On Saturday 7th January at 13:30 UK Uncut staged a protest against HSBC outside their branch on Lord Street in Liverpool. A group of about twenty protestors lined up in front of the branch, unfurled a banner and aired HSBC’s dirty laundry over a loudhailer for the entire world to hear. HSBC promptly locked the doors and called the police.
What did HSBC do to attract such attention? Put simply, HSBC set up a company based in Guernsey to invest in PFI schemes where private sector companies build things like hospitals and schools then lease them back to the government over a thirty-year period at a massive profit. For example, the Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth, which cut 700 jobs last year, is leased back to the government by a private firm for £43m per year for thirty years. HSBC owns 89.9% of the project though its Guernsey based investment company.
In a six month period last year HSBC made £38m profit from its PFI portfolio but paid only £100k tax because they funnels the money through the tax-haven of Guernsey. That is just 0.26% tax. If income tax were charged at the same rate someone who earns a salary of £20,000 would pay just £40.
Several police cars arrived not long after the protest began but quickly left as it became clear that there was little they could do. Two officers remained behind in a CCTV van to “monitor” the protest but mostly they just sat there looking bored.
After a couple of hours I left the peaceful protest to meet my parents and their extremely excitable (but lovely) dog at Albert Dock. After coffee and dog walking, at about 16:45 whilst walking home I overheard a security guard outside Sports Direct talking to a woman about protestors at Vodafone. It had to be UK Uncut so I walked back to take a look.
Vodafone is a favourite target of UK Uncut. They fought through the courts for over ten years to avoid paying a £6bn tax bill. Just when it looked like the courts were going to rule against them HMRC stepped in and cut a deal, that is now under investigation, to pay back just a fraction of what they owe. They also avoided paying £1.6bn in India and complied with the Egyptian government to send pro-regime propaganda to its subscribers in Egypt during the unrest of early 2011.
When I arrived there was a large crowd gathered outside Boots, another tax-dodger, who moved their headquarters to Switzerland a couple of years ago thereby reducing their UK tax bill by £150m a year despite posting profits of £475m. Boots used to pay 33% of their profits in tax, now it’s just 3%.
The protest wasn’t as calm as before – there were security guards squaring up to the protesters, throwing insults and trying to intimidate them. Moments later it all kicked off, typically, whilst I was looking down at my phone tweeting. I looked up just in time to see a guard grabbing a protester by the collar whilst another was pulling back as though he had just thrown a punch. The crowd surged forward before exploding outwards as guards chased protesters down the street, knocking a woman to the ground as they went.
That’s the point at which this video begins…
Several people in the video allege that a security guard punched a pregnant woman and put a cigarette out on a protesters face. How can anyone justify doing that to another human being? The fact that the guards try to prevent the camera-man from filming before assaulting him shows clearly that they are thugs who don’t want to be filmed whilst they wonder about attacking peaceful protesters.
its interesting how, at 03:41, the guard in blue claims “it’s got nothing to do with me. I’ve just come here” yet I have a photo of him when he was squaring up to protesters in front of Boots. He was getting right in their face and making kissy-faces at them, trying to wind them up.
Despite thuggish security guards assaulting people, the day was a resounding success. HSBC, Boots, Topshop and Vodafone were forced to close and several hundred people learnt a thing or two about just how widespread corporate tax avoidance actually is. We are all in this together… unless you have a corporate accountant.