Tax evasion crackdown questioned

Hillingdon Times: David Cameron addresses the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland (AP) David Cameron addresses the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland (AP)

Leading business figures have warned that David Cameron's push for international action on aggressive tax avoidance could undermine the economic recovery.

The Prime Minister said the UK would use its year-long presidency of the G8 group of rich nations to make sure individuals and companies "pay their fair share".

During the speech to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Mr Cameron promised to "drive a more serious debate on tax evasion and avoidance".

In an apparent swipe at cafe chain Starbucks, whose failure to pay corporation tax in the UK over three years sparked widespread outrage, Mr Cameron said that it was time for businesses to "wake up and smell the coffee" about public anger at tax-avoidance practices which in some cases raised ethical issues.

Announcing his plans for the G8 to "drive a more serious debate on tax evasion and avoidance", Mr Cameron said: "This is an issue whose time has come. After years of abuse, people across the planet are calling for more action and most importantly, there is gathering political will to actually do something about it."

But chief executives at more than 30 of Britain's biggest companies have warned against publishing more details of their tax affairs, according to the Daily Telegraph.

The research was carried out by Conservative MP Stephen McPartland, who canvassed the views of Ftse 100 companies on tax transparency. Of the 52 company leaders who responded, 32 raised concerns, the newspaper reported.

Andrew Bonfield, the finance director of National Grid and chairman of the tax committee of the Hundred Group, which represents the views of the finance directors in the Ftse 100, said: "Transparency standards need to be developed, applied and enforced on a global basis to avoid the risk of regulatory arbitrage which will almost certainly disadvantage UK and EU companies."

Ian Livingston, chief executive of BT, warned: "Any money spent on reporting is money that could be spent on investment and it's investment that's the top priority at present."

Deirdre Mahlan, the chief financial officer of the drinks company Diageo, warned that an international standard would "not only be hugely burdensome, but also potentially misleading" while Douglas Hurt, finance director of the engineering firm IMI, feared innocent firms would be punished because of "the alleged abuses by a few", according to the Daily Telegraph.

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