In the headlines: taxing times for the Big 4

The Big 4 accountancy firms are next to go under the tax avoidance (picture courtesy of gab482)  spotlight

The Big 4 accountancy firms are next to go under the tax avoidance spotlight

The Chancellor attempting a positive PR push, the Big 4 accountancy firms join the tax avoidance firing line and Apple and Google at war over maps all made the news this week. Steven Perryman gets out his A to Z and guides you through the week’s headlines

1. Finance: Chancellor goes on the PR offensive

Now the dust has settled on last week’s Autumn (nee Winter) Statement, George Osborne has been in full-on PR mode.

Normally General Election’s are reserved for random MP baby photo opportunities, but the Chancellor obviously felt in need of some good PR to penetrate the image of him as a magician with no rabbits in his hat which was widely touted last week.

Light bulb time: make money boxes with children from the Starlight charity at Number 11. Genius. Just don’t get snapped looking confused, George, as the children around you confidently make said money boxes. The look was of a man who had never seen a money-saving instrument before. Say no more…

This week the Chancellor also confirmed that next year’s Budget will take place on 20 March. Clear the diary and cancel the holiday – we just can’t wait for that. It’s like someone throwing an awful birthday party and then sending the invites out for next year the week after, isn’t it?

2. Tax: Taxing times for the Big 4

Fresh from the Chancellor’s ‘crack down’ on tax avoidance last week – which included a decrease in corporation tax, remember – breaks news that the Big 4 accountancy firms now have tax targets on their backs. This week it was reported that the firms are next to face a grilling by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) over their role in the ongoing tax avoidance/planning row.

They’re not alone, either. JPMorgan is close to agreeing a £500m settlement with the government to pay back taxes that were avoided through the use of an offshore trust for employee bonus payments. The ethical arguments around offshore have never been as prevalent as right now, and was given lively discussion by AAT’s Tania Hayes and Aleem Islan’s on AAT Comment this week.

The new tax stories will be music to the ears of Starbucks, the perennial case study in tax avoiding in recent months. Although news of store protests last Saturday will have had the bigwigs spitting latte all over the boardroom table one last time.

Not to mention news that one of its biggest high street rivals – Costa Coffee – has reported that sales at its stores have increased by over 25%. It’s certainly an attention-grabbing figure which the press are attributing to the Starbucks furore.

But scratch beneath the surface and you will uncover a story from last year that details expansion plans at Costa Coffee aimed at doubling the size of the company over five years. Are journalists being a little clever with their figures and kicking Starbucks while it’s down?

Meanwhile the government has published its draft 2013 Finance Bill, which includes much-awaited legislation for the General Anti-Abuse Rule (GAAR). The updated legislation includes a number of amendments, such as clarification around the circumstances that should be taken into account when determining whether tax arrangements are abusive. The Bill should get finalised next Summer.

3. Technology: Apple loses its way with maps

As the festive season hits top gear, this year’s big seller appears to be tablets, with Apple, Google and Amazon locked in bloody battle for the seven inch market.

An interesting footnote to the competition revolved around Google and Apple’s map services this week. The fruit-named technology company has had to update its new maps system after police in Mildura, Australia, reported a number of people trying to find the town using the service were becoming lost in the bush in scorching temperatures.

There’s obviously a good internet connection in the Aussie bush as reliance on mobile mapping would never work in the UK with a 3G network dying a slow death. Google, meanwhile, came out fighting, seizing the opportunity to exploit the negative publicity by launching an iPhone app for its Google Maps service this week.

The internet has been in the news agenda this week, with reports that the UK spends more on internet shopping and uses smartphones and tablets to access the web more heavily than any of the world’s leading economies. Blimey, and all with a network on go-slow.

Be warned though: all this time online will be monitored, with reports that David Cameron remains committed to giving police and security services new powers to monitor internet activity through the Communications Data Bill.

Hot on the heels of it releasing its top trends for 2012 on its blog (London 2012 dominated, obviously), micro-blogging site Twitter has been fined after failing to file its UK company accounts with Companies House (CH) on time. Does the site not follow the Companies House twitter feed which regularly posts advice about meeting deadlines?

And finally…when music and politics collide

For ‘and finally’ this week we return to two subjects barely seen in the same sentence since Tony Blair dusted off his guitar and invited Noel Gallagher to Number 10: music and politics.

They mix like oil and water, don’t they? Who can forget Gordon Brown revealing his favourite band was The Arctic Monkeys, only to fail miserably when asked what his favourite song of the band’s was?

They never learn though, do they? This week David Cameron told reporters he once voted for Will Young to win The X Factor because his daughter asked him to – despite the fact Young was a contestant on a different TV talent show, and long before Mr Cameron’s elder daughter was even born.

And what about George Osborne? Fresh from his moneybox painting ‘masterclass’, the Chancellor gave the charity angle a bash in his post-Autumn Statement PR push,  with news he is to waiver the VAT on the X Factor winners single.

George really does pick some great songs to attach himself to, doesn’t he? Last week it was Accentuate the Positive on The Andrew Marr Show. This week? Impossible by James Arthur.

A week really is a long time in politics.

Steven Perryman is AAT‘s Editorial Manager

Steven Perryman is AAT Comment's former Content Editor.

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