Posts Tagged ‘tax avoidance’

The Elephant, Sewol and Brexiteers

Wednesday, April 13th, 2022

The Elephant, Sewol and Brexiteers
Saturday 13th April 2019 in London, three years ago seems very distant to me now.


Love the Elephant, Elephant & Castle, London

The Elephant, Sewol and Brexiteers

The main event I covered on the day was at the Elephant & Castle shopping centre in south London, where local people and supporters were calling on Southwark Council and developers Delancey to improve the plans for the redevelopment of the area.

The Elephant, Sewol and Brexiteers

The campaigners main banner had the message ‘LOVE THE ELEPHANT – HATE GENTRIFICATION’ and this is an area that epitomises the changes that have been taking place in many of London’s poorer areas for many years now. Traditionally working class South London, this area has been at the centre of major demolitions of large council estates and their replacement largely by expensive high rise blocks at market rents with a nominal amount of so-called ‘affordable’ and miniscule amounts of truly social housing.

The Elephant, Sewol and Brexiteers

Immediately to the east of the shopping centre had been the award-winning Heygate Estate, completed in 1974, once popular for its light and spacious flats, but long subjected to a process of managed decline by Southwark Council who even employed PR consultants to emphasise a negative view of the estate, together putting together what the estate’s architect Tim Tinker described in 2013 as a “farrago of half-truths and lies put together by people who should have known better.” The council deliberately used parts of it in the latter years to house people with mental health and other problems, and as temporary accommodation. I photographed the estate on several occasions, most recently on a tour by residents opposed to the redevelopment of both the Heygate and the neighbouring Aylesbury Esate in 2012, Walking the Rip-Off.

The Heygate estate had a mixture of properties with large blocks of flats on its edges and contained 1,214 homes, all initially social housing, though many were later purchased by residents who became leaseholders. It’s replacement, Elephant Park is far less well planned but according to Wikipedia will “provide 2,704 new homes, of which 82 will be social rented. The demolition cost approximately £15 million, with an additional £44m spent on emptying the estate and a further £21.5 million spent on progressing its redevelopment.” The council sold the estate to the developers at a huge loss for £50m.

Many of the flats on Elephant Park were sold overseas as investment properties, the continuing increases in London property prices making these a very attractive holding. The new estate will also provide housing for those on high salaries in London, with a railway station and two underground lines providing excellent transport links for professionals working elsewhere in the city. Those who previously lived and owned properties on the Heygate have had to move much further from the centre of the city, some many miles away.

The Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre, was opened in 1965 on the site of the 1898 Elephant & Castle Estate which had been badly damaged by wartime bombing, and was the first purpose-built shopping centre in the UK and certainly one of the first in Europe. Many of its 115 shops were then owned by local traders.

A market trader speaks about the poor deal they are getting

The rally and procession by Southwark Notes, Latin Elephant and Up the Elephant at the Elephant & Castle called on Southwark Council and the developers Delancey to develop the Elephant for the existing population and users, rather than as social cleansing to attract new, wealthier residents and shoppers. They would like to see a development that retains the existing character of the area which has become very much a centre for South London’s Latin community many of whom live in the surrounding area. It became the most diverse and cosmopolitan shopping centre in London, with also other amenities such as a bowling alley and bingo hall, serving the population of the area.

Security officers order the campaigners out of the market area

They say the development should include more social housing and call for fairer treatment of the market traders, who should be provided with ‘like for like’ new spaces at affordable rents and be given adequate financial compensation for the disruption in business the development will cause.

A long series of protests in which locals were joined by students from the London College of Communication whose new building forms a part of the redevelopment did lead to some minor improvements to the scheme by the developers, but the shopping centre closed in September 2020 and demolition went ahead and was complete around a year later. The new development will include high-rent shops, almost certainly mainly parts of major chains, expensive restaurants and bars and plenty of luxury flats, along with a small amount of “affordable” housing.


