Following revelations a couple of weeks ago that Vodafone has got away with a £6billion tax avoidance ruse, activists around Britain have been shutting down some of Vodafone’s most prominent stores. We had agreed not to actively shut the Vodafone stores in York, but instead we would use our small presence to inform the public and keep the damage to the realm of PR – something Vodafone takes seriously – but when we arrived the door was quickly locked and a sign appeared informing potential customers that the store was closed.
We chose to join in the UKuncut day of action because we too are outraged that a corporation can use its cosy relationship to government to bypass normal processes in having its tax bill established. Vodafone have relied on a “revolving door”, with staff moving between Vodafone and HMRC, the very people who should have handed Vodafone a bill for £6billion. That they only pushed a bill of £1.25billion has been described by one HMRC source as “an unbelievable cave-in” – perhaps even a collusion?
What is particularly shocking is that this money could pay to keep people in jobs and homes whilst still dealing with Britain’s deficit. Its simply the opposite side of the deficit coin, and one Osborne seems entirely uninterested in dealing with. The Tax Justice Network estimates the “tax gap”, the total unpaid taxes of all UK individuals and companies, at £120billion – 50% more than the cuts Osborne announced 10 days ago – why aren’t HMRC being funded properly to close that gap?
The police were very hands-off around the protest, and we kept things fairly cheerful. During the 2.5hours we stood outside, around 20 people took part in total, with some comings and goings. We had many supportive comments from passersby, and gave out hundreds of leaflets. We were visited by both the York Press and York Vision, a student-run paper at the University of York. We sent people on brief missions to the store on Coney Street, where two police stood outside and where the manager was considerably more open in his annoyance. Whilst we didn’t manage to keep the second store shut for long periods of time, people were clearly dissuaded from entering and staff did turn people away.
It only takes 3 to shut a store down (well, throw in 2 police officers for good luck).
Another view in Parliament Street. Images from around Britain can be found on UKuncut’s YFrog page.
Vodafone have been trying to claim that the £6billion figure is an ‘urban myth’. But Urban Myths tend not to originate from senior HMRC sources then get reported on by Forbes and the Financial Times, and if Vodafone are so certain, why don’t they they sue Private Eye, who made the allegation first? After all, Britain has notoriously soft libel laws. Maybe Vodafone aren’t so convinced the myth is unfounded? As we go publish this, 21 store closures are reported, but event that may not be a complete picture.
York Stop the Cuts – Right to Work campaign’s next meeting will be in the Corner Pin pub, Tanner Row, between Jumbo’s and BPM on Rougier Street starting at 7.30pm on Tuesday 9th November.