In the headlines: Twitter, HMRC and BSkyB

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Twitter getting column inches, Rangers FC hitting out at HMRC and a BSkyB VAT-dodging masterclass all made the news this week. Steven Perryman switches on  

1. Twitter – New York Times is (not) on it

Twitter. Remember that? You know, that social website where we all try and document our lives in 140 character snippets. It has been lying pretty low recently while some of its big rivals – namely Facebook and Google – are in the dock (literally) over their tax arrangements.

This week the micro-blogging site has been everywhere. It all kicked off with news that some Oxford boffins have used their statistical genius to work out that Mitt Romney may have paid for new followers during the recent American Presidential election. The eye-opening The Observer article documented the number-crunching prowess also warned of the perils of fake Twitter accounts.

But fake accounts are great and funny though, aren’t they? Oh yes. Until the victim loses their sense of humour, that is. This week a parody of the New York Times (NYT) – The Times Is On It (@NYTOnIt) – has been making the headlines.

First the Twitter account – which parodies the news organisation’s stumbling attempts to document cultural trends in its home city – was suspended after the real NYT reported a supposed logo violation, which saw an Old English ‘T’ used in the mock logo for the account. After an outcry from Twitter users, the account was restored the next day. The publication’s sense of humour failure, however, will linger a little longer.

Fake accounts are one thing, but what about when your own account gets hacked and starts spewing tweets through your feed that you have no control over? It’s the sort of problem that forces most marketing managers to prop up the bar at their nearest Balls Brothers.

And, this week, it was British Airways who took its turn after an offensive and racist message was retweeted from its official Twitter account. The defence from the airline was that the account ‘may have been hacked’. Hardly the most convincing defence.

Especially when you consider that the airline’s Twitter feed is managed by a large marketing department, rather than a small dedicated team, and that the tweet occurred on a Saturday. Did someone get a little trigger-happy while hungover, perhaps?

2. Tax – blue side of Glasgow lashes out at HMRC

HMRC continues to have a hard time. This week the former Rangers Football Club won an appeal against the government department for its use of Employee Benefit Trusts. The club, which is now in liquidation, used the scheme from 2001 to 2010 to make £47.65m in payments to players and staff in the form of tax-free loans.

To compound the issue, the club’s former owner, Craig Whyte, believes the club would have survived if HMRC had agreed to do a deal with him on the issue when he took the club over. Ouch. I’d steer clear of the blue side of Glasgow if I were you, guys.

Hot on the heels of the Glasgow decision were reports that HMRC’s inability to properly curb aggressive tax avoidance schemes is costing the UK billions of pounds.

Never one to miss a bandwagon, London Mayor Boris Johnson joined in with the HMRC-bashing. He used his speech at the CBI conference to urge the government to make multinational companies, such as Google, pay their share of tax in the UK.

Meanwhile, squirreled away on the media pages were reports of another large company dipping its toes into clever tax avoidance. The Guardian reported that a magazine for satellite TV customers published by BSkyB was used as a tax avoidance scheme that saved the company up to £40m a year.

The broadcaster had been saving millions in VAT by charging satellite customers a nominal £2.20 fee a month for the Sky magazine, using a tax loophole that has now been closed.

It’s just another example of the complexities of VAT – a tax which AAT President, Henry Cooper, argued is in desperate need of simplifying in a post on AAT Comment this week.

3. Business – independent booksellers go for the Amazon tax avoidance jugular

This week ethics in accounting hit the business headlines with news that Kettle Chips’ Chief Executive, Michael Mendes, has agreed to repay two years’ bonuses after an accounting scandal at the snack firm. The scandal was uncovered after an internal probe found that it had accounted for some payments to farmers in the wrong fiscal periods.

Retail continues to dominate the business pages, with Black Friday today the official start of the festive shopping season. You can always rely on retail magnate Sir Phillip Green to play Scrooge, though, and urge fellow retailers to stop moaning about the economic climate and get on with it.

‘We’ve got to trade. I can’t keep listening to all these people making it up as they go along,’ Green told Reuters on Wednesday, as his Arcadia chain reported flat sales for the last year. ‘We’ve got to up our game. If we sit there and cry and put on my front window the Bank of England said X, it isn’t going to help me take any money.’

With garish decorations, seemingly tropical in-store temperatures and inflated prices, it’s no wonder most of us shy away from shops at Christmas and turn online. The ubiquitous online retailer, Amazon, came under fire this week from independent bookshops, who are advertising their tax returns to customers in a fightback against the online retailer’s alleged use of tax havens. It’s a ballsy approach, but is a brand like Amazon just too convenient to turn against?

Rather depressingly, a survey has found that the ‘Olympic’ effect from this summer is failing to provide an inspirational legacy in schools. It’s no better on the high street, either. The one thing you would think everyone would want would be a bike, especially with Bradley Wiggins winning the Tour de France and the Olympic cycling success.

It was therefore surprising to read this week that the high street bike seller, Halfords, has failed to make the most of the upturn in interest post-Olympics by revealing a puncture to pre-tax profits of £42.4m for the first half of the year compared to £54.7m last time.

4. And finally…Sally Bercow in ‘stupid woman’ Twitter storm

With this week’s ‘and finally’ we return to Twitter. How House of Commons speaker, John Bercow, must hate the site. Not content with being photographed draped in a bed-sheet, appearing on ‘Celebrity’ Big Brother and making a documentary with My Gypsy Wedding stalwart Paddy Doherty, his fame-hungry wife, Sally, has been embroiled in a Twitter storm this week too.

Already facing a defamation action from former Tory party treasurer Lord McAlpine for linking him to a paedophile scandal on the site, Bercow also breached a court order this week by naming a schoolgirl in a child abduction case. Oh dear.

To top it all off, Bercow left Twitter later in the week after a hacker apparently compromised her account, calling her a ‘stupid woman’ and criticising her soft password.

But you do have to admire John’s hacking skills though, right?

Steven Perryman is AAT‘s Editorial Manager.

Steven Perryman is AAT Comment's former Content Editor.

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