Poll: protests against Vodafone dent its image


9:20 pm - November 14th 2010

by Sunny Hundal    


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You want proof that the protests against Vodafone have had an impact?

A poll for PR Week magazine has found that since the story of the Government allegedly let Vodafone off a £6bn tax bill broke, 44% view the company more negatively. 51% were unchanged, and only 5% of respondents viewed the company more favourably.

Pr Week also added:

It would appear the story may have had an impact on Vodafone’s reputation when looking at the mobile sector as a whole. As our graph shows, the firm was not the mobile phone provider of which the public had the highest opinion.

When asked if people believed the firm’s stance that the story was an urban myth and its assertion that it met its tax obligations in the UK, 58% said no. Ouch.

More importantly, a massive 76% of respondents said they believed tax avoidance was fraudulent, and 63% agreed that all businesses had a duty to be socially responsible.
[hat-tip @GuyAitchison]

The Vodafone protests were also the subject of Nick Cohen’s article today in the Observer:

You, after all, are an ordinary British taxpayer, who must pay on demand or face the consequences. If, however, you were multinational company, Hartnett would be indulgence personified. For Vodafone, HMRC reduced a potential liability not of about £7,000 to a little over £1,000 but of about £7bn to a little over £1bn and left the second-largest company on the stock market with a remarkably light tax bill.

I don’t think that HMRC realises it yet, but the Vodafone scandal is as devastating for its reputation as the banking crisis was for the reputation of the financial regulators. It shows that the Revenue is prepared to have one law for the wealthy and another for the rest and undermine the moral basis of the system over which it presides.

And yet there were people saying the protests against Vodafone would have no difference.

A national day of action against tax avoidance is being planned for 4th December. More on that soon.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


“5% of respondents viewed the company more favourably”

You’ve got to wonder about that 5%, haven’t you!

2. Biffy Dunderdale

Ask anyone in the PR industry if they take “PR Weak” seriously and they’ll tell you they are a joke. I wouldn’t rely on them for an authoratative view on whether reputations have or haven’t been impacted. And remember, you could have every single person on Twitter outraged about something and it won’t have even impinged on the consciousness of most people.

That is excellent news! Direct action works, it is hitting Vodafone where it hurts. All the more amazing when it is not being widely reported by the mainstream media. Not a single person that I have spoken to has been aware of these protests. That is why it is so important that these actions are taking place on the High Street in full public gaze, and when it does, the public are quite happy to join in. This weekend saw more Vodafone shops occupied. [see Haringey Vodafone unpaid tax protest]

It is slowly slowly getting through to people, we are not in this together, the poor are being soaked whilst the rich get off scot free. And people are getting angry as we saw with the student protests last week.

One rule for the rich, one for the poor.

What happens if you find you have been paid too much in benefits? Why they will demand it is repaid. If you have made a misleading statement, you may find yourself facing a criminal prosecution.

Ask anyone in the PR industry if they take “PR Weak” seriously and they’ll tell you they are a joke.

This really is desperate… you must be part of that 5% furiously trying to save Vodafone

You might also be interested in this article (by me) on the role of Cameron’s adviser Chris Gent in the Vodafone tax avoidance affair:-
http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/index.php/news/content/view/full/97520

See the current Private Eye for more on the Vodafone scam and why Dave Hartnett should be sacked

More importantly, a massive 76% of respondents said they believed tax avoidance was fraudulent

No-one ever went broke under-estimating the intelligence of the great British public.

6

The more general issue (and the thing that leads to an admittedly inchoate sense of injustice and rage on the part of the general public against major companies who avoid taxation) is what can be done to ensure companies pay a reasonable amount of tax.

It may be too much to hope that such companies will accept they have a corporate social responsibility in this regard. A recent “File on Four” programme on Radio 4 showed how the parent company of Boots the chemist had reduced its annual tax payments from between £100-120 million to around £14 (a rate of just less than 3%) by moving it’s registered address for tax purposes to Switzerland.

Given that a large chunk of Alliance Boots’ £475 million annual profits were probably made in the UK, the challenge for any government in a country which is not a “low tax” destination is how to tackle large companies shopping around for tax havens like Switzerland, Ireland etc.

Such policies may be perfectly legal; the question is if they are not seen as defensible, what steps can be taken to stop it happening because realistically the amounts HMRC loses is only going to come from one place, our pockets. Increasing VAT, PAYE and NI contributions on soft targets is always going to be easier than taking on multi-national companies on a multi-lateral basis to stop them shopping around for the lowest tax destination.

