Skip to main content

Tax justice: Campaign success

Christian Aid's Education & Campaigns Coordinator on the recent success of the Sourced campaign in Northern Ireland

Last year, Christian Aid launched ‘Sourced’, part of its wider campaign on tax dodging. Sourced was seeking to convince local councils to use tougher questions about tax compliance when screening companies who were bidding for tax-payer-funded contracts.

In 2014 the UK central government introduced a new tougher set of questions for companies bidding for contracts over £5 million, they gave them the rather catchy name PPN 03/14. These questions asked companies to reveal not only whether they had been convicted of tax evasion, but also if any of their tax returns had been found to be ‘incorrect’ by HMRC, in other words, whether they’d attempted to dodge tax by using some loophole or complex tax avoidance scheme and received a slap on the wrist from the tax authorities. Not only did the new questions cover aggressive tax avoidance in the UK, but they also included similar offences committed anywhere in the world. However, even though these questions were made mandatory for UK central government contracts over £5 million, they remained optional for all other public bodies

Christian Aid began to campaign for local councils to incorporate these tougher tax compliance questions into their procurement bidding processes. Asking these questions of companies bidding for public contracts, which are funded by taxpayers money, sends a message that public bodies expect the companies they do business with to be ethical taxpayers. Why should citizens pay their taxes for services provided by companies who don’t pay fair taxes themselves? This is not an anti-business move, in fact, it positively supports smaller, local businesses who can’t benefit from an international network of tax havens in order to reduce their tax bill. The Sourced questions ensure that everyone is playing by the rules so that all businesses can thrive rather than just the biggest, the richest and the ones willing to use underhand tactics.

In the course of the campaign, supporters contacted their local councillors and five councils in Northern Ireland agreed to use the questions. One of the Councillors who proposed a motion to use the tougher questions was Tom Smith at Ards and North Down Council, who said 'I believe it is completely appropriate that we as a council take these small steps to ensure the companies we deal with are paying their fair share of tax. The public is rightly angry that some larger companies are able to flout our tax laws with impunity, paying such a miserly rate of tax that even Ebenezer Scrooge would blush with embarrassment.'

After a meeting with the Finance Minister, Mervyn Storey and civil servants at the Department of Finance the Central Procurement Directorate (CPD), which deals with procurement of construction, services and supplies and who also provide policy and advice on procurement to the whole of the public sector in Northern Ireland, agreed to use the questions.

Shortly after this, there was a change of Finance Minister and the new Minister, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir asked to meet with us to discuss the campaign further. We had a very successful meeting, at the Christian Aid office, where the Minister agreed to write to the remaining six councils who have not yet adopted the procurement questions and the other six centres of procurement expertise not covered by the CPD, which dealt with specialised areas of procurement like health, transport and education. Máirtín Ó Muilleoir said 'These new measures are a step forward in ensuring that the companies government deals with are taking a fair approach to tax.'

David Thomas Campaigns Christian Aid Ireland

In January 2017 we received word that the UK Crown Commercial Service (CCS), which gives policy and advice to the whole public sector in the UK were planning to change their policy on the tax compliance questions. They had decided to make the tougher tax compliance questions that Christian Aid was promoting, mandatory. This means councils in England will now have no choice, but to questions companies on their tax affairs. We are sure that fact that supporters were urging councils across the UK to make these changes and that many did, including five in Northern Ireland, played a part in encouraging CCS to make this change.

The result is that the ‘Sourced’ campaign is ending, because the change we were hoping for has taken place. It is now mandatory, rather than optional, for public bodies like councils to ask these tougher questions of the companies bidding for contracts. Ultimately, this is another small step towards a world where tax dodgers have nowhere left to hide and poor countries will be able to claim the full tax revenue that is due to them for the benefit of all of their citizens.

Tax Justice Northern Ireland