Sewol Ferry Disaster 5 years on – Trafalgar Square

The Elephant, Sewol and Brexiteers

The good transport links that make the Elephant so attractive to developers also took me rapidly into the centre of London as the procession of protest there came to and end, although events there were continuing all afternoon – only four stops taking 6 minutes on the Bakerloo Line to Charing Cross.

I’ve photographed the small monthly vigils by campaigners in remembrance of the victims and in support of their families of the 304 people who died in the Sewol Ferry Disaster of 16 April 2014 on a number of occasions, though its always difficult to find anything new to say, either in words or pictures.

But this was a special event, the fifth anniversary of the disaster, and the 60th 60th monthly vigil. Campaigners continue to call for a full inquiry, the recovery of all bodies of victims, punishment for those responsible and new laws to prevent another similar disaster. They tie cards on lines with the class and name of the 250 high school children who were drowned after being told to ‘stay put below deck’.


Brexiteers march at Westminster – Westminster Bridge

The Elephant, Sewol and Brexiteers

Brexiteers were continuing to march weekly around London holding Union Jacks, St George’s flags and placards and many wearing yellow high-viz jackets because although there had been a small majority in favour of leaving Europe in the 2016 referendum, Parliament had not found a way to get a majority to pass the legislation needed. It was this indecision that led to a resounding victory for Boris Johnson in the 2019 election in December, though unfortunately his ‘oven-ready’ agreement has turned out to be extremely half-baked and most of the things dismissed by Brexiteers as scaremongering have turned out to be true, while the promises made by the Leave campaign have so far largely failed to materialise and most seem unlikely ever to do so.

Johnson’s deal – important parts of which he seems not to have understood, particularly over the Irish border arrangements has left us in the worst of all possible worlds, though it has made some of his wealthy friends – including some cabinet members – considerably wealthier and protected them from the threat of European legislation that would have outlawed some of their tax avoidance. Back in 2019 I commented “We were sold the impossible, and things were made worse by a government that thought it could play poker when what was needed was a serious attempt at finding a solution to the problems that both the UK and Europe face.”

The protesters were also protesting with flags and banners supporting members of the armed forces against their trial for killings in Northern Ireland and for the Islamophobic campaign ‘Our Boys’ which seeks to have a drunk driver of Hindu origin who killed three young men prosecuted as a terrorist.


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Visiting Starbucks

Wednesday, December 8th, 2021

I’ve been a coffee drinker most of my life, and there was a time long ago in my late teens when breakfast meant a large mug of black coffee, a cigarette and Miles Davis. And though I gave up smoking when I reached majority (which was 21 back then) I still have the black coffee though now with rather more carbohydrate in muesli and a slice of homemade brown bread. And since my wife and I have rather different musical tastes we listen to the news.

The coffee I drink now is a Fair Trade blend from Traidcraft – they have a range of ground coffees and most are good, though your taste may vary. With a small metal filter that sits on top of a mug its almost as quick as using instant coffee, though I usually have a cup of that (also fairly traded) when I finish writing these posts in the morning.

Journalist Polly Toynbee (right) was among the protesters

Back in the last century when I was making long walks around London, often in the suburbs, on the winter days I preferred I always took with me a Thermos of strong black coffee. Back then coffee shops were rare, and if you could find it, coffee bought on the streets unreliable. My top priority back then in choosing a camera bag was whether I could fit the flask in.

But since then I have occasionally bought a coffee (though it pains me to pay £3 for something I could make better at home for 30p), but have avoided Starbucks – because they don’t pay their taxes. Of course the are not unique in this, but they are one of the best known of tax avoiders, and had then paid no tax in the UK since 2009. So when I joined the longish queue inside the Conduit Street Starbucks on Saturday 8th December it was I think my first time, and I was rather hoping that the protest would begin before I reached the counter.

“As noon approached, there were more protesters and photographers standing around inside the store, as well as some seated drinking coffee. Around a minute after noon, one of the protesters got up and started the protest, reading out a lengthy document about Starbucks’ failure to pay tax, and how the amounts that companies including them were avoiding paying were around five times the total of the cuts in services so far made by the coalition government. She announced that they were setting up a crèche inside this branch to compensate for all those and other family services that the government had closed.”