7

Oops.. ! The reduced tax bill should of course read £14 million!

Such policies may be perfectly legal; the question is if they are not seen as defensible, what steps can be taken to stop it happening because realistically the amounts HMRC loses is only going to come from one place, our pockets.

Leaving the EU. Or at least, that is the only way to prevent UK companies from establishing corporate headquarters in low-tax EU/EEA jurisdictions.

11. Luis Enrique

am I right in thinking that any revision to the rules that would see HMRC get more tax from Boots would also see it get less tax from Vodafone?

am I right in thinking that any revision to the rules that would see HMRC get more tax from Boots would also see it get less tax from Vodafone?

In theory, a rule that stated that revenues made by a company based in one jurisdiction should only be taxed in that jurisdiction would indeed mean that Vodafone would not be liable at all for the profits made by its Lux subsidiary.

13. Luis Enrique

Tim J

I was more getting at the idea of “taxing profits where they are made” as opposed to where company is headquartered. So Boots’ UK profits get taxed, and Vodafone’s Luxembourg subsidiaries profits are mainly made in Germany, aren’t they?

(I should admit, I haven’t found out extent to which the Vodafone Lux profits in question relate to operating profits or capital gain on sale of subsidiary)

12 – I think that’s right. The Lux sub was set up to deal with the Mannesmann acquisition, and is still used as to handle German operations. So that tax would be payable in Germany.

9

Oh God, that old chestnut again… because of course leaving the EU would be a panacea, leading us to the sunlit uplands of prosperity and riches… NOT.

The point is that only multi-lateral action will stop companies which operate globally from making it a “race to the bottom” seeking out countries which offer the lowest possible corporate tax rate. It has little to do with the EU, it’s a broader question of how we can, as concerned citizens, try and force companies to live up to their corporate social responsibilities.

I would venture that few ordinary tax payers who have no means of avoiding PAYE, NI and increased VAT rates will have much sympathy for companies doing as Boots has and paying less than 3% tax on profits generated largely in the UK, when our services are being cut and our taxes are likely to rise.

According to the programme I referred to above, 10000 companies are now registered in the canton of Zug, Switzerland (that’s more than the number of inhabitants), where the corporate tax rate is often around 8%. Similarly Ireland has had success in attracting a lot of companies by reducing it’s headline corporate tax rate (tho I heard on the radio that it is now being reported that the French and Germans are putting the boot in on that as a quid pro quo for bailing them out yet again..!).

Given that any multi-lateral agreement would be difficult to achieve (you’d always have a huge incentive for someone to “defect” and break ranks to offer lowest rate to pull in business), it may be that the only way IS to ensure that companies pay a reasonable rate of tax on the turnover generated in each jurisdiction, irrespective of where they are “based” for tax purposes.

“When asked if people believed the firm’s stance that the story was an urban myth and its assertion that it met its tax obligations in the UK, 58% said no. Ouch.”

Gosh, you mean that when people lie about whether a company has met its tax obligations or not then people belive the lies?

Say it ain’t so!

As to Boots, isn’t that a very different thing? It’s now essentially funded by debt and given that debt interest is tax deductible there are in fact no profits for it to pay tax on anyway?

15

No, I’m asking a pretty fundamental question about general corporate tax avoidance which I’m sure applies to a lot more companies than just Boots and affects most major countries which don’t have low tax rates as a way of “sucking in” companies seeking to reduce their tax bills.

According to the programme I listened to (which is still available on line I think), Boots had (perfectly legitimately) gone from paying HMRC around £100 – 120 million annually, to £14 million by the simple expedient of registering in Zug rather than the UK.

Obviously a good move for Bootsh shareholders and management, but hardly a great deal for UK taxpayers?

18. Luis Enrique

removing tax relief on debt would be a great start to reform. a la Mirrlees review.

Oh God, that old chestnut again… because of course leaving the EU would be a panacea, leading us to the sunlit uplands of prosperity and riches… NOT.

Not what I said. You asked what could be done to prevent UK corporates from establishing themselves in low tax jurisdictions and thereby avoiding UK corporate taxation. And the answer is nothing, because one of the foundation stones of the EU is freedom of establishment. So unless we leave the EU, we just have to accept that one of the prices to be paid is that companies are free to set up elsewhere within it.

