A Blog for the Records Manager (Hoarder), Bloomberg Law, National Archives, browser testing at Lifehacker and some more on tax dodging

February 15, 2012

Hello again, and a ( better-late-than-never) Happy New Year.

From the 5th of November 2011 (my personal celebration day)  time has brought me to a name change and a massive clear-out, and I threw out the last 10 years of my life in paper.  Yep – good old-fashioned paper. In the electronic world, Birth Certificate aside, I still had paperwork going right back right to the day I was born, weighing in at just 2 kilos. Actually, I retained that document……….I also found a Post Office Savings Bank book with money in it! I’m not telling you it’s age, but the lady on the phone could not locate the account number, as they don’t exist in that format any more. Records Management therefore is a strange concept when applied to oneself, because of an emotional attachment to the records. When undertaking a Records Management function within an organisation, there is a strict set of rules to adhere to and no concept of ownership. The weeding of records is governed by law, and not emotions. It was easy to decide what to retain and then select a destruction method for the different types of records I had decided were surplus to requirement.

This clear-out was a strange place to be in, because I am someone who has spent years working with records and grey materials in all formats and creating policy within corporate and legal guidelines. But my own stuff lurking in my own filing cabinets was another matter. The recyclers probably didn’t know what had hit them when they collected the bin and peripheral bags – and my shredder was squeaking with the exertion of dealing with so many documents.

Furthermore, I hadn’t realised how much more paperwork I have been collecting on behalf of my sons. There’s so much of it – including a copy of the FT published on the date my first child was born, and all their medical and school records.  There were also 3 copies of the South China Morning Post from when the ban on travel to/from Asia because of the SARS outbreak was finally lifted, and also from the day I left Hong Kong to return to the UK.  I also know that tucked away somewhere is a copy of the FT on the day after the full eclipse of the sun in London, plus the special specs to watch it. I put it all away just in case my sons don’t see a total eclipse of the sun in their lifetime, and even if they do, will the technology to watch one have changed by then? It’s the hoarder in me…….I guess that’s why I enjoy being an Info Pro so much. If you look enough you will still find records of a former Jane Macoustra out there in the dim and distant past, but the future lies with Jane Ray. Watch this space!

Which leads me on to a new blog (it’s only 2 days old) at the National Archives. It’s all about finding out how to access public records, by having a private one-to-one with a live records specialist and not an automated response.  Here’s Jenny Orme’s blog for Valentine’s Day:

Burn after reading?

Posted by in Records

Welcome to day 2 of the blog! I have landed myself this illustrious spot thanks to Valentine’s Day and having stumbled upon something suitably soppy in the records. This unusual find is the perfect beginning to my blog, as the sheer variety of amazing things that are brought to the surface every day here could keep me talking forever!”

Bloomberg Law. I’ve already twittered this, but it is such a well-written piece, I’m pointing you to it here as well. Jean P O’Grady’s blog posting entitled “Welcome to Bloomberg Law: No Deals, No Discounts, No Apology”.If you are in the business of working in or running a law library or Information Centre, this is a must-read. Do pass it on.

Lifehacker has been testing out the speed of the top four browsers: Chrome 17, Firefox 10, IE 9 and Opera 11.61. The browsers have been put through their paces and been broken down into various tasks, and then there is an overall top performer, because it has the best performance on the most tasks. You can find out the results here. Looking at the 200+ comments to the blog, people would have liked to have had Safari included too. Others with 4GB of RAM or more say they don’t care and others would like other set tasks included as well as testing on a MAC. Oh well – you can’t please ’em all.

In The Daily Telegraph dated 27th January 2012 – pages 1,2. Headline: Paying Cash in Hand is ‘Diddling the country’ by Fraser Nelson. Please note that the online version of this article is written by a different journalist. “People who pay cash in hand to tradesmen are ‘diddling’ the economy and diverting money from hospitals and schools, the country’s most senior taxman warns today. In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Dave Hartnett says that householders have a duty to ensure that other people do not evade paying their share of tax. ……Mr Hartnett, the Permanent Secretary for Tax at HMRC, signals a major clampdown on the very rich……..Mr Hartnett says there used to be a culture of widespread tax avoidance among corporations which he says is now prevalent among prosperous individuals………..It was alleged he agreed “sweetheart deals” with companies including Goldman Sachs and and Vodafone and allegedly let them off large bills worth millions of pounds to HMRC…….”we are not soft with business, there was no deal with Vodafone” he said. “we got all the money for the nation there was to be got.”

Dave Hartnett steps down with a £1.7 million pension pot.

Vikki Woods provided us with her own thoughts on this entitled Thank God Diddling Dave Hartnett is the Retiring Type. Her commentary included “The anti-diddling Mr Hartnett was given a pretty good rollocking by the Public Accounts Committee last month for HMRC’s avowed mistake in collecting too little tax from Goldman Sachs, plus another £25 billion or so from other large companies”.

Private Eye have been following this issue for years, exposing Dave’s dodgy tax deals. I say put his pension back into the tax coffers now!

Back again soon.


And today’s topic is……..tax havens!

February 23, 2011

Hello again!

