing with a backlog of 41,000 cases involving individuals and small companies, with up to £10.2 billion pounds at stake. I am sure that the news that Con Dem Chancellor George Osborne plans to introduce a general anti-avoidance rule and hold talks with other G8 developed countries about clamping down on tax avoidance will make us all sleep soundly in our beds – perhaps not!