Photo: ‘we pay our taxes’ poster campaign/screengrab
“We pay our taxes!” independent booksellers are telling customers across the country in the latest fightback against Amazon.A new high-street campaign from the Booksellers Association refers, tongue in cheek, to MPs’ quizzing last week of executives from Amazon, Starbucks and Google over their tax affairs. The companies were accused of diverting hundreds of millions of pounds of profit to tax havens – Amazon was alleged by MPs to avoid UK taxes by reporting its European sales through a unit based in Luxembourg.
Now independent booksellers are highlighting the difference with how they operate, displaying bold red posters in their windows reading: “Can pay, do pay! We pay our taxes” and “Your money, your bookshop, your community, we pay our taxes”.
“Overseas-registered bookselling companies doing a lot of business in the UK, but paying little – or no – tax put our members who do pay taxes at a competitive disadvantage. In view of the public mood and interest, we have produced two posters for those of our members that want to use them,” said Booksellers Association chief executive Tim Godfray. “We want consumers to be aware of the issue and, by doing so, to support those booksellers who do pay their taxes.”
Janet Stewart, manager of the Gerrards Cross Bookshop in Buckinghamshire, was quick to sign up to the new promotion. “I think people are becoming more aware of the fact that Amazon and other places aren’t paying their taxes, so we decided to get involved,” she said. “We’re trying to promote ourselves: we’re honest, hardworking people who do pay our taxes – support your local bookshop is the message.”
“We pay tax on everything, rates, rents, staffing as well as corporation tax. Rates on out-of-town and industrial parks are lower than high-street rates,” Frances Smith of Kenilworth Books told the Bookseller. “Perhaps with the decline of the high street, local authorities should look at their ratings structures and reduce the amount small businesses pay and government should seriously look at ways of rejuvenating the high street.”
Independent booksellers have been struggling to compete with the might of Amazon, the supermarkets and book chains for years; figures from the Booksellers Association show that numbers dropped to 1,094 in 2011, from 1,159 in 2010 and 1,289 in 2009.
“The demise of the high street is something every retailer is unhappy about, except for the chains,” said Stewart. “The feeling on the high street isn’t the same as it used to be – communities are being eroded.”
Godfray said that the Booksellers Association recognises “that the companies up before Margaret Hodge’s public finance committee were not being accused of doing anything illegal. As Margaret Hodge said, she thought they were just being ‘immoral'”.
“If HM Treasury and the government are concerned that they are losing lots of tax revenue, and businesses are complaining of unfair competition, then the government really has to change the tax rules,” he said. “We shall be pressing the government to do this.”
Yesterday the author Jeanette Winterson suggested that the unpaid tax be used to fund the UK’s struggling public libraries. “Libraries cost about a billion a year to run right now. Make it two billion and charge Google, Amazon and Starbucks all that back tax on their profits here. Or if they want to go on paying fancy lawyers to legally avoid their moral duties, then perhaps those companies could do an Andrew Carnegie and build us new kinds of libraries for a new kind of future in a fairer and better world?” she said in a lecture at the British Library on Monday night.
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk
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