Thursday, 4 August 2011

Disabled protesters occupy “Big Four” accountants Deloitte

The following post was written by John McArdle at the Black Triangle Anti-Defamation Campaign.

Police were called to remove over 20 people from the Glasgow offices of one of the U.K.’s “Big Four” accounting firms, Deloitte, Tuesday at the company’s offices on the 9th floor of the Lomond House at George Square in the city’s downtown Merchant City district.

The protesters included a range of disabled people, a 16-year-old schoolboy and Latisha McGillivray, 80, a retired Nursing Sister with the UK National Health Service.

They said they were there to protest alleged corruption referring to a ‘tax-dodging’ relationship between Deloitte Chairman, David Cruikshank and David Hartnett, Chief Commissioner of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

They also alleged a cover-up of corruption allegations between Deloitte and a UK government minister in charge of welfare, Chris Grayling.

David Churchley, a spokesperson for the Scottish-based Black Triangle Anti-Defamation Campaign in Defence of Disability Rights said, “We are here today to expose what appears to be a relationship between “The Two David’s” – Britain’s top tax-dodging guru Deloitte Chairman David Cruikshank and HMRC boss David Hartnett – that can at best be described as one which is characterised by impropriety. The relationship, taken at its worst, smacks of systemic and institutionalised corruption at HMRC.”

“Either way, the outcome for us little disabled people is the same. While these two men cut deals in secret that translate into tens of billions of pounds in tax being “avoided”, we are being absolutely hounded and forced to carry the can for the financial crisis.”

“If these big companies would simply pay what they owe, there would be no need to cut anything, and disabled people would not be getting spat at in the street – or murdered – for being “fakers” and “benefit cheats” who are “swinging the lead” as we have been made out to be by the tabloid press” he said.

Asked to elaborate, Churchley said “On the one hand, we are being systematically defamed, scapegoated and demonised by a hate campaign in the media that we maintain has been instigated, aided and abetted by the DWP’s Chris Grayling. We have been branded a burden on society’s scarce resources and a drain on “hard working taxpayers” in a time of crisis. On the other hand, we’re having the benefits we need to survive and to which we are lawfully entitled withdrawn through a completely discredited “Work Capability Assessment” régime administered by French multinational IT firm Atos Origin on behalf of the DWP. In the words of Dr. Dylan Murphy of Marsden reported this week, these assessments are making life a misery for thousands of people who suffer long term health problems.”

“Basically, if Atos find a pulse they’ll pass you off as fit for work. The assessment centre down at Cadogan Street in Glasgow has been nicknamed “Lourdes” because their decisions are so unbelievable” he said.

Churchley continued “While the Wirral Resource Centre, a charity in Birkenhead that provides physiotherapy and play therapy for around 90 children with special needs and lends toys and equipment to families is whacked with a £16,000 tax bill because of an accounting error made in the early 90s when the centre was run by completely different people, multinationals like Vodafone are having billions of pounds of unpaid tax written off completely in secret deals brokered by these two.”

Private Eye reported in its current issue that the charity has been given a year to find the cash, which it reported would have to be raised by “eating up the proceeds of dozens of the raffles, sponsored walks and coffee mornings that usually keep the service afloat.

He continued “We condemn the ditching of HMRC’s “sound governance arrangements” (under which tax investigations should be concluded by people with the requisite technical and legal expertise) in favour of “specific governance arrangements” which involve “signing off by the commissioners without prior reference to the Programme Board”.”

A “Programme Board” is made up of a panel of HMRC senior officials.

“This translates to Vodafone-style tax-dodging deals being done privately between the two Davids without the correct clearance. It is just institutionalised corruption. What’s right about this?” he said.

He continued “We demand a full, independent, public inquiry. These deals, which include letting off Goldman Sachs with a £20 million interest bill, remain immune from public scrutiny, ostensibly to protect “taxpayer confidentiality”. We have learned that inside sources at HMRC are saying that this notion is now being stretched to the point of incredulity in order to protect the guilty parties”.

