Google deal nothing to crow about, George

WHO’S the real Lotto winner? Not that woman from Worcester who claims her ticket went through the wash. No, Google of course. What a cosy deal they’ve done with the Treasury.

Chancellor George Osborne has been crowing about the all-round wonderfulness of his arrangement with Google, under which the company has agreed to pay £130 million taxes in a deal covering ten years – on reported annual UK revenues of £3.9 billion.

“A major success,” says Osborne, hopping around with his crow head bobbing up and down and his black eyes gleaming.

“We’ve been had,” almost everyone else cries.

According to The Times this morning. Google could pay France three times as much in a similar settlement, even though the UK is the company’s biggest foreign market. In an aside, The Times reports that Google spends “$12 million a year alone on chicken for its staff canteens” – feeding them chicken while we get chicken feed, in other words.

Hardly anyone apart from Osborne thinks this deal is worthy of a crow dance – with even Number Ten distancing itself from Osborne’s enthusiasm. A press spokesman for David Magpie Cameron said “five for silver” and declined to make further comment.

Incidentally, should you be wondering why Mr Cameron has been depicted as a magpie to Osborne’s crow, I direct you towards the RSPB website, where you will find the following: “Magpies seem to be jacks of all trades – scavengers, predators and pest-destroyers, their challenging, almost arrogant attitude has won them few friends.”

Keeping financial tabs on multinational tech companies such as Google is a tricky business – but then so is politics, and what George Osborne is attempting to do is pass off a shameful failure as a success.

And that just won’t wash (a bit like that lottery ticket).

The Financial Times tends to understand these things. It says this morning of George’s dodgy arrangement with Google: “The deal ended a decade-long probe by the authorities into whether the tech group had skirted its tax bill obligations by allocating profits earned in the UK – its second biggest market – to its European base in Ireland, where tax rates are lower.”

Now Google is a wonderful thing and where would we be without it? Some of us can barely remember what life was like pre-Google. Yet if we are to have tax systems, it is only fair that companies such as Google and Amazon should pay their share of taxes, as smaller and less protean companies have to (just Googled ‘protean’ to check and reckon it will do).

Tech companies seem able to slip in and out of countries like spectral money-making machines, providing services people want, and yet being reluctant to pay a fair whack of tax, as if they believe themselves to be citizens of a higher world that shuns the old shackles and shekels.

Of course what various sketch writers have done this morning is put George Osborne into Google. I just did that and got “about 58,300,000 results in 0.57 seconds”. Wow! And I bet none of them say that George is right.

A different sort of tax applies to the National Lottery: a tax on idiocy. Now I stump up £2 a week as my contribution. It’s good to feel there is a chance of winning, however remote the odds.

There is much reporting this morning of the Worcester woman who claims she put her £33 million winning ticket through the wash. Susanne Hinte is splashed all over the front page of the Sun. The 48-year-old ‘gran’ is not believed by all, with one neighbour telling the tabloid: “Sue is a clever girl, but claiming to have a ticket with the barcode washed off is a bit much.”

Well, yes.

I might as well claim to have won because I had a ticket with completely the wrong numbers on – as happens every week. I’ve not checked Saturday’s numbers yet, so here goes. Ahem, not a single number again. And the millionaire draw? “Sorry not a winning match…”

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