“The protest continued with more speeches and some chanting of slogans calling on Starbucks to pay up. After around 10 minutes a police officer came into the branch and wrongly accused the protesters of behaving in an intimidatory manner towards the staff and customers, which they clearly had not. Nor had they been asked to leave by the store manager. But they were told this was a disorderly protest despite this, and threatened with arrest if they stayed, although at no point did he make clear under what law they might be arrested.”

“The protesters allege that Starbucks uses a whole number of tricks to avoid paying tax. One is to use a Starbucks company in a tax haven to lend them the money to fund their UK operations at a rate 4% above the LIBOR rate – the excessive interest costs the UK business but makes fat profits for them in the tax haven. Another is to buy their coffee beans at high prices from a subsidiary in Switzerland, which pays only 5% tax on them rather than the 24% they would pay in corporation tax in the UK. They also pay 6% of their total sales as a ‘royalty’ to their Dutch company – and they have a secret low rate tax deal with the government in the Netherlands.”

“Several of the speakers talked about the real hardships being faced particularly by women and the disabled in the UK because of the cuts in services. The losses in tax through tricks like those they say are used by Starbucks – Corporate Tax Avoidance – costs the UK £70 billion, which they compare to the benefit cuts of £15 billion.”

I left with the protesters after the police threats, when they continued to protest with a large and noisy crowd who had been unable to get inside, and walked the short distance to Vigo Street, where another protest was taking place inside and outside the Starbucks branch there, and I took more pictures through the large windows and on the street outside.

Later I went to another Starbucks protest at the Euston Road branch, a part of the UK Uncut Day of Action against Starbucks arranged by the Labour Representation Committee (LRC). I found a small group of UK Uncut supporters at the meeting point but there was no sign of the LRC, and after 15 minutes the action began without them as a dozen or so people walked into the branch, took out a poster and began the action. By the time the LRC arrived the doors were locked and they protested outside. A couple of police officers then got out of their van on the opposite side of the road and walked across and were admitted into the coffee shop. There were a few minutes of polite and friendly conversation and the protesters then walked out to join those protesting outside.

The protesters point out that Costa Coffee who have a lower annual turnover than Starbucks in the UK were paying each year “several times per year what Starbucks are offering to cover several years of dubiously legal tax avoidance. Starbucks have avoided paying perhaps ten times what they are now offering.”

Now its time for a coffee.

More on My London Diary:

Starbucks Euston Road – LRC
UK Uncut Visits Starbucks


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Dec 4th 2010 in London

Saturday, December 4th, 2021

UK Uncut protest Topshop Tax Dodge

UK Uncut protested outside and briefly inside Topshop and other Oxford Street stores in Philip Green’s Arcadia Group, one of the major companies who together are alleged to dodge £12 billion per year in UK tax.

Eleven years on we still haven’t seen effective action by our government against the huge amount of tax evaded and avoided by the wealthy in the UK. Hardly surprising since many of those in government and their friends and supporters benefit greatly from these practices.

It was the threat by the EU to clamp down on some of these legal fiddles that was a major factor behind the huge funding and lies of the Brexit campaign, something that we are now paying the price for while the billionaires are doing very nicely thank you – and some profiteering hugely from the government’s Covid contracts for their mates.

It was the threats that a centre left government under Jeremy Corbyn might have made some slight changes that, along with his support for Palestinian rights, led to a hugely vitriolic campaign against him by the press and inside the Labour Party.

UK Uncut labelled Sir Philip Green, the boss of the Arcadia Group, which included include Topshop, Topman, Dorothy Perkins, Burton, Miss Selfridge Wallis and British Home Stores, as “Britain’s most notorious tax-avoider. While Green himself paid tax on his salary, the companies are owned by a holding company in the tax haven of Jersey, which is owned by his wife and immediate family who live in Monaco, and pay no tax. Arcadia are certainly not the only huge scale tax avoiders – and later the protesters also briefly visited Oxford St branches of two others, Boots and Vodafone.

