back to article EU wants the Swiss and pals to cough up IT giants' hidden bank info

Europe's finance ministers will start talks with five non-member states to close tax law loopholes exploited by tech multinationals - such as Google and Amazon. The ministers said they wanted to open up negotiations with European Free Trade Association members Switzerland and Liechtenstein as well as with "tax haven" microstates …

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Anonymous Coward

The harder they squeeze, the more sand will slip through their fingers.

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Joke

So what you're saying is

They should use a bit of water? Make the sand wet and you can grip it really easily and make sand castles.

I have no idea where the metaphor goes from here.

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Anonymous Coward

The harder they squeeze, the more sand will slip through their fingers.

The lower the campaign contributions, you mean. This whole circus has gone too far to be fixed by mere rules - that's the mistake they made with the financial crisis too. If you cannot see the problem in "They ignored our rules, so we need more rules" you really need a new brain.

I find it entertaining that Switzerland is always mentioned in this context, because it's wholly not part of this sort of scamming, and hasn't been for years. If anything, the Swiss are hunting down expatriated tax revenue too, but won't break their own laws to do so as the country is to small to hide that for long, and their controls on democracy are more or less working.

Companies have a duty to shareholders to maximise profit, which makes them by definition amoral - unless correct ethical behaviour is made part of profit generation you will always have this. Until then, those who find the loopholes will actually be celebrated. And pay campaign contributions to keep it that way.

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Anonymous Coward

...and what do you want to guess will be the result? Lots of Euro Google offices shutting down and their corporate entities moving to Barbados or something.

They don't have to employ people in Europe to be in Europe. There's a little thing called the Internet that goes internationally, y'know. Taxation does NOT create jobs Mr. Politician. Responsible governments and a healthy financial environment does. Let me know when either of those things appears up in Europe.

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WTF?

Really?

Did you not read the whole part about trying to make it a global standard? Once it is (assuming they get that far) a global standard. Where are they going to move?

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> Taxation does NOT create jobs Mr. Politician

Indeed it doesn't, but every govmt wants to tax what people spend every which way, so when those nasty multi-nationals use loopholes to funnel cash out of a country without paying tax, it denies them that segment of tax revenue that could have been collected if the company providing that service wholly operated within the UK. This diminishes the Treasury's revenue, and makes the defence, NHS and welfare bills add up to more than the govmts receipts if this isn't fixed.

The question is, how should govmt be funded? And what should be funded? I'm sure we can all find little (and large) projects that are white elephants, plus examples of wasteful expenditure - but that's not the issue. How does the govmt fund what it is supposed to be doing? The answer is taxation - both on income for the proletariat, and profits for corporations. It's hard for the proletariat to hide their income, but large corporations can easily funnel stuff elsewhere - therefore reducing the "take" for the govmt, and requiring either increased general taxation for those that can't avoid (or "plan") it, or reducing services (or a mix of both). Or they could borrow squillions of quid to let our children fix it.

In short, the system is broken and needs sorting. Yes, the internet is a great inter-country leveller, making it easy for a business to set up shop in a low tax area while selling into a high tax area, so they either need to unify tax systems to level out the global tax demands, or make the transfer of cash between countries for business purposes a taxable thing (somehow, which I appreciate will tread on toes all over the place).

Possibly over-simplistic, and IANAEconomist, so feel free to blow raspberries at my naivety.

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Re: Really?

"A global standard"

Yeah, right. One things for certain; you'll never get a global standard. That's why there are these tax havens now. No matter how hard you try, someone will leave the standard for some perceived benefit, normally financial. Anyone who thinks a global standard can ever be possible is really ignoring the whole of history.

P.S.

The other thing that normally happens with global standards is that they are incapable of making a decision or changing. The UN is a good example. So hamstrung by politics, that it can't really do anything.

