Public Accounts Committee: 6 questions Google still can't answer MPs about tax

MPs grilled Google over its tax base in Ireland, its tax arrangements with other countries, and whether it had co-ordinated the timing of the announcement with George Osborne

Hazel Sheffield@hazelsheffield
Thursday 11 February 2016 13:42
Google boss grilled by MPs

Google struggled to answer a number of questions about its tax arrangements while giving evidence to MPs at a Public Accounts Committee meeting.

The meeting comes after public outcry that Google paid £130 million to HM Revenue & Customs for the last ten years.

MPs grilled Google over its tax base in Ireland, its tax arrangements with other countries, and whether it had co-ordinated the timing of the announcement with George Osborne, who heralded the deal as a “great success” at Davos.

But Google bosses were stumped on a number of occasions:

  1. On what profit Google paid tax at 20 per cent

Matt Brittin, Google president of Europe, Middle East and Africa, said that he understood why constituents were concerned when they saw Google only payed tax on 3 per cent.

“That’s not true, it’s 20 per cent,” he said.

MPs later asked him on what figure Google paid tax at 20 per cent.

“I don’t have that figure in front of me,” Brittin said.

  1. Their own pay

Brittin was asked five times to clarify his own pay. He failed five times.

“It’s a salary … I don’t have the figure but I’ll provide the figure privately, if it’s relevant to the committee to understand my salary,” he said,

Labour MP Meg Hillier concluded: “You don’t know what you get paid, ok. Out there taxpayers, our constituents, are very angry. They live in a different world, clearly, if you can’t even tell us what you’re actually paid.”

  1. Whether France and Italy have got more tax than the UK out of Google

MPs asked Google to confirm that sales and profits in France and Italy are lower, despite the fact that Google is reportedly paying more tax in these jurisdictions.

“We’re not confirming those rumours, but I can say that we have never paid as part of an audit outside the US larger than the one we have just agreed to,” Tom Hutchinson, VP of Google Finance, said.

  1. Whether tax was discussed in the meetings Google had with the Government.

“Typically they are on meetings on child safety, copyright and other online issues. I’m sure tax may have come up from time to time as a question,” Brittin said.

  1. When exactly Google filed its taxes – was it to coincide with Osborne in Davos

MPs asked Google when exactly they filed the controversial taxes. They were trying to work out if the timing was intentional – to co-incide with a speech George Osborne gave at Davos in which he heralded the Google tax deal as a “great success”.

But Google didn’t know when it had filed its taxes.

Caroline Flint MP asked: “Why was it that weekend that you decided to make the announcement, was it because the Chancellor was in Davos?”

Brittin replied: “Because we were filing our accounts around that time. I don’t have the exact date.”

  1. Why Google didn’t pay taxes every year

Caroline Flint asked why Google paid the £130 million in tax for a six-year period, rather than paying taxes every year.

Hutchinson admits that it’s a good question.

“The public tuning into this will be asking themselves, how can a massive company like Google, with all the expertise that it hires, how can HMRC not, in real time, tackle the problems of how you pay your tax?” Flint replied.

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