They also point out that when Green awarded himself a huge dividend payout – £1.2 billion – in 2005, it went through various offshore accounts and tax dodges to his wife’s Monaco bank account. The loss in tax to the UK was £285 million.

We should have a tax system based on a simple principle. If people or companies make the money in the UK then you should pay tax on it in the UK, and any of the dodges now still used to avoid this should be illegal. At the moment the large accountancy firms are mainly used to aid the avoidance of tax, and they need to be completely re-purposed to with the role of ensuring the correct tax is paid.

Of course it won’t happen. It would destroy a huge part of the business of the City of London, currently the world capital of financial skullduggery and with a curiously intimate connection to our parliament. All we have seen over the 11 years since this protest are a few sweetheart deals with the tax office with some rather token repayments and things are unlikely to change.

More at March for Zero Carbon UK 2030.


March for Zero Carbon Britain 2030

Happening the same day was a march to Parliament by the Campaign Against Climate Change calling for urgent action over climate change including a Zero Carbon Britain by 2030. The march and rally was the seventh annual climate march organised by the CACC, which has spearheaded the campaign to get effective action to meet the climate challenge since its formation, aiming to put climate change at the top of our political agenda as the greatest threat that humanity faces.

While our government still seems shackled to business as usual and only making rather half-heated committments to tackling climate change with the necessary urgency, most of the rest of us are now convinced of the need for real action. From being regarded by many as cranks, CACC are now a small part of a huge mainstream.

Back in 2010 they were joined on the march largely by other relatively small campaigning groups, including Friends of the Eath, Greenpeace, the World Development Movement, the Climate Rush, the Green Party and many local groups, trade union branches etc. But as with most protests in Britain it was largely ignored by the media, dominated by a press owned by a handful of billionaires.

Things outside government were beginning to move back in 2010, particularly with the publication of an in-depth report compiled for the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT), ‘Zero Carbon Britain 2030: A new energy strategy earlier in the year, but since then we have seen another largely wasted eleven years.

More at March for Zero Carbon UK 2030.


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Eight events

Thursday, December 17th, 2020

I find that I was wrong to suggest in an earlier post that covering seven events on Human Rights Day was a personal record, as on Saturday 17th December 2011 I managed to photograph eight protests.

It was a big day for UK Uncut, protesting about the failure of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to get major companies operating in the UK to make proper contributions to our tax revenue. If HMRC had got them to pay up, there would be no need for the massive cuts in public services that were being imposed by the government after the financial crisis. UK Uncut claim that corporate tax doging costs the UK £25 billion a year, four times the amount of the cuts.

Their protest began with UK Uncut’s Santa and two helpers calling at the Westminster offices of the head of UK tax collection with a present, a card and a sack of barbecue charcoal. Dave Hartnett, the man in charge of HMRC had recently let Vodaphone who owed £6 billion pay only around a fifth of what they owed, losing taxpayers £4.75 billion as well as giving an £8 million handout to Goldman Sachs. Mr Hartnett was about to retire with a massive pension despite a series of blunders which cost us a fortune.

As I wrote:

The UK seems to be loophole central for the rich, not just for taxes but also for the kind of fraudulent unregulated creation of imaginary money that has sustained and grown the City since the ‘big bang’ and lies at the epicentre of our current world financial crisis. Doubtless it is too much to hope that Mr Hartnett will be called to account for his relatively small part in this process, but as a taxpayer it pains me to think of him retiring and enjoying an excessive civil service pension for his misdeeds.

A rather larger group of protesters met on Oxford St to protest outside Topshop against the failure of the Arcadia group to pay UK tax on its UK earnings. Sir Philip Green, who took huge amounts of money out of the group eventually leading this year to its collapse with a vast hole in its pension fund, runs a vast empire that includes Topshop, BHS and Dorothy Perkins, but exploits a loophole in that the business is owned by his Monaco-based wife who does not have to pay income tax.