Of course, the way to stop companies from taking advantage of competitive tax jurisdictions would be to harmonise tax rates across the EU. But the chances of this happening (ie: the chances of persuading Member States that, in addition to sacrificing monetary policy to the ECB, they should also sacrifice fiscal policy) are just about nil.

it may be that the only way IS to ensure that companies pay a reasonable rate of tax on the turnover generated in each jurisdiction

Um… you don’t pay corporation tax on turnover.

@16: From the tax gap series:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2009/feb/09/tax-gap-boots-chemists

“For the UK exchequer, too, the deal marked something of a record. Private equity’s gain in acquiring the high street name turned out to be the taxpayer’s loss.

We calculate that Alliance Boots paid out £606m in net finance costs in 2007-08. But its profit in 2008 before interest was only £535m. The interest payments on the debt are so large that they have wiped out any profit in the UK and all the tax that used to go with it.

In the preceding year Alliance Boots plc made profits of around £455m and its accounts for 2007 show £131m tax. Look back to the turn of the millennium and this was typical of Boots’ history as a public company – it generally paid about one third of its profits in UK tax and the Revenue could expect to see a tax charge around the £150m mark each year.

However, after its buyout, by the time of its March 2008 accounts it had managed to make a pre-tax loss of £64m.

Current rules allow the firm to set interest payments on its debts against its income for tax purposes, and so the Revenue got nothing. The firm reported a tax credit of £74m in 2008.”

Even if Boot’s domicile had remained in the UK there would be no tax payable on its profits: because it doesn’t make any. Interest costs are higher than profits.

“removing tax relief on debt would be a great start to reform. a la Mirrlees review.”

Interesting, yes. But note the corollary: interest received will already have been taxed and thus should be tax free income.

So we’re ready for all the rentiers and rich capitalist bastards to owe no tax on their interest income are we?

18

Sounds to me like harmonisation would be a great idea…in fact it might even be “saleable” if it was seen as a way of stopping companies avoiding their corporate social responsibilities? Not to the euro-septic ranters naturally…. but it would be something positive to sell to over-burdened tax payers perhaps?

Y’know if Vodafone are so keen that this story be swept away and filed under “urban myths” they could easily sue Private Eye and make them apologise. It’s not like Vodafone can’t afford such action and it’s not like PE hasn’t been sued in the past for false claims.

20

In the long term however, companies will not always BE in that situation will they? If Boots made a loss as a result of having to finance the Allaince-Boots takeover or merger or whatever it was, that’s a short term thing presumably?

The long term issue is whether, when corporations are making profits, we should tolerate a situation in which they can pay trifling amounts of tax due to clever tax avoidance vehicles & methods, or whether the “social contract” demands that they be expected to contribute towards the society which generates those profits.

22 – It would require unanimous support from Member States, and would require a referendum at least in Ireland (for constitutional reasons) and the UK (for political reasons). Neither referendum would be winnable (although I can just about see a case for Ireland voting yes if the proposal was tied up with bailout measures).

Member States like Luxembourg that effectively owe their existence to being a tax haven couldn’t accept it and, perhaps even more importantly, it wouldn’t affect Switzerland, which isn’t a member of the EU, but is a member of the EEA.

Nothing’s entirely impossible in politics, but harmonised EU tax rates is close.

19

I know you do not now pay tax on turnover; I was suggesting that since the current system appears to be unable to avoid large reductions in the corporate tax “take” due to companies shopping around for low tax regimes to base themselves in, what are the feasible alternatives?

Since it seems Osborne is keen to emulate Ireland and reduce the UK’s corporate tax rate (if you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em I suppose?), how do ensure HMRC can make up the shortfall? Reduce allowances for capital expenditure perhaps? Tax turnover instead of profits?

I’m genuinely interested in how people think we can square the circle.

Square the circle?

Abolish corporation tax of course. For corporations don’t pay it anyway: only people pay taxes. Tax people, not artifical legal structures.

27

So I should reckon on paying how much more tax to make up the shortfall caused by the sudden disappearance of “X” billion per annum in corporate taxes then?

That sounds even less likely than EU wide tax harmonisation doesn’t it?

@ 28….no, because if the companies aren’t currently bearing the economic burden of the taxes already, then someone else must be.

So why not tax those who do bear the current burden directly instead of through the companies?

That sounds even less likely than EU wide tax harmonisation doesn’t it?

