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Press watch: Investor's warning over ‘aggressive’ tax planning

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The Times reported (13 January) that James Anderson – manager of Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust, one of Britain’s biggest shareholders in Amazon, Google, Facebook and Apple – warned the companies ‘not to be so aggressive in avoiding UK corporation tax’. Anderson said the American companies were ‘taking risks by so aggressively seeking to minimise their tax bills’, the paper reported. ‘We say to these companies, don’t over-play it.’

Patrick Hosking, the paper’s financial editor, wrote: ‘By putting intellectual property in companies in low-tax jurisdictions, technology groups are able to book very low profits in the UK and so pay little or no corporation tax.’

Earlier this month, the Financial Times reported that it had found ‘further evidence of just how low the [UK corporation tax] payments by US technology companies are’. It added: ‘Current tax payments by Apple, Microsoft, eBay, Yahoo and Facebook fell in 2012, while those of Amazon and Google rose. That resulted in a decline in the seven corporations’ combined tax bill on current year profits from £45m to £37m. If provisions for potential future payments and past adjustments, including Google’s £24m provision relating to a review of the tax treatment of share-based pay, are taken into account, the total UK tax charge to the seven companies rose from £38.5m to £54m in 2012.

‘Those payments are dwarfed by the scale of the businesses, at least for Apple, Google, Microsoft and eBay, which reported sales of billions of pounds. Not all the companies are making much profit – Amazon reported a post-tax loss last year – but critics consider that their tax payments should be much higher.’

The FT report concluded: ‘The practical and political difficulties [involved in a planned redesign of international rules] are immense but mounting tensions over the low tax payments of the technology sector are intensifying the pressure for a radical rethink of the rules.’