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How much longer can Google escape the UK tax system?


By Nicole Kobie

Posted on 14 Aug 2012 at 12:42

It's not yet clear what MPs will demand, but there are efforts to make global companies better spread their tax burden. One idea currently being examined is the Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base for Europe.

It's essentially an algorithm that takes into account where the sales are actually made, where staff are based, and where physical assets such as offices and equipment are, and divvies up taxes based on that.

Heather Self, a lawyer for Pinsent Masons, said the idea has been talked about for years, and while it has "a bit more momentum" it remains several years in the future - and some countries won't be keen to sign up. However, it might be the only way to prevent global internet firms, that can trade from almost anywhere, choosing the region with the lightest possible tax regime.

Internet firms

It's not only Google that uses such tax tactics. Amazon is officially based in Luxembourg, while Facebook is also based in Ireland.

Self said customers are often unaware where an internet company is actually based. "People assume the transaction is happening in the UK just because they placed the initial phone call to somebody in the UK, but actually legally the contract is being made with an Irish company," she said. "It's the Irish company that's taking the credit risk and the other risks associated with the transaction, it's setting the prices and setting what the terms are."

To some extent, tax laws have not caught up with the global nature of electronic trading

While MPs might not like the tax implications, she noted that it's a "fundamental part of the EU" that any firm is "absolutely entitled" to set up operations whereever it chooses, provided it genuinely operates from the country. "If Google Ireland is where senior people are, and UK is only people taking phone calls, then arguably, most of the profit is being made in Ireland and not the UK."

Self points out that it's much easier for internet firms to shift sales to more tax-friendly places. "The difficulty with the internet is that the transactions are so much more mobile. It’s so much easier to decide you'll base yourself somewhere different," she said. "To some extent, tax laws have not caught up with the global nature of electronic trading."

Google's response

In a speech made at last year's Edinburgh Television Festival, executive chairman Eric Schmidt said Google was making the right business decision. "We could pay more tax but we would have to do so voluntarily. It's called paying the legally minimum amount of tax required," he said.

A Google spokesperson added: "We comply with all the tax rules in the UK. We make a big contribution to the UK economy by employing over a thousand people, helping hundreds of thousands of businesses to grow online and investing millions supporting new tech businesses in East London."

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User comments

Global tax system

the only way around it is to implement a global tax system, where the amount of tax paid is the same in each country - it won't work, until the "one world government" takes over.

On Google's side, they have a duty to their share holders to maximise profit - which means minimising the tax bill.

As long as countries allow such legal tax loopholes to exist and force companies to ensure that they fulfill their fudiciary duty to their share holders, they only have themselves to blame, when the companies choose the countries with the most favourable tax structures as their profit bases.

By big_D on 14 Aug 2012

Pay the tax + fine them

Nuff said.

By mrmmm on 14 Aug 2012

This story sounds very "Ivory Towerish" to most people, but the ad revenue that Google sucks in from UK media such as Newspapers and local TV or Radio used to be taxed in the UK; now it is not. That means the tax burden will increase on those UK taxpayers who cannot set themselves up as multinationals ie the ordinary man in the street. That means this kind of tax avoidance puts upwards pressure on YOUR tax bill, and increases the need for austerity spending.

Google isn't the only company doing this though, International Treaties allow all multinationals to do this, but as Vince Cable has been saying for a long time now, it is a growing problem for the UK and other developed economies.

Oh, by the way, there is no legal requirement for a company to maximise profits; it is only required they look afer the best interests of the shareholders, and this might be - as with German companies - that short term profits are less important than long term growth. The shareholders vote the Board in to manage the company and set strategy and tactics as they see fit.

By SwissMac on 14 Aug 2012


Good, perhaps maximise profits was too strong a term, but if they don't use such "advantages" as offshoring their tax to cheaper regions, they could find themselves in hot water with the regulatory bodies around the stock exchanges.

By big_D on 14 Aug 2012


They have paid all the tax they are legally obliged to and they have done nothing illegal, so they can't be fined.

The problem is the underlying tax laws. You can't fine somebody for obeying the letter of the law.

By big_D on 14 Aug 2012

Something missing from this article


Apple’s estimated £6bn in UK sales in 2010 generated just £10m in tax, with its “Double Irish with a Dutch Sandwich” scheme. It almost makes Google look generous in comparison (£6m of tax on £395m revenue).

On top of that, it’s well known that the world’s most valuable company has a tiny setup in Reno to collect its profits because Nevada has 0% corporation tax (thus avoiding $2.4bn in US tax), and any iTunes purchase in Europe sells from Luxembourg with its “favourable” tax rates.