You think it’s less likely that national Governments will raise taxes than that the UK will vote yes in a referendum to decide whether its tax rates should be decided in Brussels?

To be honest, I’d put the chances winning any referendum in the UK on more powers being granted to the EU at pretty close to zero. The chances of winning a referendum on transferring tax-setting powers? Hoo boy.

29

But what you are saying can’t be right: granted lots of companies aren’t bearing the burden, but billions of pounds must still come into the governments coffers from companies both small and large.

If your “great idea” is simply to do away with it, you have to have some idea of where the shortfall is going to come from?

“But what you are saying can’t be right: granted lots of companies aren’t bearing the burden, but billions of pounds must still come into the governments coffers from companies both small and large.”

No, no company bears the burden at all. Can’t, they’re a legal fiction.

Now, yes, many companies hand over cheques to the taxman, but it’s still not those companies which carry the economic burden. It is, as it has to be, some combination of shareholders in the form of lower returns, customers in the form of higher prices or workers in the form of lower wages.

No, this isn’t controversial in the slightest, it’s a simple statement of fact. Both Vince Cable and Larry Elliott have made this point in pieces in The Guardian for example: it really isn’t some neo-liberal made up type thing.

Now, what we’d really like to know is, how is that burden distributed? Very few think that any appreciable amount is carried by the customers. Everyone would like it to be the shareholders. And in a closed economy that would be true. However, the more open the economy becomes (ie, the more mobile capital is) the more of the burden will be carried by workers in the form of lower wages.

One reasonable (ie, non partisan, from the CBO) estimate for the US is that workers bear 70% of the burden of the corporate income tax there. Another, perhaps more partisan, from Mike Deveraux (U Oxford) is that in the UK (smaller, more open economy) the workers carry over 100% of the burden. That is, that workers’ wages are lowered by more than the amount raised in the tax.

So, abolish corporation tax and we can devise a tax system which actually taxes shareholders instead of workers.

Good idea, no?

32

Taxing shareholders how?

Are you confident that the amount recouped this way would = the amount currently paid in corporate tax?

35. Luis Enrique

yep, it’s a political impossibility. even if we were able to abolish corporation tax and design increases in income, consumption and capital gains taxes that left everybody strictly better off, everybody would oppose it because it would feel like the taxes they pay are going up whilst the taxes “big business” pays is going down, and no amount of evidence to the contrary would change that.

34

Yeah, that would be my take on it too… in which case, wouldn’t it be better to ensure that corporations actually paid a reasonable amount in taxes through multi-lateral action (and possibly by ensuring much fuller disclosure on a country by country basis of what they earned in each place), rahter than throw our hands up in the air and declare that it’s impossible?

37. Luis Enrique

on second thoughts, we could abolish corporation taxes and then design changes to income, consumption and capital gains taxes that leave the bottom 2/3 of the income distribution substantially better off and the top 1/3 substantially worse off. That ought to buy off lefties. I think the contrast in fortunes would have to be quite large to compensate for the bottom 2/3 thinking their tax rates had gone up whilst corporation tax has gone down.

I wonder Tim W how great your attachment to zero corporation tax is – how great a price, in terms of politically expedient changes in the distribution of the incidence of taxation, would you be prepared to swallow to buy it?

Give me zero corporation tax (for the reasons above), a citizens basic income, a tax free allowance above that and charge income taxes only to those above median income.

I really don’t care what the tax rate is at that point: I’d suspect though that the (long term) Laffer peak is 50% or so. I’d be fine with that.

No-one ever went broke under-estimating the intelligence of the great British public.

awwww. it must hurt to have lefties been proven right eh Tim J?

38 – that’s right in the sense of ‘wrong’ presumably?

This is an unusual sidebar piece though, in that you are accurately citing misleading information, which is quite a reverse of standard procedure.

Worth noting (as I do here http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/index.php/news/content/view/full/97520 ) That Chris Gent, a Cameron adviser who helped George Osborne with his tax policy, helped set up the Vodafone tax avoiding deal .


