O analiză a The Guardian arată cum statul finanțează din bani publici, direct sau indirect, corporațiile cu aproape 100 de miliarde de lire anual.
Taxpayers are handing businesses £93bn a year – a transfer of more than £3,500 from each household in the UK.
The total emerges from the first comprehensive account of what Britons give away to companies in grants, subsidies and tax breaks, published exclusively in the Guardian.
Many of the companies receiving the largest public grants over the past few years previously paid little or zero corporation tax, the analysis shows. They include some of the best-known names in Britain, such as Amazon, Ford and Nissan. The figures intensify the pressure on George Osborne, the chancellor, just as he puts the finishing touches to his budget. At the heart of Wednesday’s announcement will be his plans to cut £12bn more from the social welfare bill.
Yet that sum is less than the £14.5bn given to companies in direct subsidies and grants alone.
Corporate welfare is part of what David Cameron calls his government’s policy to make the UK “the most open, welcoming, business-friendly country in the world”.
He listed the “great incentives” for businesses to come to the UK in a document published last September for UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) – a government department working to help British businesses succeed abroad and to woo overseas investors. These incentives included, he said, the lowest corporation tax rate anywhere in the G7, tax exemptions for research and direct government support.
The Guardian’s analysis shows that while the state is giving private companies an increasing amount in direct handouts, the money repaid in corporate taxation is falling almost year upon year.
In the financial year 2012-13, the government spent £58.2bn on subsidies, grants and corporate tax benefits. It took just £41.3bn in corporation tax receipts.
In 2012, Amazon was attacked by MPs on parliament’s public accounts committee for avoiding UK tax. Yet in the same period, the online retailer was awarded £16.5m in grants by the administrations of Scotland and Wales to help build distribution centres. To link the Wales plant to the transport network, the Welsh assembly built the mile-long “Ffordd Amazon road” at an additional cost of £3m.
Many of the figures, especially on direct payments, are hard to unearth, as they are scattered between various arms of the state. The government admits: “There is no definitive source of data about spending on subsidies to businesses in the UK.”
Of the regional development agencies that gave grants to private companies until 2012, only one – for north-west England – gives details on what it gave to whom, and that for just 2009-11.
The analysis lends fresh urgency to the debate over what Britons give to business and what they should expect in return.
Offering sweeteners to businesses is usually justified by the prospect of extra taxes flowing in, not only in corporation taxation, but also employers’ national insurance. Business groups regularly call for corporate welfare and other “pro-growth” measures on the grounds that they help create jobs. Firms protesting against onerous taxes and red tape will sometimes threaten to move, just as the giant bank HSBC is considering relocating to Hong Kong.
The research was carried out by Kevin Farnsworth, a senior lecturer at York University, who has researched and published studies of corporate welfare for more than a decade and who is launching on Wednesday an online database of grants made to companies.
To determine how much Britain pays for its businesses, he looked at the figures for the financial year 2012-13 – the last year for which there is a near-complete set of accounts. The elements of the £93bn corporate handout break down as follows: