Sourced — tax justice on your doorstep

Last October I was sitting at home watching the TV when there was a knock at the door. I answered it to my local Oxford City Councillor, Jean Fooks, who was making her rounds asking residents if they had any questions or concerns.

Now usually when I think of my local authority I think about the recycling bin I put out every week, I think about the services they provide that I can see in my street.

On this occasion though, I was thinking about something else.

I’d recently learned through Christian Aid’s ‘Sourced’ campaign that as well as providing various ‘in house’ services, local authorities also spend around £45 billion a year on goods and services from private companies. This includes anything and everything from vending machine coffee in public buildings to multi-million pound contracts with international IT and communications companies. All of this is paid for with public money, with our taxes.

We all pay our taxes but HMRC estimate that in the UK we lose £30 billion a year though tax dodging by private companies, including multinationals. It’s not just a problem here in austerity Britain where public services are being squeezed, it’s a global problem. Every year developing countries miss out on an estimated up to £300 billion in tax revenues dodged by unscrupulous multinational companies. These revenues, three times the global aid budget, could be used for tackling poverty and providing essential services such as healthcare and education.

Meanwhile, back on my doorstep Councillor Jean looked at me expectantly. I asked Jean if she would be able to tell me if Oxford City Council would be willing, as part of Christian Aid’s Sourced campaign, to include a set of tax compliance questions in their procurement policy that would ensure that the companies they make contracts with are paying their fair share when it comes to tax.

A few conversations and emails later I sat in the public gallery at a full meeting of Oxford City Council where Jean put forward a motion that they adopt a set of tax compliance questions (already obligatory for central government contracts above £5 million) in their procurement policy. These questions would probe into the tax records of the companies seeking to win contracts with the council paid for with public money. As well as looking into their record here in the UK, the questions would also explore if these companies have been caught out dodging taxes in other countries — including developing countries. Oxford City Council would then be able to exclude a company from the bidding process if they are not satisfied with a company’s responses to these questions.

The Council voted unanimously to explore how these questions could be adopted into their procurement policy. An exciting moment of democracy in action for me!

If more and more councils follow in the footsteps of Oxford City Council, we could see that £45 billion worth of contractual bargaining power sending a clear message to private companies — wherever they operate — that tax dodging overseas won’t be overlooked when they bid for large contracts from your local council.

So, the next time you put out your bins, take a moment to think about what your taxes are paying for. If like me you want to see your taxes go to companies that pay their fair share too, get involved with the Sourced Campaign.

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