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    […] here: Poll: protests against Vodafone dent its image | Liberal Conspiracy Share and […]

  67. Tony Hall

    RT @UKuncut: The Vodafone protests take their toll on the brand [POLL] http://bit.ly/bujkfC via @libcon #UKUncut

  68. Red Ladder Theatre

    RT @johannhari101 RT @UKuncut: The Vodafone protests take their toll on the brand [POLL] http://bit.ly/bujkfC via @libcon #UKUncut

  69. Roman A Marszalek

    RT @UKuncut: The Vodafone protests take their toll on the brand [POLL] http://bit.ly/bujkfC via @libcon #UKUncut

  70. C&T: Theatre

    RT @RedLadderTheatr: RT @johannhari101 RT @UKuncut: The Vodafone protests take their toll on the brand [POLL] http://bit.ly/bujkfC via @ …

  71. Christopher Knibb

    RT @UKuncut: The Vodafone protests take their toll on the brand [POLL] http://bit.ly/bujkfC via @libcon #UKUncut

  72. Darryl W Bullock

    Poll: protests against Vodafone dent its image | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/vsDTPPu via @libcon

  73. Paul Smith Bristol

    RT @dwbullock: Poll: protests against Vodafone dent its image | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/vsDTPPu via @libcon

  74. Gary Banham

    RT @UKuncut: The Vodafone protests take their toll on the brand [POLL] http://bit.ly/bujkfC via @libcon #UKUncut

  75. blogs of the world

    Poll: protests against Vodafone dent its image. by Sunny Hundal November 14, 2010 at 9:20 … http://reduce.li/uxw5cq #against

  76. Frazer Howard

    RT @UKuncut: The Vodafone protests take their toll on the brand [POLL] http://bit.ly/bujkfC via @libcon #UKUncut

  77. Tom Harris

    Oh dear. 76% of the public think tax avoidance is fraudulent. I blame the education system. http://t.co/vsDTPPu (via @libcon)

  78. Carl Ebrey

    RT @UKuncut: The Vodafone protests take their toll on the brand [POLL] http://bit.ly/bujkfC via @libcon #UKUncut

  79. Fat_Jacques

    RT @TomHarrisMP: Oh dear. 76% of the public think tax avoidance is fraudulent. I blame the education system. http://t.co/vsDTPPu (via @l …

  80. Malena Jenkins

    http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/11/14/polls-protests-against-vodafone-dent-its-image/ how disgusting – goes with all other weakTory plans

  81. Paul Burgin

    RT @TomHarrisMP: Oh dear. 76% of the public think tax avoidance is fraudulent. I blame the education system. http://t.co/vsDTPPu (via @l …

  82. Matt Valler

    RT @UKuncut: The Vodafone protests take their toll on the brand [POLL] http://bit.ly/bujkfC via @libcon #UKUncut

  83. Noxi

    RT @johannhari101: RT @UKuncut: The Vodafone protests take their toll on the brand [POLL] http://bit.ly/bujkfC via @libcon #UKUncut

  84. Pucci Dellanno

    RT @libcon: Poll: protests against Vodafone dent its image http://bit.ly/aGG6Ri

  85. Nick H.

    RT @sunny_hundal: Poll for PR Week finds protests against Vodafone dent its image http://bit.ly/aGG6Ri

  86. Alison Pratt

    Protests against Vodafone dent its image | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/V129dJg via @libcon… But they still have best coverage in UK :|

  87. Simon Burrows

    RT @UKuncut: The Vodafone protests take their toll on the brand [POLL] http://bit.ly/bujkfC via @libcon #UKUncut

  88. Zara Lockwood

    RT @UKuncut: The Vodafone protests take their toll on the brand [POLL] http://bit.ly/bujkfC via @libcon #UKUncut

  89. cocklewoman

    RT @UKuncut: The Vodafone protests take their toll on the brand [POLL] http://bit.ly/bujkfC via @libcon #UKUncut

  90. Keith Parkins

    RT @UKuncut: The Vodafone protests take their toll on the brand [POLL] http://bit.ly/bujkfC via @libcon #UKUncut

  91. Phil Rothwell

    RT @UKuncut: The Vodafone protests take their toll on the brand [POLL] http://bit.ly/bujkfC via @libcon #UKUncut

  92. Pucci Dellanno

    RT @UKuncut: The Vodafone protests take their toll on the brand [POLL] http://bit.ly/bujkfC via @libcon #UKUncut

  93. Andrew Jeffery

    Vodafon image dented http://bit.ly/bq10pD Maybe xmple of hw action allows 4 observrs 2 articulate their suspicions bout such things #ukuncut

  94. Tim Holmes

    RT @jamiesw: RT @johannhari101: RT @UKuncut: The Vodafone protests take their toll on the brand [POLL] http://bit.ly/bujkfC via @libcon …





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