I believe that would at least earn Apple a mention in this article, don’t you?

By TheHonestTruth on 14 Aug 2012

How much longer can Google escape the UK tax system? Read more: How much longer can Google escape the UK tax system? | News | PC Pro

How much longer can Google escape the UK tax system?


How much longer can you or I escape the UK tax system?

Never. Why would you want to, it would be immoral.

By cliffxdavis on 14 Aug 2012


'Globalisation' is used specifically to facilitate the avoidance of tax and all other regulations by multinational corporations.

It works!

Big_D is quite right to note that Google et al have a 'fiduciary duty' to maximise profit, but it would be very simple to change the law to remove that requirement, or to demote it. This 'duty' is simply the fig leaf used by greedy people (like Steve Jobs, and Mr Schmidt) to pretend that they have no choice but to avoid their social \ moral responsibilities.
Don't you believe it.

By wittgenfrog on 14 Aug 2012

Have they done anything illegal?

I am most definately the last person who would jump to the defence of Google. However, they haven't actually done anything wrong here. They have simply funnelled their business through another country. This isn't tax avoidance and considering how cosy HMGovt are with Google they are unlikely to do anything (yes Google could soon be holding your medical records
alth_records/) that will upset that relationship.

If you feel that hard done by Google, don't use them, at all. Change that search engine to Bing, throw away those google docs and use skydrive and Office365, dump your gmail and get on the horse. That is the way things work, don't rant about their tax dealings, use or don't use their products, then they have their shareholders to deal with and they have far more power than rants.

By ScottishYorkshireMan on 14 Aug 2012


The regulators are all National bodies, not International bodies; and there is no regulator who will punish a company for creative accounting within the law - their job is to prevent lies and fraud occurring. Whether a company chooses to set up a subsidiary to reduce their tax bill or not is irrelevant to a regulator.

By SwissMac on 14 Aug 2012


You're absolutely right of course... Until the City changes its way of doing things (which will never happen as it's an "exclusive club"), we're all stuck I'm afraid.

By mrmmm on 14 Aug 2012

It simply tells me that the UK tax system is too expensive in comparison to the rest of the world and bacause of this we loose out on a lot of trade jobs and taxes which should be paid to the UK people.

By ChrisN on 14 Aug 2012

Bermuda is a British Territory

It is a bit rich the British complaining about Google using the Bermuda tax haven. Bermuda is a British Overseas Territory and is a tax haven with British consent. This has long been a bone of contention with the American tax authorities.

By JohnAHind on 14 Aug 2012

Above The Law

When corporations become as powerful as Google, they are truly above the law. Just look at the tax avoidance of eBay and Paypal.

Who is going to bring these companies to heel? And how can they actually do it?

Google is effectively THE INTERNET with a massive following.

By Splicer on 14 Aug 2012

Does anyone smell bacon?

Had to check outside the window for flying pigs. For once I agree with everything Swissmac has said.....

I don't feel well...

By CraigieDD on 14 Aug 2012

Perpetually. Or until the G# countries decide to do something about tax-pirate nations. Thus see my first sentence. £13 trillion secretly is hoarded in these places, see THIRTEEN TRILLION POUNDS. In hard time, you'd have thought it'd be headline news across the world until the G# placed embargoes on these places to force them to at least put minimum disclosure laws in place. But due to top-politicians and global elites being thick as thieves, nothing happens. Did I mention £13 trillion?

By brendan on 14 Aug 2012

Not only tech industries

Boots, your friendly high street pharmacy moved its headquarters to Geneva. Can't think why...
I no longer shop there, but it is becoming difficult to avoid as more companies do the same.

By jonathandk2 on 14 Aug 2012


The problem is each country in the world costs a different amount to run, and this money has to be raised through taxes. Take Luxembourg for instance: it's the size of Oxfordshire with the same population size as Cumbria and can afford to offer paltry tax rates to the likes of Amazon, eBay et all.

The solution has nothing to do with tax rates, but with changing the tax laws.

By SwissMac on 15 Aug 2012

This website really does reveal massively left-wing views when it dips its toes into politics.

To take 1/4 of a company's earnings (24%) and give it to a government [essentially a parasite that slowly kills its host with taxation, generates no wealth, creates no private jobs and exists just to expand] is a clear demonstration of the worst possible destination for money.

Ireland has recognised that it CAN get ahead by lowering its rate of tax and in doing so raise more revenue (counter-intuitive to a leftie I know), by attracting the best wealth-generating firms that 'grow-the-pie' and don't just want a slice of an existing shrinking one.