Police had come out in large numbers to protect Topshop, although the protest was expected to be (and was) entirely peaceful. They obstructed the press who were attempting to report on the event, lying to us that we would be allowed to re-enter the store to cover the protest inside, and then aggressively moved on the protesters claiming with little justification that they were causing an obstruction; as I commented, it was clearly a large block of police that were obstructing the pavement and not the protesters.

Police behaved rather better when the protest moved on to Vodaphone, making no attempt to stop the protest on the pavement outside the shop, while forming a line to prevent more than a few early arrivals to get inside the shop.

The protesters made effective use of a ‘Human Microphone’ to shout out in unison a series of short statements about the reason for the protest; they stated that when they first protested about Vodaphone they were told the £6 billion of tax dodged was “an urban myth”, but they had now been told it may have been £8 billion. The protest continued with them singing a number of Christmas carols specially adapted for the event, including:

Away in a mansion
On my four poster bed
You lie outside freezing
While I'm resting my head

The stars in the bright sky
They sparkle like jewels
The ones that I paid for
By robbing you fools

and as I left had begun dancing on the pavement.

I left for Downing St, where Syrian Kurds were calling for an end to the massacres being carried out in Syria by the Assad regime forces – and on that day alone at least 32 civilians including two children were killed.

Kurds form almost a fifth of the Syrian population, and during the continuing civil war in the country have formed an autonomous region in the north of the country which became called Rojava. At the protest they were arguing for Syria after the war to become a federation, with considerable autonomy continuing for regions such as this, though many Kurds also support the formation of a separate nation of Kurdistan, including the Kurdish areas of Iraq and Turkey. Since the end of 2011 the situation has moved on with Turkey invading and occupying some of the Kurdish areas of Syria and the support of Russia for Assad which makes his eventual victory seem inevitable and the future looks even bleaker for the Kurds.

Also protesting opposite Downing St were a group of Congolese, continuing the protests in London against the election fraud, rapes and massacres and calling on the British government to withdraw its support from the immoral regime of President Kabila responsible for the atrocities and voted out by the people.

The continuing problems in the Congo region are the terrible consequence of the western exploitation of the area’s mineral resources such as Coltan – needed for mobile phones, the computers and other electronic devices on which our lives and the media now depend. But those media “have so far taken relatively little interest in the desperate situation of the people in the Congo. They seem to be being sacrificed while the vast natural resources of their country are being largely stolen by underhand deals which enrich a few in their and neighbouring countries while the industrialised world turns an almost totally blind eye to the violence and injustice.”

The protest outside the US Embassy celebrated the withdrawal of US troops, but also demanded that mercenaries still in Iraq should also be expelled, and the war criminals prosecuted. Iraqis also want an end to the looting and pillaging of Iraq’s natural resources and an end to government sponsored executions there. They were joined by Syrian supported of the Assad regime want the US to stop their attempts to interfere with events in Syria through UN resolutions and other means.

The BBC came in for criticism from the Iraqis as “a Patronizing Media Channel, With Racist Undertones, towards Arabs & Islam” and being “Deceptive and Inaccurate” and they asked “Why does it not report on the wide spread asset looting and corruption taking place in Iraq?”

Also outside the US Embassy was a vigil on the 24th birthday of Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning whose pre-trail hearing was taking place. The protesters who included members of Veterans for Peace and Payday Men’s Network called him an American Peace Hero for leaking evidence of US war crimes.

It was beginning to get dark by the time I reached the Egyptian embassy where Egyptians had come to protest after the military attacks on protesters in Cairo, killing at least 10 and injuring more than 500.

It was a protest that was slow to start – and when I arrived on time I found only one person there. I waited, feeling increasingly frustrated as the light was disappearing rather faster than protesters were arriving. Half an hour later around 25 people had come and more were arriving and I took my pictures and left.

