Is corruption rife in the UK? The disclosure that HM Revenue and Customs have failed to collect more than £25 billion in “unresolved tax bills” from major firms such as Goldman Sachs suggests this may well be the case.
The parliamentary public accounts committee has finally gone public with the revelation that revenue executives have been negotiating “cosy” secret deals with large companies. Margaret Hodge, the former Labour minister who chairs the committee, said: “This report is a damning indictment of HMRC and the way its senior officials handle tax disputes with large corporations. We uncovered both specific and systemic failures which must be addressed. There is more than £25 billion outstanding in unresolved tax bills and it is essential there should be proper accountability to Parliament for the settlements reached. Parliament and the public have legitimate concerns that large companies are being treated more favourably than ordinary taxpayers. The department’s working practices must be seen by the taxpaying public to be absolutely impartial. The impression being given at the moment is quite the opposite, of far too cosy a relationship between HMRC and large companies.”
HMRC Permanent Secretary for Tax, Dave Hartnett, who has apparently spent the last two years being wined and dined by top executives of financial firms and major companies, acknowledges he made an error when he allowed Goldman Sachs, the investment bank, to dodge a multi-million pound interest bill on unpaid tax on bonuses. He claims to have been “wrongly advised” that there was a legal impediment to collecting it.
HMRC has rejected the committee’s conclusions. A spokesperson insisted: “The report is based on partial information, inaccurate opinion and some misunderstanding of facts”. That may well be so, but only because senior HMRC officials summoned to appear before the committee declined to cooperate with the inquiry. In the end, the committee was forced to rely on testimony from a whistleblower, Osita Mba, a solicitor at HMRC.
Osita Mba is now being targeted for his crucial role in uncovering the secret deals with big business. He is the subject of an internal HMRC investigation and faces the threat of disciplinary action and even prison for his actions.
It is imperative that the double standards exposed by the courageous actions of Osita Mba be eliminated immediately. There is a sour smell of corruption around and the British public is picking up the scent.