Why everyone wants to see a level playing field when it comes to tax

The issue of fair tax is in the public domain once again, this time highlighted by a series of programmes shown on BBC2 as part of its so-called ‘Black Economy’ season. 

The programmes are asking a simple question: ‘Are we all living by the same rules when it comes to tax?’  It’s easy to get lost in the complexities of tax legislation, but the guiding principle should be that we all want to see a level playing field.

One of the BBC programmes showed the enterprising efforts of the Welsh town of Crickhowell to highlight the issue. Crickhowell coffee shop owner Steve said: “I have always paid every penny of tax I owe, and I don’t object to that. What I object to is paying my full tax when my big name competitors are doing the damnedest to dodge theirs.”

To me this gets to the heart of the issue. Why should hard working people pay their fair share of taxes if bigger companies are exploiting loopholes to duck their responsibilities? It’s also true that today’s consumers are savvier than ever before. In a highly competitive and scrutinised market like energy, they want to be sure they’re dealing with responsible businesses that will treat them fairly. 

So what should customers be looking out for? They can look for businesses that have publically ruled out the use of tax havens or creation of artificial profit shifting arrangements.  

Companies that publish a ‘country by country’ report so their customers can see how much they earn in each market and how much they pay to each tax authority. And companies that publish – so it’s open to scrutiny – all the detail behind their tax liabilities.  

SSE does all of those things and as a result we are the only FTSE100 company to have gained the Fair Tax Mark accreditation - an independent stamp of approval of our approach to  tax.

For SSE, paying tax on the profits earned is simply the appropriate way to pay returns back into the society that enabled it to earn the profit in the first place.  It’s an attitude of mind as much as a set of tax rules to obey. 

2016 is an opportunity for big business to earn back trust from the public and show that they are broadly on their side and not in it only for themselves. Ensuring that paying tax is a level playing field, that everyone can have confidence in, would be a good start. 

About the author

Brandon Rennet Managing Director, Finance

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