Amazon’s ‘confidential’ UK turnover going public, Autumn Statement predictions, rail fare increases and an accountant who stole £500,000 from the church all made the news this week. Steven Perryman reads the news so you don’t have to
1. A taxing time for all – except Accenture
Tax, for the umpteenth week running, has dominated the finance headlines and shows no signs of abating this side of the festive break.
With tax avoidance expected to be a focus of the Autumn Statement next week, the stories continue to roll. Most vitriol continues to be reserved for Starbucks, Amazon and Google with the latter two companies taking centre stage this week.
Firstly, the usually financially-shy online retailer has been forced to reveal its turnover by the Commons committee investigating its tax arrangements. Despite arguing that it would supply the figures on a ‘confidential basis’, it failed miserably with the figures published on the Parliament.uk site detailing a turnover of £3bn.
Google has taken an approach from the opposite end of the spectrum this week by inviting Channel 4 News into its swanky London offices to shadow its UK Chief Executive, Matt Brittin, for the day and offering the station the opportunity to question him on his company’s ‘immoral’ tax arrangements.
The ensuing news piece was a PR masterstroke, showing the company offering online start-ups a helping hand. Eventually Channel 4’s Krishnan Guru-Murthy did get the chance to pin Brittin on Google’s Bermuda-based tax set-up, only to come off second best under a barrage of slick answers. How Amazon must wish it had Britten and not Andrew Cecil, the bumbling court jester it put in front of the commons committee a few weeks back.
Accenture, meanwhile, must be having a good laugh at all this. The global services company’s own tax avoidance scandal has made barely a ripple in the news this week. Something which must please the CEO of a company which was dragged through the mud not that long ago when its ‘brand amabassador’, golfer Tiger Woods, turned out to be a little loose in the trouser department.
HMRC continues to attempt to strike fear into company’s operating (perfectly legal) tax arrangements. This week it was reported that the government body is sending letters to 1,500 individuals as a pre-emptive strike in the hope of getting individuals to cease the tax arrangements voluntarily. What with that and its new Big Brother-esque poster campaign, HMRC is beginning to feel like the tax Columbo.
Which is quite fitting seeing as this week it was reported that the taxman is seeking official permission to break the speed limit like the emergency services for its ‘covert surveillance vehicles’. Really? Or is it just to get home quicker after a spot of over-time?
2. Economy – is the Autumn Statement actually a Winter Statement?
It’s under a week now until the Chancellor finally put us out of our misery (or, more likely, adds to it) with his Autumn Statement. An odd title for something that takes place in December, isn’t it? Surely the Winter (of discontent) Statement would be a more appropriate name?
And there’s no better time to stick the boot into the UK economy. Not if you’re French, anyway. Paris-based Economic Co-operation and Development announced this week that the global slowdown, the eurozone crisis, the government’s deficit reduction programme and the paying down of consumer debt were all acting as a brake on UK growth. You would imagine the think tank would be more concerned with its own economy, especially given the news last week that credit ratings agency Moody’s has downgraded France from its top rating.
As is usual the week before such announcements, the media are playing guessing games with what the Chancellor may come up with and AAT‘s Brian Palmer has been pointing out what he would like to see next Wednesday. Although it has to be said that David Cameron has done a sterling job of diverting attention from the Chancellor with his response to the Leveson enquiry this week.
While the expected freeze in fuel duty next week will spell good(ish) news for motorists, rail passengers can look forward to higher prices – and more armpits in your face – with the news that while trains get busier rail fares are to rise above inflation. Again. It’s news that always leads to a collective groan – and a once-a-year occurrence to boot.
Yep, it’s the only time that rail passengers are actually pleased to see RMT Union leader, and general strike-organising nuisance, Bob Crow. This week he has been lending his weight (ahem) to the rail fare increase protests. Go Bob!
We do have other options though. According to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) people should shun their cars if a trip could be done in 15 or 20 minutes on foot or bike. Good plan. But what if people want to use a Boris bike? Well, those fares will increase in the New Year too – by 100%. Those New Year fitness plans just got more expensive.
Not that we’ll need them, if the proposed minimum price of 45p a unit for the sale of alcohol in England and Wales goes ahead. Or we stop eating cheese because it contains too much salt. Bread and water all round, then?
3. Education – Doug Richard is in on apprenticeships
Doug Richard. Remember him? One of the original Dragons whose montage in the opening credits of the show showed him on a yacht looking like an extra from Duran Duran’s Rio video? Well he’s dumped the shades and jumped on dry land to lead the governments review of apprenticeships.
His review – which was released this week – argues that employers should take the lead on apprenticeships. It was a view supported by AAT’s Suzie Webb on AAT Comment this week and in a letter to The Guardian. You can only think the review would have made a bigger splash had it not been released on the same day as the Bank of England announced its new Governor.
In light of Richards’s report, it was interesting to see a call for UK universities to offer more practical and vocational learning. A poll for Policy Exchange found 55% of adults believed too many people studied narrowly academic subjects.
It is something which seems inevitable with news this week that more English colleges are to become universities. Surely poor timing for such a news story given that it was reported this week that university applications are down 8.4%.
And finally…Stourbridge treasurer becomes the next Andy Dufresne
News reaches us this week of a church treasurer who has been getting a little light-fingered with the silver tray at his local church.
It was reported this week that Stephen Methuen – a 57-year-old treasurer at Amblecote Christian Centre in Stourbridge – snaffled £517,000 over a six-year period. He was unearthed by the church’s own Sherlock, pastor Adrian Lowe, who unpicked the illegal transactions and alerted the police.
Methuen is clearly as bad a personal accountant as he is a professional one with the court hearing he had ‘no available assets’ and, as a result, would have to repay a whole £1. Yes, you read that right: £1. That’s a £516,999 profit for his troubles.
Although there is the small matter of a five-year jail term to look forward to as compensation. Let’s just hope the wardens don’t make the same mistake Warden Norton did with Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption and give him control of the prison finances. Warden, you have been warned.
Steven Perryman is AAT Comment's former Content Editor.