The HMRC ‘insiders’ are reported by the Eye as having said that under the “specific governance arrangements” Hartnett has been granted de facto immunity from criticism for his failure to consult HMRC’s own specialists and lawyers over on the merits of the Revenue’s case and that, had he done so, they would “almost certainly have advocated a harder line”.

A recent parliamentary question from Tory MP David Davis also revealed that Hartnett has met Cruickshank no fewer than 48 times since 2006.

It has emerged that Hartnett himself approved three multi-billion pound resolutions that were brokered by him as HMRC’s commissioner in charge of the deals.

Churchley said “According to Richard Murphy of Tax Research UK and The Tax Justice Network, the difference in the amount of tax owed to the public purse by these corporations and individuals and the amount that is collected is in the region of £120 billion.”

“…Not only that, but according to the Sunday Times Rich List, 10 of the 11 richest individuals in our country have an estimated combined net worth of £85 billion pounds, and £0.0005 billion is all they pay in fees for the privilege of being classified as “non-domiciled” by HMRC. Deloitte has operations in seven of these offshore tax havens and is instrumental in enabling this racket to go operate. The loopholes must be closed and the racket bought to an end, and now!” he said.

Sean Clerchan of Glasgow’s Citizens United against Public Sector Cuts and Privatisation said that “the impact of tax avoidance on individuals and communities in Glasgow is intolerable and must not be permitted to continue a day longer”.

He said “Citizens United condemns the secrecy and lack of transparency at HMRC. The current HMRC arrangements surrounding the “resolution of tax disputes” are totally unfit for purpose and mean that the public purse is being defrauded to the tune of tens billions of pounds. This is money that would easily be enough to cancel out the need for any cuts to public services, whether we are talking about social care, the disabled, the elderly, schools and universities or the National Health Service”.

“We should be running a surplus and able to reverse all the coalition’s toxic policies attacking our communities. Not a single cut needs to be made. We demand an immediate end to this absolutely disgraceful and immoral situation between Deloitte and HMRC and the offshore racket whereby the poorest and most vulnerable people in society are neglected and left to die in circumstances such as we have seen in the Southern Cross homes scandal because of lack of funding and the privatisation of our public services for profit, as part of the coalition’s cuts and austerity agenda.”

Clerchan also called for an investigation into corruption allegations made by Glasgow MP Jim Robertson in April accusing DWP Minister Chris Grayling of seven breaches of the Ministerial Code of Conduct in awarding the maximum of seven “provider” contracts to Deloitte Ingeus for the DWP’s ‘Work Programme’ over social enterprises in Scotland who put forward bids.

In recent years Grayling has received a political donation of £27,000 and the services of three Deloitte’s employees who were seconded to his office by the firm.

Clerchan said “No matter where we look today, we see inappropriate symbiotic relationships between the business, political and media élites of our society. We are all being stitched-up. Until these improper relationships are broken up and properly regulated, our collective future is bleak indeed. They are not governing in the public interest. They’re governing in their own interests, not ours.”

He said that “what we see are the appointments of “safe pairs of hands” to investigate the workings and wrongdoings of both public and private organisations, across the board.

…Whether it be the MP’s who make up the House of Commons Select Committees on Taxation or on Work and Pensions who both published lame reports last week we view as being traditional ‘whitewashes’; or whether it be the appointment of Judge Leveson to head up the judicial inquiry into the phone hacking scandal, where the nature of the relationship between the him and Elisabeth Murdoch’s (Rupert Murdoch’s daughter) family is such that, he, like Grayling over workfare, should have recused himself these respective matters before them it amounts to the same thing. It’s all a complete sham!”

Members of the Save the Accord Centre, a campaign set up after Glasgow City Council announced plans to demolish a community centre for people with learning disabilities in order to make way for a car park for the city’s 2012 Commonwealth Games, also attended the protest.

Helen McCourt, a mother of one of the centre’s users, said “Glasgow City Council has said they’re going to demolish our community centre which is an absolute lifeline for us and people like us. They (the council) say they can’t replace it because they have no money.”

