Tax driving firms from the UK

2007

Just in case chancellor Gordon Brown hasn't got the message, three separate heavy-weight reports have warned that excessively high business taxes are driving business away from the UK and discouraging investment.

First up is a report by consultants Curzon & Company based on a detailed survey of more than 250 executives from around the world. According to yesterday's Sunday Times:

The 258 executives interviewed, most representing businesses with turnovers of more than $500m (£255m), said Britain still had strengths, including a pro-competition attitude, a relaxed approach to foreign direct investment, flexible labour markets and sophisticated capital markets.

But in the report, "Cutting it on the World Stage — Trouble Ahead for UK plc?", the executives cited several weaknesses, including "an increasingly burdensome and unpredictable tax regime that has recently been rated as one of the most complex in the developed world".

....The survey found that nearly 70% of executives were deterred by the high cost of living in Britain. The UK's corporate-tax regime used to be an advantage in attracting inward investment, but the survey showed it has now become one of the economy's unattractive features.

Next up, "Helping Britain Thrive" from Ernst & Young - with exactly the same message. Of the top thirty OECD countries, the UK's corporate tax rate has slipped from tenth lowest in 2000 to joint eighteenth in 2006, it points out.

According to Paul Davies, head of tax at Ernst & Young:

"There are three key issues here - the corporate tax rate, the system's complexity and the lack of certainty."

"There is a very real danger that the UK's competitiveness as an investment location will be seriously compromised and we will hear more stories of major corporates threatening to move their headquarters out of the UK."

The report found that despite all the government's business-friendly rhetoric, the number of new investment projects undertaken in the UK by foreign companies has been falling steadily since 2001 .

"Other countries and regions in Europe have stolen a march on the UK by offering fiscal incentives and tax breaks that are proving to be a great success," Davies said.

"If the chancellor is going to talk about a 'light regulatory touch', we'd like to see evidence of it."

That's something that employers' group, the CBI, wholeheartedly echoes in its submission to the Treasury ahead of this month's Budget.

"Even a slight restraint in the pace of spending growth, which need not impact on frontline services, would be enough to halt the steady decline in the UK's tax competitiveness, paving the way for much needed reductions in business taxes in future years," the CBI says.

"With a number of companies having relocated from the UK and others considering doing so, this would be the signal that the business community has been waiting for."

And it reminds the government that in the November 2006 CBI/MORI tax survey, 22 per cent of companies had already relocated one or more activities abroad and a further 17 per cent were considering relocation for the first time. Almost all of these firms cited the tax regime as a key factor in their decisions.

Of course, there's not the slightest chance that tax-addicted Gordon Brown will take any notice of any of this, meaning that many more global companies will be joining the likes of Google, Yahoo and Amazon and locating their HQs not in the UK, but the Irish capital, Dublin, where the corporation tax rate is 12.5 per cent compared to the UK's 30 per cent (not be mention a far nicer pint of Guinness).

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