Why I don’t agree with UK Uncut’s critics

In this post, I’m going to let you into a little secret about tax avoidance campaigners. But I’ll come back to that in a bit.

In a week bookended by the Public Accounts Committee’s criticism of Starbucks, Amazon and Google, and UK Uncut’s planned action in Starbucks stores, the usual criticisms of ‘name and shame’ campaigns have been given an airing. Today I want to address a couple of them, to explain why I believe that the campaigns run by NGOs or by grassroots activists are valuable.

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Questions for the Public Accounts Committee today

This afternoon, Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) will be discussing “Taxation of Multinational Corporations” with Matt Brittin, Chief Executive Officer of Google UK, Troy Alstead, Starbucks Global Chief Financial Officer and Andrew Cecil, Director of Public Policy at Amazon.

The Guardian reports that Starbucks may already have sustained lasting damage to its brand image from the allegations against it, and today’s hearing is unlikely to fix that. Meanwhile there was quite a lot of venom directed at the PAC on Twitter last week, from those  who considered it “uninformed” and “lacking understanding”.

There’s at least one point where I agree with these critics. The PAC is a group of MPs, who as legislators are responsible for the design of our tax system. These hearings are a chance for them to examine that system and recommend changes to it, but in doing so it’s fair that they should acknowledge that much of what they consider to be problematic is a consequence of laws for which they themselves have voted.

With that in mind, here are some suggestions for the hearing.

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