“If all these people in their high and mighty office towers like this one would only pay up what they owe us, the ordinary people of this country, we’d not just be able to save the Accord, we’d be able to build a new centre better adapted to our needs. It’s just heartless, wicked and immoral. It’s got to stop!” she said.

Clerchan said that “Our élites, whether at Westminster, the Civil Service, in this company or anywhere else feel themselves to be as immune from real scrutiny as David Hartnett does under the so-called ‘specific governance arrangements’. We are sleep walking as a society into one, great big stitch-up by these people against the rest of us. And It’s causing vulnerable people immense suffering. Everyone needs to wake up and smell the coffee now, before it’s too late to do anything about it!”

Another protester, Douglas Mitchell, 48, who had traveled from Edinburgh for the protest said “I’ve come through to Glasgow from Edinburgh to demonstrate my outrage at the appalling way that this coalition ‘junta’ – I refuse to call it a ‘government’ as it has no mandate in my view – is treating disabled people. I’m pure incandescent with rage that it carrying out this pogrom while letting huge corporations get away with avoiding billions of pounds in tax. They’re literally getting away with murder because disabled and vulnerable people are dying because of these cuts. There have been suicides.”

He continued “The sycophancy with which the junta and HMRC’s boss wines, dines and treats the rich and powerful with kid gloves could not be more starkly contrasted than by the recent unleashing of the new DWP ‘Mobile Regional Taskforce’ made up of ex-policemen and soldiers.”

“These henchmen have been going about pushing leaflets through the doors of tax credit and benefit claimants in Birmingham, many of them vulnerable and disabled, telling them to make sure their affairs are in order as they’ll be getting a knock on the door.”

“I still find it hard to believe shameful that it has come to this, state sponsored Gestapo-style tactics used on the streets of Britain to tyrannise tax credit claimants and the disabled people within our communities. While 1.1 billion is alleged to be lost to benefit fraud, £16 billion goes left unclaimed. Even their (Deloitte’s) guy Mike Turley, Head of Public Sector, when speaking at a so-called ‘risks and opportunities for business created by the fundamental reshaping of the UK public sector’ seminar back in October, admitted that the annual tax gap between the tax we should collect and the tax we do collect is about £40 billion. The real scroungers in our society are the bankers and tax-dodging corporations.”

Mitchell continued “Well, I’ve news for Mike Turley and everybody else. As far as we’ve anything to say about it, the fundamental re-shaping of the public sector can begin with an end to the cosy gastronomic deal making between they two Davids. We want our money back and we’re no taking no for an answer! We are the Disabled People’s Protest Movement’s “Big Society Mobile Regional Taskforce”. Get it sorted! Or we’ll be back to knock on your door again! We’re no going anywhere!”

The occupation of the office lasted an hour and a half and a senior partner at the firm, Ian Steele, listened politely to what the protesters had to say.

When one of the protesters asked him if he had anything to say in response to the allegations of impropriety, Steele replied that it was “not the usual practice to have lawyers in attendance at meetings with commissioners” and that “they have to meet somehow” when referring to the private meetings.

When another protester asked if Steele knew “about the sort of poverty and hardship people in Glasgow have to live in, living and sleeping in one room because they haven’t got enough for the heating” he said “Yes, I do know. I don’t live in a bubble, you know.”

Steele then asked the protesters if they would “please leave, you’ve made your point and I’ve listened carefully to everything you’ve said. You can’t stay here, please go or I’ll have to call the police.”

The protesters refused to go and Clerchan told Steele that he wished for him to experience a little of the discomfort that “people affected by benefit and care cuts experience on a daily basis”.

The police arrived at 1.30 p.m. Steele thanked them for “not smashing the place up” to some considerable mirth from on all sides.

More lighthearted laughter was shared between the protesters and the police when one elderly pensioner told one of the two constables in attendance “Don’t forget, you’re next for the chop, pal!” as the doors closed as he departed in one of the building’s lifts.

“I’ll be back!” Mitchell exclaimed upon leaving.