In the headlines: Starbucks 'spread the cheer'

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Starbucks and HMRC experiencing different Twitter fortunes, the Ritz Hotel joining the tax avoidance hitlist and hangover cures all made the headlines this week. Steven Perryman raises a glass to this week’s news

Tax: Starbucks still spreading the cheer

Ah, the festive season. The week before Christmas has to be a time when most hacks start winding down under a barrage of free lunches and drinks, right? Perhaps. But tax still remains the bone most like to gnaw on – even if it is with a Santa hat on.

Starbucks continue to make headlines, just when the American coffee chain must’ve thought the game was up, just in time for the return to normal coloured cups. Alas, no. But it only has itself to blame.

The coffee firm displayed Twitter messages tagged with #spreadthecheer on a big screen at the Natural History Museum this week, where it is sponsoring the ice rink. Unfortunately, the tweets were not checked before going live, leading to some rather choice declarations of ‘cheer’ for all to see.

Not to worry though as Starbucks has a new fan. Yep, Boris. The London Mayor leapt to its defence this week by urging people not to ‘sneer’ at the coffee chain over its decision to pay £20m in corporation tax. Free lattes all round at City Hall beckon.

Elsewhere, as reported last week, the Big 4 will be facing the Public Accounts Committee over their role in tax avoidance. This week it was reported that they will have a full three months to prepare for their appearance in the parapet. Any appearance in front of the horseshoe of MPs is never pretty viewing (just ask Nick Buckles of G4S), with each MP clambering over each other to act more disgraced and outraged.

What this all means is that the accountancy firms now have three months to uncover the most convincing liar in their ranks. Look no further than Andrew Cecil of Amazon as Exhibit A of the type of executive not to send. Guys, you have been warned. Although KPMG has other things to worry about with news it has announced a 13% fall in profits. Ouch.

A new player joined the tax avoidance ranks this week, with Panorama revealing that London’s high-end Ritz hotel has not paid any corporation tax in the 17 years since it was taken over by the reclusive Barclay twins. One to watch as we enter 2013.

Fresh from his PR drive last week post-Autumn Statement – where he dropped the VAT on the X Factor single – the Chancellor was in giving mood once again. This week he agreed to waive the VAT on the Hillsborough charity single which looks set to be this year’s Christmas number one. Good work, George.

HMRC – premium numbers called to account

As the year draws to a close and we all start to put our feet up, HMRC continue to hit the headlines.

It has been spreading its own Christmas cheer. Festive cards? Nope, instead it has been writing to Swiss account holders warning that should they fail to disclose their affairs fully and pay, penalties of up to 150% of the amount owed could be imposed. Happy Christmas!

In other news, it has been having a go at ‘viral’ campaigning. It pulled off a social media teaser campaign this week that convinced a marketing website that its Twitter account had been hacked. To encourage taxpayers to file their Self Assessment returns before the 31 January deadline, the Twitter feed took on a distinctly touchy-feely tone:

‘Hi HMRC’s followers,’ one tweet read. ‘Just to let you know, HMRC has decided to stop tweeting about tax today and instead all look for inner peace xoxox.’ Innovative or desperate? You decide.

But it wouldn’t be a week of news without the weekly ‘give HMRC a kicking’ story. This week The Guardian reported that officials at HMRC had forced taxpayers to pay out tens of millions of pounds to use poorly-staffed advice lines, while claiming to hit efficiency targets.

The National Audit Office – which conducted the analysis – found that 20m calls for advice or to leave required information were not picked up at all, with many of the helplines premium-rated resulting in £136m a year being raised from the calls.

It’s now clear how it funds those trendy social media campaigns and M&C Saatchi-designed posters, isn’t it.

And finally…finding Noho

Although tax and HMRC have had press coverage this week, there really is only one subject dominating the news. No, not what Harry Styles’s next tattoo will be (a tank? The DeLorean from Back to the Future, perhaps?). It’s Christmas next week.

This means lots of articles about stuffing turkeys, roasting spuds and the vagaries of cooking brussel sprouts. But there is also some handy advice for those who may ‘over-indulge’ over the next few weeks.

Both Time Out and The Guardian published hangover cure pieces this week, which both took on a different take of approaching the subject. Our favourite was Time Out, which asked its writers to go out, get trashed and then try a number of cures. Scientific? Hardly. Entertaining? Absolutely.

The resulting investigation included pickle juice, Dioralyte and an intravenous drip (where do you get one of those? A&E?). But the big winner was Noho – a product you take before drinking. It received 9/10, despite its tester having 56.4 units of alcohol and a curry the night before.

How the Time Out testers must’ve wished they read The Guardian’s hangover piece before starting their own ‘medical’ trial. It reports: ‘According to a systematic review published in the BMJ, which considered the results of all existing studies, there is no evidence to show that any of them (hangover cures) work’. Before concluding: ‘Since there is no cure, the best bet is prevention.’

What? No way. Us? We’re off to buy some Noho.

Steven Perryman is AAT‘s Editorial Manager.

Steven Perryman is AAT Comment's former Content Editor.

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