Sketch: Ok Google. How much do you get paid? "I don't have the figure but I'll happily provide it."

If Google was trying to prove all its brainpower is based in the US, its UK chief did a mesmerising job. 
  • @tompeck

Google have struggled to convince the British public that the reason it pays virtually no tax in the UK is because all its brainpower is based in America, so in that sense its UK chief’s appearance before the Public Accounts Committee was an unmitigated triumph.

Google is the world’s biggest company for one reason and one reason alone. If you ask it a straightforward question you get a straightforward answer. If Google’s European CEO Matt Brittin was left in sole charge of his own search engine, it might run a little bit like this.

“Ok Broogle. What’s the capital of France?”

“I don’t have the answer but I’ll happily provide it to the committee in private.”

“Ok Broogle. Did Google discuss its tax arrangements in private meetings with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs?”

“I don’t have the answer but I’ll happily provide it to the committee in private.”

“Ok Broogle. How much does Google’s European CEO Matt Brittin get paid?”

“I don’t have the figure but I’ll happily provide it to the committee in private.”

“Ok Broogle. Would you say Google CEO Matt Brittin’s appearance before the Public Accounts Committee is the most agonising slow motion car crash since Google CEO Matt Brittin’s last appearance before the Public Accounts Committee in 2013?”

“I don’t have the answer, but you can all see it so what do you think?”

Indeed we can. It is possible Matt Brittin genuinely doesn’t know his own salary, as he claimed on no fewer than five separate occasions. Perhaps Jeeves is normally around to ask. 

One thing he did know for sure, however, is that all these media reports that claim Google only pays corporation tax at 3 per cent are “misleading.” 

What Google wants, more than anything, is a “simplification of the tax system.” Mr Brittin had even brought Google’s ‘Global Head of Tax’, the US-based (and therefore theoretically capable of intellectual endeavour) Tom Hutchinson along to make the point. Mr Hutchinson also “passionately” wants a simplification of the tax system. Just how passionately he wants it, given if the tax system was simple he would be immediately out of a job that comes with a salary that even that Chinese man who once spent 26 hours reciting pi to 67,000 decimal places would struggle to remember, he was not pressed upon to explain.

It is the inadequacies of the current system, we learned, that compels Google to send all its profits on UK sales to an Irish company, who then send them on to a Dutch company and back to an Irish one based in a tax haven. It is a setup known as a “Double Irish with a Dutch sandwich”, as David Mowat MP repeated somewhere in the region of a hundred thousand times, and which, at least according to Google, is an “international tax avoidance scheme.”

That Google has fully 5,000 staff based in Dublin and merely 4,000 in London is, by the way, nothing to do with the advantageous tax rates it offers but, according to Mr Brittin, “Its proximity to high speed internet across the Atlantic.”

He also claimed, with a straight face that he failed to maintain when everyone else in the room broke out in laughter: “We have  people there that speak 40 different languages."

It is, you might think, difficult to believe that it was a lack of linguistic diversity in London that forced Google to set up its own private United Nations just off Temple Bar. Did nobody tell him what's right there on Alta Vista, Yahoo, Baidu and Bing?

Ok Broogle. Whatever you say. 

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