Corporation Tax Charge 2020

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Bim Afolami: The hon. Gentleman asserts figures such as £16.5 billion, but does he accept that the tax rate has a dynamic effect on the amount generated for the Exchequer? It is all very well to cite a number as a static figure and say, “Actually, Labour party policy will double the amount we get,” but does he accept that there is a relationship between the rate and the amount that the Exchequer generates because of increased economic growth?

Peter Dowd: The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point, which I will address later in my remarks, and which we can tease out across the Committee if we want.

For Members who do not know, labour productivity is calculated by dividing output by labour input. Output refers to gross value added, which is an estimate of the volume of goods and services by an industry, and in aggregate for the UK as a whole. Labour inputs are measured in terms of workers, jobs—“productivity jobs”—and hours worked, or “productivity hours”.

The cuts to corporation tax have done nothing to improve our productivity. The hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden may wish to listen to that point, so I will repeat it: the cuts to corporation tax have done nothing to improve our productivity. That strikes at the heart of the Government’s failure on the issue. In fact, the economic statistics centre of excellence and the centre for macroeconomics at the National Institute of Economic and Social Research published a study this year of Britain’s very poor productivity. That brings us to the point that the hon. Gentleman raised, because one would assume that as a result of the tax cuts, more would be invested and productivity would rise—but that has not happened. The Government have argued that those corporations now receiving significant sums in tax cuts would invest in our economy and drive their business models forward, thus increasing UK productivity. Unfortunately, the 2018 paper shows that the billions of pounds of giveaways have not had a positive productivity effect. To deal with the point raised by the hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden, that paper says:

“Average annual…productivity growth was 2.5 percentage points lower during the period 2011-2015 than in the decade before the financial crisis…in 2007. We find that several years on from the financial crisis stagnation remains widespread across detailed industry divisions, pointing to economy-wide explanations for the puzzle. With some exceptions, labour productivity…lost…momentum in those industries that experienced strong growth before the crisis. Three fifths of the gap is accounted for by a few industries that together account for less than one fifth of market sector value added. In terms of why we observe continued stagnation, we find that capital shallowing has become increasingly important in explaining the labour productivity growth gap in service sectors, as the buoyancy of the UK labour market has not been sufficiently matched by investment…The collapse in labour productivity growth has been more pronounced in the UK than elsewhere” notwithstanding those major cuts in corporation tax.

Anneliese Dodds: Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a contradiction in Government policy? They appear to believe that cutting corporation tax rates will lead to a higher activity rate and a higher investment rate—as he said, that has not been the outcome—but when it comes to social security, the assumption appears to be that cutting the rate of income that people can take home by having a high taper rate, for example, will necessarily lead to a higher work rate. Actually, the evidence shows that the vast majority of people on social security want to work and there is no evidence that they do not want to. The psychological approach to corporations—that if they give them more corporate welfare, they will work harder, although the evidence does not indicate that that is the case—seems to be very different from the approach to social security recipients, where the view is that if they reduce their income they will work harder, when actually most people want to work.

Peter Dowd: I do not want to introduce Gilbert and Sullivan, but the point is that it is a topsy-turvy world where cash for corporations equals productivity, when it does not, and cuts to welfare equal productivity, when they do not. It is not as simple as that and I am afraid that the Government’s rather one-dimensional approach does not work. That report shows that the billions handed to those big companies by the Government have not had the required effect on business investment to drive up productivity. The facts are there for everybody to see. No doubt, if we had had some experts here, we could have teased that out a bit more.

Bim Afolami: The hon. Gentleman has focused on domestic business investment, but would he not accept that having an attractive corporation tax regime and providing a business-friendly climate also helps with foreign direct investment? Britain is still a world leader in that.

Peter Dowd: 

Yes, but there is not necessarily a causal link there. The reality is—[Interruption.] Let me tease that out. The evidence does not suggest that, as I have tried to point out. The German economy is 35% more productive, because investment in it is significantly better than investment in this country’s economy. We are having a debate at the moment about the question of uncertainty in relation to Brexit, which is probably having a more significant effect than the hon. Gentleman suggests.

The bottom line is that the idea that cutting corporation tax per se will lead to growth in the economy has not proven to be the case. The economy is still flatlining, despite those cuts to corporation tax. The best part of half a billion pounds is still sitting in corporate bank accounts not being invested, despite corporate tax cuts.

…later

Bim Afolami: The hon. Gentleman uses the word “corporations” pejoratively and then mentions the hard-working single mother. Does he accept that the hard-working single mother might also run a small business? Why did the Labour manifesto commit to increasing corporation tax on small businesses as well as on multinationals?

Peter Dowd: I started my comments by welcoming the role that corporations play in our economy. My use of the word “corporations” was not in any sense pejorative. I have said nothing “pejorative” about corporations. I may have talked pejoratively about those corporations that avoid their tax and I think most other people would, too. Those corporations have a responsibility, and not just legally, to pay tax. I am not suggesting they are evading tax in that sense, but morally they are part of our community. They are part of one of the most stable countries in the world, with a rule of law next—[Interruption.] I am absolutely shocked that the hon. Gentleman is laughing at my assertion that we have one of the best processes for the rule of law in this country. I am sure he did not mean to laugh when I was praising the British constitution—I accept that he did not really mean it.

At the end of the day, the bottom line is that I have not at any time been pejorative, and nor would I wish to be pejorative, about corporations that play their part in society, that pay their taxes, that treat their workers properly and that treat their customers as their first port of call. I would not be pejorative about those corporations, but I will not stop criticising corporations that do not pay their fair share of tax.

To get back to the point, that is why the Government appear to be winding down the diverted profits tax rather than ramping up the pressure on companies that do not pay their way. The review demanded by amendment 8 would strike at the heart of the problem. For too long, the Government have sat idly by and watched the UK being fleeced by many big companies and the public are saying that enough is enough…

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