Public safety – private shopping
It did not take long for the outcry that followed the murders of 130 innocent civilians in Paris to give way to alarm and questions about the work of the intelligence services and the police. There is simply too much communication – via email, social media, phones and the like – to look out for, that it can become overwhelming. It only takes one breakdown in intelligence for a Paris-style attack to be realised. Yet, for every time an outrage like Paris is committed, you can be sure that many similar plots were thwarted. Last month David Cameron announced that 7 major terrorist attacks on the UK had been thwarted in the last 12 months alone. The French are already stating that one contributory factor to the intelligence failure leading up to Paris was a lack of manpower. David Cameron has already announced that an additional 1,900 officers, an increase of 15%, are to be recruited for MI5, MI6 and GCHQ – leaving George Osborne with the headache of how to afford them.
Meanwhile, the latest figured for government spending seemed to suggest that, for October at least, taxation receipts were lower than hoped for, whilst expenditure had actually risen. All in all these were the worst October figures since the depths of the financial crisis in 2009, showing a deficit of £8.2 billion, a £1 billion more than this time last year. George Osborne is a curious cove. He keeps telling us about austerity and spending less, and then actually appears to do nothing to cut overall expenditure. Readers may recall that he promised in 2010 that the deficit would go by 2015, but then, when 2015 came around, there was still a deficit of £90 billion. So, in 2015, he told us the deficit would definitely have gone by 2020. These figures are not encouraging. Will we really be any closer to removing the deficit by the time of next year’s budget?
Of course there are two elements to a deficit. The money going out, government spending, is very much under the control of government. However, the money coming in, taxation receipts, is much harder to control. And this is the area that this government and in particular this chancellor, has proved especially inept at dealing with. Last month our editorial looked at how large amounts of potential tax revenue had more or less been given up on by the taxman. This is, sadly, typical. Those who owe tax are simply not pressed hard enough to stop avoiding and evading it.
So, as Osborne looks at how he can make ends meet and still cut the deficit, spending on the police and security services is bound to be an emotive subject. After Paris, and knowing the UK is a target, who is going to feel comfortable seeing big budget cuts in the departments that exist to protect us? Yet Osborne must work out how he will pay for the 1,900 new intelligence officers Mr Cameron has promised us, never mind meeting the cost of maintaining if not increasing the police presence on our streets? Our ability to employ the numbers of people we need to keep us as safe as we can be, depends on collecting taxation receipts.
When we are faced with an assault not just on individuals but on our civilisation, system of government and way of life, then paying tax is more than an amusing diversion, it is a civic duty. It is time to hold to account those who avoid or evade taxation. Put plainly and simply, those individuals and corporations who do so are putting your lives, and those of your loved ones, at risk.
Where will you shop?
But you too can make a difference. We are approaching Christmas, the time of year when nearly 80% of (non-supermarket) retail sales are made. You can choose to shop with the big online companies, often US-based, who do not pay their fair share of tax. Companies who make millions in profit, and then use fancy tax schemes to ensure they pay next to nothing in corporation tax into the Exchequer. It is not hard to find out who they are – they have been in the headlines all year.
Or you can choose to do your Christmas shopping with companies that do, regularly, pay tax that is more or less what you would expect (about 20-30% of profits before tax). As we find money short and our way of life under attack, I do wonder if we should pay more attention to where we shop. Why not shop locally with small family businesses. Businesses who provide a quality service and pay their taxes, provide local employment and don’t spend chunks of their profit trying to avoid their civic duty.
The more tax we collect, the more our government will have available to fund the work of protecting us.