The Town That Took on the Taxman, a revealing documentary on tax policies.
“EU-member states want to get to minimum tax for multinationals” is one of the headlines in yesterday’s newspaper (Trouw 10-09-2016). I read this 6 months after the so-called Panama-papers were made public and a few days after I finally got to watch the BBC-documentary “The town that took on the taxman”, a film released in January 2016.
This documentary shows how a group of small business (wo)men of the little welsh town Crickhowell join forces to fight unfair tax policies. Unfair, because these policies benefit large companies above small businesses, thus endangering the existence of the little shops in the town’s high street that are the cement of local society. Their moral indignation about the unfair playing field they experience is the driving force for them to want to understand how tax policies work and how dislocating they can be.
The group wants to start to understand how they may also get the tax benefits the larger companies as Facebook, Google and Caffé Nero get. It therefore talks to bankers and tax consultants, who explain them exactly how it can operate, using existing loopholes, to avoid paying taxes: if law doesn’t forbid, you can do it, right? As one of the advisors puts it: “Tax paying is an individual choice and you should use the freedom created by law”. The group is advised to establish a fake company by just registering a name, to put savings on bank accounts in countries that appear tax havens. By establishing their own joined venture the small business (wo)men are enabled to copy those tax-avoiding tricks from big companies and ask for the same VIP-treatment the government offers to big companies. The Isle of Man and the Netherlands facilitate their legally accepted but morally discussible construction.
Morally discussible because taxes are used for creating and maintaining public institutions for citizens. But who then is going to pay the taxes needed for health care, welfare, education, social infrastructure et cetera when large companies utilize tax avoiding constructions for their own benefits?
The town becomes known as Fair Tax Town, a name the group invented. And here ‘fair’ does not refer to wanting to pay as little tax as the big companies, but to the desire to expose the ongoing, governments facilitated injustice, which leads to impoverishment of society. The battle the group fights is the battle to change tax laws and the tax system by seemingly doing the same as big companies, but for very different reasons. Its battle is meant to keep the town’s high street free from multinationals and to ensure fair tax paying for schools, hospitals etcetera.