Sourced campaign: our work is done

Here’s something we don’t often get to say at Christian Aid: we are winding down a campaign we’ve been running for the past year because the Government has decided to do exactly what we wanted. Hoorah!
A lot can happen in a year — you’ve been speaking up to your local councils and the government have taken action!
In response to Christian Aid’s Sourced campaign, more than 1,000 campaigners in England and Northern Ireland contacted their local councillors…

Since January 2016, Christian Aid campaigners — together with supporters of the Fair Tax Mark, have been busy calling on their local councils to get tougher on the tax practices of the big private companies from which they ‘source’ local goods and services, (that’s why we called it the ‘Sourced’ campaign).

Rather than asking councils to do something very radical, campaigners simply asked them to introduce a central government policy that was already optional for other public bodies, including councils. That policy is about getting companies who bid for public contracts to provide more detailed information about their past tax records, including any investigations for ‘incorrect’ tax practices.

Small but mighty

This small but important policy, drawn up by central government in 2014, is designed to expose (and potentially exclude from public contracts) not just companies that have been prosecuted for illegal tax evasion*. It is also meant to catch those involved in aggressive tax avoidance**, either in the UK or overseas.

The effect of the policy is to scrutinise companies that have been contravening the spirit of the law, often pushing legality to its limits in order to shift vast profits to tax havens through opaque channels and dodgy tax schemes. As a consequence of these shady practices, both the UK and the world’s poorest countries are losing billions in tax revenues — revenues that are badly needed for public services like health and education.

Campaigners outside Devon County Council

Getting results

In response to Christian Aid’s Sourced campaign, more than 1,000 campaigners in England and Northern Ireland contacted their local councillors to ask them to adopt this optional policy. Their actions prompted more than 60 councils to seriously consider incorporating these more far-reaching tax questions into their procurement procedures.

In most cases, councils were hotly debating the issue of tax dodging by big companies for the first time, so Sourced enabled us to talk with some of the people we don’t normally reach.

In some councils, local Christian Aid campaigners were able to address council meetings directly and talk from the heart about what tax dodging means for the world’s poor.

As a result of our campaign, at least 15 councils decided to make the change we suggested to their procurement policies. These included large city councils such as Manchester, Salford, Birmingham and Belfast. The decision of the Northern Ireland Assembly to follow suit in the summer of 2016 was a high point of the campaign.

Christian Aid staff met with the Northern Ireland Finance Minister to discuss the Sourced campaign. Left to Right — Deborah Doherty, David Thomas, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir (Northern Ireland Finance Minister), Caroline Knox. [photo: Press Eye]

At the heart of the success was partnership working with the Fair Tax Mark, the Methodist Tax Justice Network, mirroring the many local networks our campaigns were involved in.

Meanwhile, a parallel Sourced campaign run by the Christian Aid Collective with the Student Christian Movement on campuses around the UK resulted in Essex and Oxford universities making the same change to their procurement policies.

‘It was a privilege to propose the Christian Aid Sourced Campaign motion on tax dodging which passed unanimously in the Hastings Borough Full Council’
— Councillor Bacon

Now the Government has decided to make the optional policy we have championed mandatory (as detailed in its Procurement Policy Note 08/16).

That means that all public bodies, including local councils, are legally required to adopt this more detailed scrutiny of companies’ tax affairs as a matter of course with all large contracts above a certain threshold. If there is a problem with a bidding company’s past ‘tax compliance’, then the company must be excluded from the contract.

With so many councils and universities reviewing their procurement policies in the light of our campaign, we are confident that Christian Aid and our campaigners played a part in the Government’s recent decision to make this policy mandatory.

For that we can be truly proud, and want to thank every campaigner and councillor who has been a part of making Sourced happen.

What next?

On tax justice more broadly, our work is not yet done. Campaigners can follow up with their local councils and ask them to report annually on the implementation of this new tax compliance policy.

If you would like our help with this, don’t hesitate to email us. Meanwhile, please keep an eye on our website for future campaign actions to ensure that tax dodgers have nowhere to hide.

* ‘Tax evasion’ covers tax practices that are illegal. 
** ‘Tax avoidance’ covers tax practices that are technically legal; ‘Aggressive tax avoidance’ covers tax practices that may be technically legal but are not in keeping with the spirit of the law and are therefore often deemed to be ‘incorrect’ by investigating tax authorities.