Go-Ahead, the bus and rail operator, has become the first FTSE 350 company to be awarded the Fair Tax Mark, an accreditation scheme devised by a team of tax campaigners led by Richard Murphy.
The Go-Ahead group employs 23,000 people in the UK and operates the Southern, Southeastern and London Midland franchises. It won the Thameslink rail franchise earlier this year in a joint venture with Keolis, the French state-owned transport services operator.
Chief executive Dave Brown, announcing the group’s latest results today, said he was pleased the group had been recognised for an “open and transparent approach” to its tax affairs”.
Heather Self, a partner at the law firm Pinsent Masons, told AccountingWEB: “It must be encouraging for the Fair Tax Mark that a major company has signed up, but Go-Ahead are a UK business so requirements such as country-by-country reporting are not relevant. The real challenge for the Fair Tax Mark will be to get a major multinational on board.”
Meesha Nehru, research and policy officer at the Fair Tax Mark, said Go-Ahead “adopted a new group tax policy that best reflected their current practice and revised the way they present tax data in their accounts to provide information that met the Fair Tax Mark criteria”.
Go-Ahead’s annual report, published today said: “The Fair Tax Mark is a label for good taxpayers and companies that are open about tax affairs and seek to pay the right amount of corporation tax at the right time and in the right place.”
It added that “we have a board enforced policy not to undertake tax planning and not to use tax havens”.
Go-Ahead’s reference to “tax planning” rather than “tax avoidance” may surprise many tax professionals and other observers who have expressed concern over a lack of clarity in the public debate on tax issues.
A statement of the Fair Tax Mark’s guiding principles on corporation tax, set out in a second draft of criteria for multinationals released yesterday, said: “The principles we are promoting directly relate to two of the seven tax principles that the CBI promotes, which say: ‘UK businesses should only engage in reasonable tax planning that is aligned with commercial and economic activity and does not lead to an abusive result …’”
The Fair Tax Mark team has invited comments on the second draft by 11 September. Draft assessment criteria for multinational companies were first published on 26 June, with a note describing the project as “evolving and consultative”. However, a deadline of 10 July was set for comments on the first draft. An extension to 17 July was announced via Twitter on 11 July.
Some commentators complained that the initial “consultation” period was too short. Maya Forstater, a writer and researcher specialising in sustainable development, wrote on 29 June that it was a “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it” consultation. But she thought the Fair Tax Mark was “a good idea”.
Fair Tax Mark Limited, a community benefit society, was established in February 2014. Richard Murphy, tax justice campaigner and director of Tax Research LLP, is its technical director.