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Google make their money through advertising. They do that by accepting payment from UK customers and thus come under UK sales jurisdiction (including taxation etc.). They advertise to UK customers thus coming under UK advertising legislation. If they sell only outside the country, then they are subject to different taxation and scrutiny. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

It pretty much doesn't matter where their bank happens to be, but the reason all these companies have English, Chinese, Spanish, French etc. offices is because it's just too much hassle to deal with an entire country remotely (let alone a continent) - legally, financially and just plain fact that you come under their jurisdiction as soon as you perform trade in their country (and, as you point out, this being the Internet the second someone sees your websites it's basically trade). Hence why Google France were forced to pull Nazi-memorabilia, etc. when everyone else doesn't have a law against it. It's nothing to do with where your headquarters are, but to do with whom you are trading and the taxation gets you no matter what way you go - it's just been particularly generous to people who use shell companies in the past.

If they move offshore, then everyone who advertises with them currently will have to move over to Google Barbados (or equivalent) and pay a Barbados entity directly, deal with a Barbados company subject only to Barbados law, all because Google wish to avoid UK taxation, for their UK ads for UK products selling to UK customers (and, incidentally, then you would have them not subject to UK advertising law, etc.). I'm guessing an awful lot of companies won't want to do that, because their customers will disappear overnight (because of the legal grey area of handing them money via a Barbados subsidiary, the taxation legal grey area in general, and the fact that Google trading in the EU in any way will still make them subject to EU trading law, or all the UK business going their way will come under tight scrutiny).

And losing Europe is a pretty huge chunk of sales to lose. We're not talking a pittance but (if video games and other electronic services are anything to go by) about 50% of their total revenue (yes, in some industries, the US isn't the biggest spender!).

Fact is, if they want to get EU money from EU customers, you pretty much have to comply with EU law, one way or the other, remotely or not, and pay EU taxes. Or else we'd all set up a US company selling guns to UK customers or chewing gum to the Singaporeans - there's nothing illegal in your home country about selling to that other country, but it puts you into their jurisdiction when you do so. And a BIG well-known target like Google will attract a lot of regulatory attention if it suddenly pulls out of the UK and stops complying with UK law in order to sell to UK customers. You're honestly in "trade embargo" territory there (as in Google's home page going dark from the EU, which will cost them so much money with even the most pathetically circumventable blocking that they'd pay anything to get it back up after even a day).

So, let's not be silly. Google will have a UK, Ireland, EU, Spain, France etc. office in every country unless they go bust. It's costs MUCH more not to (and in places like France and Italy, you can't set up a company without an actual, physical, legal entity being in the country all the time - hell, try getting a .it domain name legally - precisely because of this sort of thing).

The fact is, Google will either comply or fight. If it fights it might win (there are lots of parts of the EU that are supposed to determine the laws that apply, not just a single country). If it doesn't, it will lose big-time and cost more money.

This is government we're talking about. If there's a profit in it, they'll WRITE the damn law that makes Google do their will.

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Re: Really?

Anyone who thinks a global standard can ever be possible is really ignoring the whole of history.

I don't think that at all, hence the brackets and the "if it gets that far" part.

We can be optimists though, and hope. There will always be people that disagree with each other, but what we need to encourage is more cooperation not less.

Nothing ever got built/done by saying "It won't happen," "that can't be done" etc. Try, try and try again. Although I think there are other things that require this before worrying about tax evasion.

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"...and what do you want to guess will be the result? Lots of Euro Google offices shutting down and their corporate entities moving to Barbados or something."

The "corporate entities" that make no money (apparently) because they don't "sell" anything and only do "marketing"?

I for one would be happy to block all web traffic to barbados if in engages in acts of economic terrorism, I know who'd crack first :-)

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Google Ireland sells advertising to UK customers, therefore it comes under Irish sales tax rules. Google Ireland pays Google UK a small amount of money to identify and refer potential customers to them so they can close the sale.

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Go

Where are they going to move?

Funny you should ask.

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This post has been deleted by its author

>>UK chancellor George Osborne said ... that it was "incredibly important that companies and individuals pay the tax that is due". <<

However, in most of the cases so far, they probably have paid all that they are required to pay under current legislation; if he wants them to pay more, he has to change the legislation to reduce the number of loopholes that can be exploited. But in reality, he is probably using some of those tax breaks himself, so has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

This is just another MP trying to make it sound as if he is doing something to earn his pay (and expenses; and justify the next payrise) without actually achieving a damn thing.

