News review: Margaret Hodge returns to take aim at Big 4 accounting firms

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Margaret Hodge – Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee – returned to the news this week to take aim at ‘lazy’ MPs and the Big 4 accounting firms. Steven Perryman puts his feet up and takes a look at the week’s news

Margaret Hodge is back. Yep, the iron lady of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), who has been enjoying a sabbatical from the news of late, re-appeared this week in a crisp new brown suit (how many does she own? Or is it the same one?).

Having recovered from her ridiculous attempt at pinning the Big 4’s tax chiefs in February, and in the lull before she takes on the Queen’s finances, Mags returned to do what she does best: stating the obvious.

First up, the Olympic ticket fiasco: ‘During the Games a large number of accredited seats went unused at events for which the public demand for tickets could not be met,’ Hodge opined in a comment at least eight months too late.

And then the sniper turned Trojan horse in an instant, turning her sight onto her own. This week Hodge claimed MPs risk accusations of laziness and poor value for money because the number of hours they work in Westminster is on the decrease.

It is a barb which will be greeted with ironic groans over at the Department of Education where Michael Gove is proposing shorter Summer holidays for schools. Whether Hodge made the comments whilst on the prolonged MP Easter recess is unconfirmed.

A dog with a bone: Margaret Hodge attacks Big 4 accounting firms again

Like a dog with a bone, Hodge has been after the Big 4 accounting firms again this week, arguing that they are using knowledge gained from staff seconded to the Treasury to help wealthy clients avoid paying UK taxes. It was a bone of contention when the firms went before the PAC in February, and with the G8 summit tackling tax evasion next month, this one could run and run.

Elsewhere in Hodge’s favoured subject two of her biggest foes popped their heads above the parapet this week: Google and Starbucks. In an interview with the BBC, Google chief Eric Schmidt defended the fact that the technology giant paid corporation tax of £6m in 2011, despite recording annual revenues of £2.5bn. You can hear the steam coming out of Hodges ears from here.

Meanwhile, having coughed up an arbitrary tax payment in the UK after a furore which saw protests at its stores, Starbucks has decided to turn its attention to the US. This week the US coffee chain claimed it wants the profits it makes outside US borders to be spared, in whole or in part, from the US corporate income tax. Good luck with that one.

The (tax) miseducation of Lauryn Hill

It isn’t a week in tax without a has-been getting in tax trouble, is it? Two week’s ago it was Wesley Snipes and this week it has been Lauryn Hill’s turn (you know, the one from The Fugees). She is staring down the barrel of a 30-month jail term if she refuses to pay up $500,000 (£330,000) in overdue taxes.

What a week Bayern Munich have had. In the same week the team destroyed the seemingly-unbeatable Barcelona in its Champions League semi-final, a former star has landed himself in tax trouble. This week it was reported that former player Uli Hoeness has turned himself into the German tax authorities. Here’s hoping he can hold them off until after the Champions League Final next month.

Banks continue to dominate the news with Barclays and Santander reporting profit drops and HSBC announcing more than 3,000 job cuts in the UK. Ouch. The Government’s imminent reform of banking can’t come soon enough, it would appear, and was debated on AAT Comment this week.

Twitter hackers knock 140 points off of Dow Jones

And things aren’t getting any easier, with cyber attacks threatening to undermine the whole financial industry. The volatile nature of stock markets was highlighted this week by the 143-point fall in the Dow Jones, after hackers sent a message from the Twitter feed of the Associated Press saying the White House had been hit by two explosions. With that news Sally Bercow has just become a security risk in the UK.

It’s something that everyone needs to get wise to, though, with the BBC exploring the urban myths about how to stay safe online this week. And small businesses are most at risk with research showing that cyber attacks against SMEs have risen sharply in the past year. It’s not all doom and gloom though with the positive news that the Bank of England has announced plans to expand a lending scheme designed to help businesses.

Apple suffers first profit slump in 10 years

Over in the heady technology world of Silicon Valley, Apple reported its first quarterly drop in profits in a decade. The news led to many column inches about how the tech giant can claw back some of the ground it has lost. An iWatch, perhaps? Maybe an iTV?

Perhaps neither, with the BBC reporting that children under five years old have an uncanny knack of knowing how to master new technology. The study found that found that children aged between two and three were more likely to respond to video screens that prompted children to touch them, than to a video screen that demanded no interaction.

Is it time for the iEtch-A-Sketch? You heard it here first.

Wondering what happened when Margaret Hodge’s Public Accounts Committee tackled the Big 4 accounting firms the first time round? All the latest is in the news review from February.

Steven Perryman is AAT‘s Editorial Manager

Steven Perryman is AAT Comment's former Content Editor.

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