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Chancellor pushes digital services tax

printer Mail

In an otherwise business-friendly speech, the chancellor of the exchequer, Philip Hammond, sent a clear message to his audience at the Conservative Party conference and beyond that the UK is poised to go ahead with a digital services tax if no agreement can be reached at the OECD.

Hammond’s speech contained the usual assurances about business being ‘the cornerstone of a successful economy’, while focusing on a theme of technological change and the challenges this poses for capitalism in the 21st century.

The chancellor spoke of the government’s ‘determination to update our market economy for the digital age’, which ranged from reform of the apprenticeship levy, to stressing the importance of bringing competition policy up to date with the ‘expansion of the global tech giants and digital platforms’. The government has recently set up an expert panel to review the UK’s competition regime.

While acknowledging the benefits such businesses bring to consumers, Hammond said there were ‘questions about whether too much power is being concentrated in too few global technology businesses’.

Repeating the priorities for reforming the international tax system set out in the government’s recent position papers on corporate tax and the digital economy, the chancellor stressed that ‘the global internet giants must contribute fairly to funding our public services’.

The OECD is working towards developing an international consensus for its final report in 2020, but if no agreement is reached, ‘the UK will go it alone with a digital services tax of its own’, Hammond said.

As we reported last week, the European Commission is already pushing ahead with plans to introduce an EU digital services tax in January 2020.