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Anonymous Coward

Tech companies are just beginning to find out that cheating the biggest gangsters (Governments and politicians) out of money will not end well for them. After Zuckerberg's latest Fwd.us tripe, I don't really feel sorry for them.

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Two choices with the interwebs economy...

OK, Mr. politician, here they are.

1. You can accept they pay next to nothing but still have people employed by them, who DO pay taxes and pump their wages back into your economy.

2. You can change the law to require them to pay more taxes, after which they will fire everybody and move off to more interesting financial climes. The net result wil be no taxes and no jobs. And social security paying for everyone that got fired. After which they will not be able to afford the stuff they want locally, and order everything over said interwebs from overseas stores who sell for cheap because the seller don't pay taxes. Congratulations, you now have your social security sponsoring foreign tax havens.

You may not like it very much, but don't delude yourself you can make Google et al fork over their money.

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Re: Two choices with the interwebs economy...

You sound deluded my friend, you really think Google, Facebook, et al really contribute that greatly to the domestic economy? How would they be doing that then? By schemes like lobbying for H1B visas so they can bring in cheap overseas workers and lay off domestic workers (OK, applies to the US, but they WILL try it here as well)? By using up the local infrastructure of a country to a far greater degree than they contribute? By paying miniscule amounts of tax while making billions off the citizens of the country they are operating in? By outsourcing all their work to India and China?

Of course these outcries are a cynical ploy by politicians, but let's not fool ourselves. Large tech multinationals have been creaming off the top for way too long and really need to be brought to heel. The whole jobs and tax argument is horseshit, as the vast majority of their staff are either in foreign countries or being shipped in from foreign countries because they'll work for peanuts.

It's a well known fact in the US that Silicon Valley gives very little benefit to the rest of the country at a national, and even state level. The only people who benefit are those who live in the bubble, you might have heard but the rest of California is stone broke.

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DJO
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FAIL

Re: Two choices with the interwebs economy...

You can change the law to require them to pay more taxes, after which they will fire everybody and move off to more interesting financial climes.

If you really believe that then there are 3 possibilities:

1) You are really quite stupid

2) You are rather naive

3) You have a vested interest

No company is going to forego the profits available from the EU just to save a bit of tax, does the aphorism "cutting off ones nose to spite ones face" have any resonance?

Every time anybody suggests tightening up tax somebody like you spouts this crap but have all the banks moved form the City of London? No of course not, it's all bluster and I'm pretty sure you know that.

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Re: Two choices with the interwebs economy...

"You sound deluded my friend, you really think Google, Facebook, et al really contribute that greatly to the domestic economy?"

Err, yes, yes I do.

The contribution of a company (or any organisation) is measured by the production of that company that we get to consume. The value of Google to us is that we get Google to use. Yes, I understand that that argument fails somewhat when discussing Facebook: but 1 billion people do like it.

Try this one. We're going to measure the contribution to hte domestic economy by looking at how much tax people pay, yes? You hint at that above.

Excellent: so, the NHS pays not corporate taxation at all, Google pays at least some. Google is therefore more valuable to the UK economy than the NHS, yes?

No, obviously it isn't, the conclusion is nonsensical. Therefore the original contention must be: that tax contribution determines the value to hte domestic economy.

The value of the NHS is reasonable even if not perfect health care for 65 million people. The value of Google is being able to use Google. Nowt about taxes paid in either case.

QED.

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Meh

Re: Two choices with the interwebs economy...

The most feasible sort of industry to move "somewhere else" is manufacturing. The equipment can be moved & locals trained for the bulk if the work. What are not very feasible to move are service, marketing or sales operations. Those are extremely difficult because they demand a local presence with a finger on the pulse of the locals. No amount of connectivity or virtual presence will ever replace face to face meetings, especially in high value deals.

