Starbucks is easy to boycott. But what about Spurs?
Premier League clubs made more than £150m profit yet paid less than £3m in corporation tax, according to analysis of their most recent accounts. This is an effective tax rate of 2 per cent. Equally startling is that a profit of £150m made by eight clubs is all that the Premier League has to show for a turnover of about £2.2bn a year. Five clubs, including Manchester United, Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur, paid no tax at all, despite a combined surplus of more than £70m.
Mitch Young aka @mitchthetaxman, has put himself forward as chief apologist for football’s amorality. Mitch describes himself on his Twitter page as a “Young, dynamic, personal Tax specialist.I am passionate about saving my clients tax.”
My view is simple. It is not the clubs fault; it is the fault of the government and HMRC are they making it too easy for companies to avoid tax? UK Tax legislation is extremely vast and complicated; there is many a loop hole which has been taken advantage of. Tax avoidance is legal and as long as it is legal companies (including football clubs) will be doing all they can to pay as little corporation tax as possible and let’s not forgot these football clubs do pay other taxes such as PAYE and National Insurance.
Not sure I’ve read a more depressing paragraph for some time. @mitchthetaxman is a smart chap who chooses to spend his waking hours exploiting legal loopholes and helping extremely wealthy companies from paying their dues to society. Clubs are not culpable for this moral black hole says Mitch, its’ the government’s fault for ‘making it too easy’ to avoid tax. Mmm, I wonder if there are any other laws that Mitch feels are too easy to avoid and which carry no moral obligation for him to comply.
Faced with the cynicism of people like @Mitchthetaxman and his clients, the government has relied on activists to stoke the fires and persuade consumer’s to use their ultimate weapon: demand.
When concerned about consumer reaction to their own tax avoidance, Starbucks employed PR firms to manage the problem. The effect was a token payment and an apology of sorts. Kris Engskov, the managing director of Starbucks UK, said:
“These decisions are the right things for us to do. We’ve heard that loud and clear from our customers.”
This becomes more complex when tax avoidance issues are viewed through the lens of football tribalism. What can Spurs or Man Utd fans do to show their displeasure? Stop supporting the club they have followed for their whole lives? Avoid matches? Boycott the Spurs shop? Do they care at all? Do Spurs fans think that the tax money saved is best spent shoring up the centre of defence?
Then there is the issue of corporate social responsibility. How should we now view this, from the Spurs website?
Tottenham Hotspur Foundation is committed to providing the best sports, health, training, and education programmes for all our communities; creating opportunities, encouraging enterprise and innovation, promoting social cohesion and enhancing life skills. We use sport and in particular football as a vehicle to create life changing opportunities for children, groups and individuals within communities. This is achieved by working with a wide range of partners including central and local government departments, schools, colleges, businesses and charitable trusts to design programmes that engage with all sections of the community.
Nobody can argue that these aren’t laudable aims. But then, that’s the point. It makes it harder to criticise the amoral stuff. That’s why people are cynical about CSR. If they – and the other corporate entities in football and beyond – paid more tax, perhaps the social problems Spurs are helping to tackle might not be quite so pressing? Should the decisions as to what gets funded and what doesn’t be made by elected governments via the tax system, or Daniel Levy’s marketing department?
The initial test still holds true: Character is what you do when nobody is watching.