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David Cameron asks UK biz to pay their low, low taxes

Oi, Dave, less of this 'political point-scoring'

UK Prime Minister David Cameron has told a quarterly meeting of the government's business advisory group that in return for lower taxes, companies should really pay the tax they do owe, while business leaders have accused the government of "political point-scoring".

A government source whispered to Reuters that Cameron had told the meeting that as part of having very low corporation tax, he expected companies to pay the tax that was due.

The PM has said he wants to crack down on tax avoidance while Blighty holds the G8 presidency. Yesterday he wrote to British dependencies like the Cayman Islands and Jersey to ask for more transparency and a better exchange of information on tax issues.

The biz advisory group apparently agreed with Cameron on paying the taxes that are due, but companies have increasingly tried to frame the argument over corporate taxes as a political sop for the masses suffering under austerity, rather than a legitimate desire for overarching change.

The president of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), Sir Roger Carr, who attended the meeting with the PM, said at a speech at Oxford University's Said Business School that taxation of firms like Google and Amazon had suddenly jumped up the political agenda, but the debate couldn't be about "morality".

“Tax avoidance cannot be about morality – there are no absolutes. It is about responsible judgment, finding the balance between shareholder fiduciary duty, stakeholder responsibility, social awareness, and corporate reputation for acceptable behaviours," Carr said.

“As politicians pursue fairness it is important that any criticisms are grounded in fact and hasty solutions or political point-scoring do not trigger long term unintended consequences."

He added that the CBI rejected "schemes which serve no commercial purpose other than the minimisation of tax, even though such schemes may be legal", but rules needed to be fixed internationally and business needed to be consulted on those rules.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC), whose MPs have quizzed Google, Amazon and Starbucks, as well as accounting firms and HM Revenue and Customs, has frequently said that while companies are behaving legally with their taxes, their complex corporate structures and aggressive tax planning is "immoral" and "evil".

Meanwhile, Google could be facing a new investigation from tax officials at HMRC after the whistleblower revelations that led to the firm being called in front of the PAC for the second time last week.

HMRC is apparently considering new lines of inquiry into the Choc Factory, according to The Guardian, after a former Google employee claimed that UK staff were involved in closing sales - contrary to what veep Matt Brittin had previously told the PAC. HMRC refused to comment.

The Prime Minister wouldn't say yesterday if he would be bringing up Google's taxes with Eric Schmidt at the business advisory group meeting, saying only that tax would be part of the meeting. ®

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