What I'm getting at is these companies are not going to pack up & go somewhere else. They have be there and the governments can force them to play by the rules. They won't like it but they'll play.

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FAIL

Re: Two choices with the interwebs economy...

What a stupid argument quite frankly, trying to draw a parallel between Google, a private company, and the NHS, a publicly funded organisation. The NHS isn't supposed to turn a net profit is it, so what are you on about? Why would anyone expect the NHS to provide any sort of tax benefit to the country, it's never been intended to do that and we all know it. Very weak straw man argument, to be frank.

The fact of the matter is that the Google's 'contribution' to the economy (you can use it, according to you) is utterly negligible. If Google disappeared tomorrow, name me one of their free services that wouldn't be replaced easily by something else on the web? Maps? Mail? Ad network? Youtube? Do no alternatives exist to these services? I think you'll find they do.

Therefore they contribute a minimal amount to the economy in tax and have no real inherent value to society in the wider sense, as their 'services' are easily replaced.

QED that.

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Re: Two choices with the interwebs economy...

1. My perceived intelligence (or lack thereof) has nowt to do with economic reality.

2. I am generally described as 'the archetypal evil cynic', so you may be right there

3. I have. I run a business. Tax rate on company profit currenly is around 30% for me. Paying myself dividends is another 15. If I can find a way to move my company's activities without affecting the level of service I give my customers while reducing my tax burden I'll do it.

Amazon, for example, currently operates 10 distribution centers in Germany. They look at their bottom line every day and squeeze every buck out of their operations they can.

Opel closed their Belgian operations a few years ago. Their plant was allegedly the most efficient in Europe, but tax on labour was to high. They bailed out.

Ford closed their plant last year. It was quite modern, and an integrated site with all their subcontractors around them. Still they bailed : Germany gaven them a better Tax deal.

All large Chemical companies (BASF, Bayer, etc) have for the last 10 years built their new plants in the Far East and even the US. They claim tax rates are too high.

You may insult my person all you like. But don't think for a minute companies won't bail if the numbers tell them to.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Two choices with the interwebs economy...

Every example you've given there is a large manufacturing firm that have far more of a knock on effect to the rest of the economy than tech companies do, that's the only reason a Government would try so hard to get them to stay.

Look at the online gambling industry for example, who pay no tax, and employ very few domestic workers, is the Government bending over backwards to keep them in the country, or does it care when they all fuck off to Gibraltar?

Way to torpedo your own argument with horrible examples.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Two choices with the interwebs economy...

You are financially ignorant. You are business ignorant. Keep to what you are good at, whatever it is.

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Anonymous Coward

it's not only companies

I was working with a contractor who explained in depth the 'Jimmy Carr' type scheme he was involved in to dodge his takes.

He was quite proud of his evasion - the wanker

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FAIL

Re: it's not only companies

Why is someone a wanker for trying to reduce their tax? I don't earn enough to set up any schemes like this, but if I did..... I try to limit the amount of tax I pay with allowances etc, but your argument seems to indicate that we should all give more. They already piss most of it away. One third of the population derive all of their income from the government and I am fed up with it. The ultimate conclusion of yours seems to be for the HMRC to take ALL our income and give us back a little pocket money.

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Re: it's not only companies

Evasion != avoidance.

One is illlegal, the other is either financial efficiency or immorality, depending on your point of view.

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Anonymous Coward

@AC 13:24

I *choose* not to buy spirits and cigarettes, thus "evading" those taxes. Am I a wanker too ?

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Mushroom

Re: it's not only companies

Sometimes the difference between Evasion and Avoidance comes down to whether HMRC make a ruling against you or whether you have the wherewithall to fight HMRC or if its cheaper to cut your losses.

Thats what some of these clever dicks using the Jimmy Carr like schemes dont realise. Avoiding taxation by assuming you are small fry and that your scheme (that someone who is probably creaming off a cut has recommended) HMRC compliant is a recipe for financial disaster. Most of these schemes seem to have an offshore component. What happens to your money if its offshore when the taxman closes it down? Are the scheme owners going to give back money in transit? I doubt it.

