Let's talk tax

Martin McEwen, SSE’s Head of Tax, appeared before the Public Accounts Committee earlier today so we asked him to tell us more about it and all SSE does to be transparent about our tax affairs.

Earlier today I was one of a number of people presenting to the Public Accounts Committee as it looks to promote tax transparency and dialogue around tax avoidance.

Tax continues to be a matter of concern for the public. Last week, the annual survey by The Institute of Business Ethics showed, of all business practices, 43% of the public are most concerned by corporate tax avoidance - this is up 9% on last year. Those findings add to the compendium of consumer research showing tax and transparency are at the heart of the credibility gap between consumers and big business.

At SSE, we try to be a responsible company in everything we do. Our aim is to achieve enhanced social, economic and environmental impact throughout our core business activities.

For me, nowhere is that more evident than our attitude to tax. We were the first and continue to be the only, FTSE 100 company to have Fair Tax Mark accreditation – something we’ve had for three years now. That gives customers, government and other stakeholders assurance we pay the right amount of tax on our profits, in the right place, at the right time.

More recently, ahead of HMRC bringing in its requirement for large businesses to publish their UK tax strategy, we’ve again went above and beyond. Although we aren’t required to publish our tax strategy until next year, as a responsible company we have chosen to submit it a year early. Not only that, we’ve went beyond simply disclosing what’s required. In addition to our tax strategy we have included our tax policy, country by country analysis, details of the taxes we pay, and how tax features through our entire business. On top of that we tried to set it out in an as easy to follow format which hopefully everyone can understand.

We’re only too happy to provide this level of transparency because at SSE we don’t believe taxes should be seen as a penalty on profits. Taxes pay for public services, and successful businesses depend on good public services. Take SSE as a case in point:

  • We employ thousands of people out in the community maintaining the electricity network, reading meters and fixing and installing boilers. We need the communities we work in to be policed and safe.
  • Our growing business need employees. There are real skills gaps and shortages in the energy industry so we need a high-quality education system to provide our business with future employees.
  • When our employees need medical attention, we depend on the National Health Service to get them back on their feet again.

These are just a few simple examples, there are many more, of how businesses rely on society to help them function and why taxes are an appropriate way to share profit with society.

At SSE we think businesses need to take a lead in being transparent about their tax affairs and their tax policies. The payment of corporation tax is not simply a set of rules to abide by - it is an issue of ethical judgement and one we know our customers and wider society cares about.