Public outrage at tax avoidance takes to the high street
Sir Philip Green was at the centre of another tax row this week as protestors shut down his flagship Topshop store in London’s Oxford Street over the weekend.
The protest, organised by activist group UK Uncut, saw 200 people descend on the store as part of a day of action striking out against the tax arrangements of wealthy individuals and businesses.
Green was accused of deliberately trying to avoid paying hundreds of millions of pounds in tax in 2005, after awarding his wife a £1.2bn dividend – the largest ever in corporate history. Since Mrs Green lives in Monaco, she saved some £300m in tax – money that the UK Treasury missed out on.
“Philip Green is a well-known tax avoider and today we’re bringing our campaign right to the heart of his empire,” James Kelly, a spokesman for UK Uncut told journalists outside the store.
The demonstration was part of a series of targeted events; protestors also hit a Topshop store in Brighton, and similar actions were seen in Glasgow, Leeds, Bristol, Liverpool, Manchester and Nottingham.
This followed an earlier wave of protests, when 60 activists shut down Vodafone’s Oxford Street store, handing out flyers accusing the company of avoiding paying £6bn in taxes – a claim which the company and HMRC deny.
The telecoms operator recently ended a ten year dispute with HMRC by agreeing to pay back £1.25bn over five years.
The protestors garnered support from the business and finance community, but tax experts stressed that more attention should be paid to tax reforms in order to combat avoidance.
Richard Murphy, director of Tax Research UK, said he thought that UK Uncut's actions were justified. "I do think that what they're doing is appropriate, I do think there's a problem. Large businesses are paying a smaller proportion of their income in tax than many individuals and small businesses in the UK and that's unacceptable".
The Institute of Directors’ Alistair Tebbit said: “We have some sympathy for the protestors. The UK corporation tax rate is currently 28% while the EU's average is 25%, a whole 5% difference. That is why companies are moving abroad because in the global economy the numbers always win.
"So instead of protesting outside Topshop they should protest outside HM Revenue and Customs demanding they drop the tax rate".
The video below, produced by UK Uncut, shows the protest at Topshop Oxford Street.
You might also be interested in
I've been a journalist for four years, writing on a wide variety of topics from business and finance to travel, culture and celebrities. I began my career as an editorial assistant for Palladian Publications, a B2B publisher specialising in technical magazines for professionals in primary industries. I later moved into consumer magazines as a...