If you really think he is a wanker - dob him into the tax man. Have the courage of your convictions.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: it's not only companies

You are correct there is a difference.

He is legally evading paying his fair due of taxes - taxes he could afford to pay but chooses not to.

Ilegal - not at the moment.

Immoral - certainly

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Anonymous Coward

Re: it's not only companies

He is not legally evading taxes. He is legally avoiding taxes. EVADE != AVOID.

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Re: it's not only companies

He is legally evading paying his fair due of taxes...

No he's not. He's "legally avoiding paying more tax than he needs to". Everyone does this. Even you. It is your moral obligation to your family to pay only as much tax as you have to pay, to help provide more money to your family.

Rich or poor, only paying the amount of tax you are due is what everyone does. It just so happens, the rich have more efficient means of doing so. You buy a "to go" drink from Macdonalds, and drink it outside, saving the VAT. They channel large sums through offshore accounts, or pay themselves $1 salaries, and the rest in shares, saving hundreds of thousands by paying a different tax rate based on how that "income" is declared. It's all the same...just at different ends of a perfectly legal scale.

So enough with the hypocracy.

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Pots and Kettles

I don't condone corporate 'tax planning' that avoids payment of due tax, but I can't take MP's seriously on this at all. Every time I hear a UK politician bleating on about the evils of corporate 'aggressive tax planning', I think of a couple of things.

Firstly, that they were perfectly happy to fleece the taxpayer for as much as they could through expenses before a spotlight was shone into some of the very dodgy practices that some of them were engaged in, home flipping, etc. They really do not have any moral high ground on this.

Secondly, where is the public transparency they demand of big business when it comes to MP's own tax affairs? When you have the likes of Cameron and Osbourne, millionaires in their own right, and all other MP's for that matter, publishing full and details accounts of their own tax dealings for public scrutiny, then I might, just might, give their 'indignation' a bit more credence.

MP's need to remember that they are public servants, paid from the public purse, and that accountability is a very double edged sword.

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Alien

Inevitable

How long before Google et al decide to build their own ISS and make it their "off planet" corporate entity?

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Re: Inevitable

I'd go to work for Google Space Ventures

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Headmaster

"European austerity measures" ... a little perspective.

Do we have "austerity" measures, regularly bemoaned by Klown Krugman? No we don't.

At http://mises.org/journals/fm/February2013.pdf, we read.

Austerity has been hotly debated as either an elixir or a poison for tough economic times. But what is austerity? Real austerity means that the government and its employees have less money at their disposal. For the economists at the International Monetary Fund, “austerity” may mean spending cuts, but it also means increasing taxes on the beleaguered public in order to, at all costs, repay the government’s corrupt creditors. Keynesian economists reject all forms of austerity. They promote the “borrow and spend” approach that is supposedly scientific and is gentle on the people: paycheck insurance for the unemployed, bailouts for failing businesses, and stimulus packages for everyone else. Austrian School economists reject both the Keynesian stimulus approach and the IMF-style high-tax, pro-bankster “Austerian” approach. Although “Austrians” are often lumped in with “Austerians,” Austrian School economists support real austerity. This involves cutting government budgets, salaries, employee benefits, retirement benefits, and taxes. It also involves selling government assets and even repudiating government debt.

Despite all the hoopla in countries like Greece, there is no real austerity except in the countries of eastern Europe. For example, Latvia is Europe’s most austere country and also has its fastest growing economy. Estonia implemented an austerity policy that depended largely on cuts in government salaries. There simply is no austerity in most of western Europe or the U.S. As Professor Philipp Bagus explains, “the problem of Europe (and the United States) is not too much but too little austerity—or its complete absence.” Most of Europe and the U.S. continue to have massive budget deficits and growing national debts relative to GDP. The Keynesians’ magical multipliers have once again failed to materialize. Given that most of these economies have not achieved growth from stimulus, they should give the idea of true austerity a fresh look.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "European austerity measures" ... a little perspective.

