The subject of tax avoidance and tax evasion is of real relevance to my constituents, for whom paying tax is not negotiable—unlike, it seems, for large corporations such as Google.
The rationale for public service cuts has been based on the notion that we, as a country, cannot afford to pay for public services in the way we have done—that we cannot afford to meet the basic needs of our citizens because of the debts facing the country.
It is important to note that the Government have been in office for nearly six years. During that time, the Chancellor and the Prime Minister have been able to take action on these issues. The limited progress that the Government have made is welcome, but the Google deal flies in the face of it. Their attempts to blame the previous Labour Government every time their record is questioned is wearing thin—even with their own supporters.
Issues of taxation and who pays are all the more pertinent when the Conservatives’ political choices mean that jobs are being lost and services closed, and that people are suffering as a result. The cuts agenda the Government have embarked on over the past 69 months has hit my constituents extremely hard. The cumulative cuts that the St Helens and Knowsley councils, which cover my constituency, have faced since the Government took office add up to a staggering £168 million. The £94 million cut from Knowsley’s budget is the highest of any council in the country, despite the area having some of the highest levels of deprivation and lowest incomes. That has meant unavoidable, savage cuts to services across the board, and that is clear to everyone in my constituency. However, the detail of why Google is paying only £130 million in tax is still shrouded in secrecy.
This is about a choice as to who pays what. The Government have made very clear who has no option but to pay and for whom the issue is negotiable. Local government is now meant to self-finance, with the phasing out of the block grant, and authorities are meant to generate business activity to get tax from it. So who is paying while Google does not? Many small, and large, businesses in my constituency pay their tax—they have no choice. The nature of their business means that they cannot physically move premises like some other businesses. They have no option to relocate their profits to other countries, as is convenient for others. If the Chancellor wishes local authorities to generate more of their own finances for themselves and rely less on central Government, how can he justify businesses that make a large contribution to local economies and which pay their taxes locally subsidising, in effect, the likes of Google and other multinationals?