4 Dec 2010

Topshop protests over Sir Philip Green’s taxes

Washington Correspondent

Demonstrators have taken part in UK-wide protests over Topshop boss Sir Philip Green’s tax affairs. They allege that he avoided paying hundreds of millions of pounds.

Topshop protests over Sir Philip Green taxes. (via Twitter)

Protesters forced Topshop‘s main UK store to close its doors today during a demonstration against alleged tax avoidance by big businesses.

The action is focusing on the shop’s owner, and government adviser, Sir Philip Green. The group claims Sir Philip deliberately tried to avoid paying hundreds of millions of pounds of UK tax by channelling £1.2 billion worth of funds from his Arcadia retail empire into an offshore vehicle registered to his wife in Monaco.

The Brighton branch of Topshop, where demonstrators have glued their hands to the windows, was also been forced to close. Protests are also taking place in Glasgow, Leeds, Bristol, Liverpool, Manchester and Nottingham. There have been further unscheduled demos at Vodafone shops.

One campaigner in London said: “I am a peaceful protester. A woman was being thrown out of the store and I objected so I was picked up by two private security men.

We are taking direct action on companies like Topshop which avoid large amounts of tax. Ed Greens, protester

“They lifted me by my ankles and my hair. It was quite scary really.”

Ed Greens, from north west London, said: “We are taking direct action on companies like Topshop which avoid large amounts of tax.”

Another demonstrator said he was “forcibly thrown out” of the store for trying to take photographs.

Security guards also removed journalists from the store.

Alistair Tebbit, from the Institute of Directors, told Channel 4 News “we have some sympathy for the protesters”.

But he added: “UK corporation tax rate is currently 28 per cent while the EU’s average is 25 per cent, a whole 5 per cent difference. That is why companies are moving abroad because in the global economy the numbers always win.

“So instead of protesting outside topshop they should protest outside HM Revenue and Customs demanding they drop the tax rate.”

Guardian columnist and campaigner Polly Toynbee at the demo.

(Pictured: Guardian columnist and campaigner Polly Toynbee at the demo with blogger PennyRed)

The group behind the demo, UK Uncut, was formed by a band of grassroots activists to protest against the government’s spending cuts. They argue that slashing public spending so severely isn’t necessary. Instead, they say the Chancellor George Osborne and his men should go after easier targets, like Sir Philip and other wealthy businessmen, who between them avoid paying billions of pounds worth of UK tax.

“Philip Green is a well-known tax avoider and today we’re bringing our campaign right to the heart of his empire”, James Kelly, a spokesman for UK Uncut told Channel 4 News.

Who Knows Who: Sir Philip Green – the ego in Arcadia

UK Uncut does not have any premises or headquarters. It carries out most of its campaigning via Twitter and Facebook and from its website, ukuncut.org.uk.

But in recent months the group has grown in notoriety and now has over 4,000 followers on Twitter. It added 600 of those in a single day – Friday 3 Dec – after a call-to-protest was issued in an article on the Guardian online, according to Mr Kelly.

The article said: “We launch this second phase of our campaign as part of a movement unrecognisable from just a month ago. Our website empowers people to make contact with others and organise autonomously in their own towns and cities. In this way, a nationally co-ordinated social media campaign can build powerful, local anti-cuts networks on the streets.”

“When the government is rushing the deepest cuts since the 1920s through the Commons, it is essential that we can react spontaneously, flexibly and effectively.”

Topshop protests: sit-in over Sir Philip Green taxes.

The anger over Sir Philip’s tax affairs is not new. The retail tycoon, whose empire spans department store BHS to Topshop and Dorothy Perkins, did pay a £1.2 billion dividend to his wife, Tina, in 2005 via a complex tax vehicle which effectively makes her the owner of his Arcadia chain.

Because she lives in Monaco, a tax haven, she was able to receive the dividend tax-free. Tax avoidance is legal, but given his prominence in the UK high street, the payment was seen as very controversial. It has since become even more so after Sir Philip was named as a special advisor to the Government on austerity and spending cuts.

I do think there’s a problem. Large businesses are paying a smaller proportion of their income in tax than many individuals and small businesses in the UK and that’s unacceptable. Richard Murphy

That rankled with many, especially given the multi-millionaires opulent lifestyle of yachts and extravagant parties.

Richard Murphy, director of Tax Research UK, said he thought that UK Uncut’s actions were justified.

“I do think that what they’re doing is appropriate,” he told Channel 4 News. “I do think there’s a problem. Large businesses are paying a smaller proportion of their income in tax than many individuals and small businesses in the UK and that’s unacceptable”.

Mr Kelly said as many as several hundred people were planning to protest at Topshop on Oxford Street in London while 20 other groups plan actions up and down the country.

The group held similar protests against Vodafone after the telecoms group settled a large tax avoidance claim with the government but ended up paying a lot less than had been expected.