Well – I thought that after the recent demonstrations against Top Shops’  big boy – it was worth a  deeper delve into the mire of the tax haven. That quiet corner of the universe that swallows up huge chunks of cash that hasn’t been filtered via the tax-man first. That area of taxation where Generally Accepted Accounting Principles have no meaningful place in the world. I’m not just going to look at HMRC (that’s Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to the uninitiated) but also at what has been happening on a global scale. There’s lots of places to look because the world is becoming disgruntled – hence the demonstrations –  between those who have and those who don’t have. The mega-rich and the would-be-mega-rich will always attempt to cling onto their earnings (illicit or otherwise) by paying as little tax as they can get away with. Offshore means – what? Its’s the most convoluted and financially complex way of organising money that the world has, in order to divert it away from taxation.

Let’s start with the band U2 for instance. Bono, the lead singer, is always banging on about political freedom and ending global poverty. But when it comes down to his own wealth management – what does he do? Well, let’s see now………..End Tax Haven Secrecy has an opinion here http://www.endtaxhavensecrecy.org/en/2011/02/10/thank-you-bono-now-push-this-to-its-logical-conclusion/ and so does Bridge Over Troubled Waters, here: http://bridgeovertroubledwaters.wordpress.com/2009/02/26/bonos-tax-haven-is-robbing-the-poor/. This issue with U2 isn’t new and goes way back to 2005, when it was first highlighted that the band use offshore financial structures to avoid paying tax in Ireland where they are registered. Is this a case of do what I say and not what I do? Bono’s political rants are legendary, so he’s an easy target for criticism. Even if you do a quick search, there’s a lot of information out there. Another consideration to add to the mix, is that Ireland is a tax haven in its own right, so the Netherlands must be offering an added bonus for taking Bono’s wedge…………

You can check out the Global Financial Integrity web site here: http://www.gfip.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=189, but note that their copyright has not been updated to 2011 so err on the side of caution and back up any data that you might use by checking another source for accuracy.

One place I look regularly is on the Tax Justice Network http://www.taxjustice.net/cms/front_content.php?idcatart=2 and in particular their blogs, which are crammed full of really good information, that can be reliably sourced. I wrote about this web site last October.  http://taxjustice.blogspot.com/ The main web site provides access to global resources and they keep adding to the site with links to other areas and articles covering really interesting subjects such as withholding tax, extraction transparency, financial poverty, illicit flows of finance, country by country reporting and – of course – tax evasion across the world by corporations and individuals alike. There’s so much information that it’s really worth taking the time to have a delve if this is a subject area that interests you. There’a a financial Secrecy Index here:  http://news.financialsecrecyindex.com/Click on the resources tab for an subject index and don’t forget Transparency International’s Corruption Index web pages, which I have written about previously on this blog, and a related anomaly highlighted by TJN here: http://www.taxjustice.net/cms/front_content.php?idcat=100

Delaware or Isle of Man, Switzerland or Hong Kong? How many tax havens can you name off the top of your head without looking them all up? Actually, don’t bother – it’s all listed here for you: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_offshore_financial_centres and it’s from Wikipedia, so regular readers will know my opinion on Wikipedia. Beware and use it with care because you don’t know who has compiled the data. One reason I say this is because Wikipedia lists London instead of The City of London specifically as a tax haven, and there’s a very distinct difference.

The OECD also provides a list of “Uncooperative” Tax Havens here: http://www.oecd.org/document/57/0,3746,en_2649_201185_30578809_1_1_1_1,00.html and another page provides excellent data on tax and access to a tax database: http://www.oecd.org/topic/0,3699,en_2649_37427_1_1_1_1_37427,00.html. You can also check out the IMF and the G20 web sites.

So now let’s take a visit to another web site that I like. It’s called Tax-News.com http://www.tax-news.com/ and while it is a fee-based service, it’s the free stuff that I value. The journalists are prolific writers and incredibly knowledgeable, providing articles globally for the interested reader. The coverage isn’t just offshore tax; it covers a massive selection of related tax topics from free trade agreements, to alcohol and cigarette tax, shipping tax, secrecy, gaming legislation, special reports and much more. Each country page will point you at specific areas of taxation. Just dive in, because you will like what you find.

Let’s not forget the business press, such as Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/2007/03/15/havens-international-tax-forbeslife-cx_mw_ee_0315taxhavens.html. If you think laterally, there is a wealth of information (pun intended!) in the business press which will include lists such as who’s who offshore and table rankings. See what I mean, here: http://www.forbes.com/2004/04/15/cx_cv_0415feat.html.

The law firms who provide specialist advice on “asset protection arrangements” have lawyers who publish regular legal updates in this area. Look on the Firms’ web sites for free articles and legal updates for legislative changes, especially those who have corporate tax departments like Sullivan & Cromwell or Baker & McKenzie.

And finally, lets take a look at Vodafone in India. What a mess! Even the Bombay High Court can’t sort this one out. It’s related to Vodafone’s purchase of Huchison Whampoa of Hong Hong and the Indian tax authorities’ demand for £1.6bn in capital gains taxes, which it says is owed to them. However, the deal was struck offshore and Vodafone says it is now exempt from paying the tax. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704019604576131410598322674.html

Vodafone also set aside £2.2bn for it’s UK tax bill last year, but then struck a deal with HMRC and paid just £1.25bn in taxes. Of course this has caused outrage  and demonstrations, as reported in the FT: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704019604576131410598322674.html and as reported in many other press reports, including detailed coverage by Private Eye, who thought the bill should have been as much as £6bn.

And so, the world of the offshore tax haven continues to be shrouded in secrecy much as before, despite reports and their protestations that they are opening up to becoming more transparent and more regulated.

As always, your comments and feedback are always welcomed. I’ll be back again soon.