Egyptians Protest At Embassy
Bradley Manning Birthday Demo
Iraqis and Syrians Protest At US
Congolese Protests Continue
Kurds Call For A Stop To Syrian Massacres
UK Uncut Xmas Protest At Vodaphone
UK Uncut Xmas Protest At Topshop
UK Uncut Santa Calls on Dave Hartnett


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.


Starbucks Pay Your Taxes

Tuesday, December 8th, 2020

The recent failure of the Arcadia group brought memories of UK Uncut back to mind. Formed in 2010 this “grassroots movement using direct action to fight the cuts and highlight alternatives to austerity” organised a number of peaceful direct actions against tax dodgers in the following couple of years, though more recently it seems to have largely confined itself to posts on Twitter and Facebook – including this on 1st December this year by Rob:

It is not ‘Topshop owner Arcadia group could collapse into administration within days’, it’s ‘billionaire tax exile Sir Philip Green will let company in his wife’s name fail, with massive hole in pension pot and risking thousands of jobs at Christmas time during a pandemic.’

https://www.facebook.com/ukuncut/

I photographed a number of UK Uncut events, and their biggest day of action was 8 years ago today, on Saturday 8 Dec 2012 when there were over 45 protests at Starbucks shops across the UK with women, men and children transforming Starbucks stores into in refuges, crèches and homeless shelters in protest against the impact of the government’s cuts on women and their refusal to clamp down on tax avoidance.

While actions by UK Uncut and others have certainly done much to raise public awareness about the huge amount of tax evasion and tax avoidance by the rich and corporations in the UK it has led to very little action to cut it down. According to HMRC figures for 2018/9, quoted by Full Fact, the the ‘tax gap’ – money that should have been collected as tax but wasn’t – was around £35 billion, of which “£12 billion is attributed to tax evasion, avoidance and organised crime.” Full Fact suggest that tax evasion and avoidance is currently about 15 times greater than benefit fraud.

HMRC claim to have taken many measures to reduce this loss, but it continues to be huge, with far too many loopholes still remaining for the wealthy and companies to legally avoid paying tax on income generated in the UK. Much of the activity of the City of London is devoted to keeping things this way, along with laundering money from criminal enterprises – and the City has its own representative in our parliament – the City Remembrancer – to keep things that way.

Meanwhile, the newspapers and broadcast media plug away at the idea of ‘benefit scroungers’, creating a perception that this is far more widespread than is the case. A 2013 Ipsos Mori survey found that the general public thought that almost a quarter of benefits were fraudulently claimed – over 20 times the actual level. Of course it is still too high, as is the level of those who are underpaid benefits, which is almost as much.

I went with UK Uncut into two Starbucks just off Regent St, going into the Conduit St branch a few minutes before the widely advertised start time for the protest. Staff were denying entry to those they thought would be protesters but I walked in without any problem, and was standing in a long queue to the counter when the protest began. There were speeches and some chanting of slogans inside for around 10 minutes, along with a much larger and noisier group outside who had been refused entry before police arrived and ordered us out, falsely accusing the protesters of behaving in an intimidatory manner towards the staff and customers and threatening them with arrest. We all left quietly to join the large and loud protest outside.

I went down to the nearby Vigo St Starbucks where a similar protest was taking place but was not allowed in and had to take photographs through the windows. Eventually the crowd outside the shop was joined by the others from Conduit St and a rally began.

UK Uncut in Euston Rd Starbucks

I while the rally was continuing to photograph another of the London protests at the Euston Road branch of Starbucks, where the Labour Representation Committee was joining in with the UK Uncut day of action. By the time they arrived, rather later than the advertised time, other UK Uncut supporters had already decided to go inside and sit down, and the doors were locked. Police were rather more friendly here and came and discussed the situation with those sitting down inside, who agreed they would leave when they were requested to do so by the management and then continue the protest outside.

More about the protests at:
Starbucks Euston Road – LRC
UK Uncut Visits Starbucks


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.