The world's largest online retailer Amazon has come under renewed pressure to pay corporation tax in Britain after a petition signed by more than 160,000 people was handed in to Number 10 today.
Handing the document over, independent bookshop owners Frances and Keith Smith said many businesses similar to theirs have already gone under this year alone, not least because they and the likes of Amazon are not on a "level playing field".
The Independent broke the news of the petition's creation in December last year. Since then, at least twelve more small bookshops have gone out of business, according to the Booksellers' Association. In the four years to January 1 2013, the number of such shops in Britain fell 18 per cent to just 1,028, the Association said.
"Independent shops are closing around us, I think it was six or seven independent bookshops have closed this year or are due to close, which is a massive number when there are only about 1,000 left. That is very worrying because bookshops are a cultural thing, they are where children learn about the love of books," said Frances Smith, 66, who - along with her 66-year-old husband Keith - runs small bookshops in Warwick and Kenilworth.
She added: "We talk to customers about what they can be reading next, give ideas; people come in in twos and threes, whole families come in - that is going to be lost." Keith Smith said that much of what sustains the industry is "tied to the bricks and mortar" sector of it.
With them at this morning's hand-in was head of the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee Margaret Hodge, who said that the issue over corporate tax was both legal and moral. She said: "HMRC has to be tougher at defining where businesses trade. But it the fight between these well-resourced corporations and HMRC is often a David vs Goliath one.
"But there is also a moral issue: We all decide, as part of a civil society, that we will contribute towards the collective ood, according to your means. Amazon is depending on this country's infrastructure and the skills of its workforce; that is all paid for through taxes.
"There is an ethical dimension when it comes to rich individuals contributing to improving the life opportunities of those who do not have that same advantage."
Author Charlie Higson, actor Stephen Fry and comedian Rhona Cameron have all backed the Smiths' campaign. Yesterday, Fry posted a link to the petition on Twitter and wrote: "AmazonUK may be useful but should they be getting away with funnelling their money through Luxembourg?"
Amazon hit the headlines last year after it was accused of "immorally" minimising UK tax bills along with Starbucks and Google in a damning report by the Public Accounts Committee. While Amazon's UK website reported a turnover of £207 million for 2011, its tax expense was just £1.8 million, the report said.
Starbucks took the decision to review its "tax approach" and pledged to pay a lump sum to HM Revenue and Customs over the next two years in light of the public pressure that followed.
And, calling on Amazon to follow a similar path, Frances Smith said: "There is a huge groundswell of opinion which says that this tax system is unfair and needs to change; the long term is obviously for the system to change so that the tax system becomes clearer, simpler and people pay their taxes where the purchases are made, rather than hiding behind offshore companies."
The petition is hosted by Change.org, which has had a string of successful campaigns, and has millions of subscribers around the world. Brie Rogers Lowery, the site's UK campaigns director, said: "Their campaign has taken the fight direct to Amazon via Downing Street - and shown that the power to build movements is firmly in the hands of the people."
A spokesman for Amazon said: "Amazon pays all applicable taxes in every jurisdiction that it operates within. Amazon EU serves tens of millions of customers and sellers throughout Europe from multiple consumer websites in a number of languages dispatching products to all 27 countries in the EU. We have a single European headquarters in Luxembourg with hundreds of employees to manage this complex operation."
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