Don't worry, austerity will be forced upon us sooner or later when the pyramid system collapses upon itself. These so called experts and our political class are ignorant and in denial and Putting off the day of reckoning and will simply make it worse for longer.

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Go

Oh hell, about high time

To get rid of all those tax heavens. Easy or difficult, probably difficult. Time is needed for those who are in charge to have their money reinvested outside, somewhere. Should this happen, I think so, and still there are those who would say "just close your eyes and be happy as before" non of that money is yours anyway, and the big boys will always know what is good for you and the state and the economy.

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Happy

Re: Oh hell, about high time

Adding to my previous post. There where very intelligent people proving how getting rid of slavery was bad for the economy, the country, the society, peace and what not. I am not sure we are quite there either, yet.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Oh hell, about high time

lars, are you a fascist or a marxist? You certainly don't understand the concepts of democrracy and sovereignty and the right of countries to run their own affairs, set their own tax rates, etc. How would you feel if the UK had a tax rate imposed by the EU. Think before you write, unless you truly believe in removal of democracy and sovereignty.

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Flame

I say this every time

I see one of these "We must squeeze them for more tax" things. No you don't you morons, you just need to lower our taxes so we're competative.

My hometown, and many towns accross the Uk are slowly turning to barron wastelands in part because of the whole web shopping setup, but also because the rates in some towns are too damn high.

This is the current cycle on the small side of things

Business opens, makes profit,

Government sets business rates higher

landlords put building rent higher

business no longer profitable closes down / moves elsewhere.

Town is left desolate.

landlords up rent elsewhere to make up for the lost profits so on so forth.

The same is true of public transport, supermarkets, and of cousre international businesses. The only difference with internationals is that they can shuffle things about and avoid paying the absurd taxes we charge. Just closing these loopholes won't solve anything because business will just move elsewhere, even global standards won't be adhered to by all locations.

As well as closing the loopholes we need to lower the taxes businesses pay to make them want to stay, this would lead to big business stayiing and paying their taxes, more smaller businesses opening and staying open, which will in turn pay tax. These companies will hire more emplouees because they can afford to and these employees will in turn pay tax. This is trickle down economics not the bullshit the government is pushing forwards.

I'd also love to see rent control on storefronts if it doesn't exist already, because really brick and mortar stores do need help and they just aren't getting it.

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Anonymous Coward

@wowfood

your hometown isn't Redditch by any chance ?

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Swiss shouted at for hiding stolen gold.

Now where have we seen that before?

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Coat

Re: Swiss shouted at for hiding stolen gold.

Lets hope the legislation has some teeth.... or do the swiss already own them all ;)

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Re: Swiss shouted at for hiding stolen gold.

You can shout all you like, but if you were sitting on a gigantic pile of gold (ill gained or otherwise), would you listen to someone complaining about it...?

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Good luck with that

One of the reasons that Starbucks is inflating the price of its coffee in Switzerland is that the VAT there is 8% instead of being around 20% like in most countries in the EU. The reason Luxembourg has a VAT of 15% is because it is the minimum the EU allows.

This is not a small loophole; setting the VAT at the standard European level would augment the revenue of the Swiss government by almost 50%.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Amazon: If ever there was an open and shut case :-

And what the fuck has their turnover got to do with tax paid on profit ? Haven't you yet realized that Amazon as a company actually makes stuff all profit so it rarely pays a lot of tax despite having a very significant turnover.

This whole argument is an exercise in mass delusion. The socialists and the left seem to think that there is this huge pot of money just bouncing around out of their reach in companies, and they want their hands on it NOW. But government spending generally has a negative multiplier, the more they take, the less the rest of us (aka the taxpayers and citizens) actually have. And just consider the important factor: Tax Incidence. Who actually pays the tax, and you're a complete mug if you don't realize that in the end, you do in one form or another.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Amazon: If ever there was an open and shut case :-

Turnover != taxable income. Turnover = revenue before expenses.

*sigh* You forum geeks need to learn some accounting terms and rules.

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