This is not Google's fault. This is a succession of UK chancellors' faults.

By Alperian on 15 Aug 2012


I wondered when the neocons who monitor these things would put in an appearance! Welcome.

I'm not going to bite on your silly 'parasite' analogy: believe that and you'll believe anything. What are your views on Black Helicopeters? Do you wear a tinfoil hat?

The simple truth is that 'rich' people are the ones who have most to lose when societies fail.
The whole 'Military Industrial Complex' (President Eisenhower) exists primarily to protect their huge assets, not our few meagre possesions!

I wonder if you condiser funding the Border Police or trying to supress terrorism to be 'parasitism'?

By wittgenfrog on 15 Aug 2012

Why can't all countries make it law that the tax paid is at the rate that the finished goods are delivered.
Then it would be less profitable to have an Irish base as if the goods are being delivered to the UK via Ireland then they would have to pay the Irish and UK taxes.

By curiousclive on 15 Aug 2012


If Apple has revenues of £6bn its customers are paying £1.2bn in VAT. Well, I guess I should exclude the business customers in that.

The muddied point I'm badly trying to make is that the effect on the economy goes far further than revenues and profits alone. Both companies would put themselves at a competitive disadvantage if they voluntarily moved their business to a different country and paid more tax - although on the face of it Apple's profits are already immoral given the markups charged to gullible people who think they're getting a better product for their money.

*ducks flame war*

By baldmosher on 16 Aug 2012

Careful choice of words

I think you need to be a little careful with choice of words, the newsletter I received this morning from PC Pro had a line "Google can evade the UK's tax system". I think you may find they take exception to that - there is a difference between evading and avoiding. My understanding is that evading is a criminal offence and I'm not sure your legal team would thank you for suggesting Google has committed a criminal offence.

By silverous on 16 Aug 2012

Double Standards

Whilst MP's may call Google before the treasuary select committee I find it despicable that the PM choose to single out Jimmy Carr for making use of a similarly legal Tax avoidance scheme. It is about time that all tax loopholes were closed.

By DLinton99 on 16 Aug 2012

Domino effect?

The presence of Google in the UK is like a magnet for other companies. If Google decided to move elsewhere what else would follow? Perhaps we should be happy with the employment, both direct and indirect, that Google brings to the UK. What we could say to Google is 'Would you like to fund a project' - that could be anything that would benefit the economy to the extent that paying the tax would have done - or something that the public would would see as being beneficial. The advantage here would be that the project would be on-going and could blossom into something bigger and more lucrative/beneficial.

By technoboi on 16 Aug 2012

Reduce Their Benefits

It's easy to see "Tax" as an academic concern, but it's what pays for the schools, hospitals, roads that makes the UK function.
Who does Google think educated their staff?
If companies don't want to pay for the public services in their country then great, but they should receive no benefit either.
So if there's a fire at their lovely office, let them sort it themselves.
If they're robbed, don't send the police.
Charge them £50k for every graduate they hire to cover what we've spent educating their staff.
Similarly the RNLI should charge foreign-owned ships for rescues.
eBay & Paypal could be transaction taxed.
But will never happen as who pays political parties?
Every time a minister wants to look like they know what's going on they toddle over to be photographed at Google.
Google will not "move out" of the UK as need to be here. If they could outsource to India they'd have done it already.
The idea that governments are powerless in the face of global business is ridiculous - who did the banks & LandRover & the rest turn to when credit suddenly crunched?
The deliberate policy of giving power to companies is falling apart in banking as new corruption comes to light every day.
Governments COULD take control, but the will still isn't there.
Who is going to pay for Britain's public services in the future if business is allowed to simply walk away from it's responsibilities?

By Tony_Yeah on 16 Aug 2012

The big problem with Tax is, it goes to the Government, not the Country.

By Wilbert3 on 16 Aug 2012

EU could step in

This is one area where the EU is not a single market - huge differences in tax rates, especially corporate tax rates.
They could take steps here to some normalisation. not a single rate, but an allowable band. If a country then seeks advantage by going outside that band - the EU could sanction or withdraw other benefits to balance it out.

By richab on 16 Aug 2012

Double whammy for punters

To all those who wish to defend Apple, Google et al- Not only does the UK taxpayer have to pay more taxes, they also have to pay the higher VAT rates charged in Ireland.

So ultimately the customer pays higher taxes twice.

By imaginarynumber on 19 Aug 2012

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