Open Data Day Manchester 2014 – TaxHack Review and Findings. #ODD14 #taxjustice #opendata

Yesterday TaxHack co-hosted an event for Open Data Day 2014 with Open Data Manchester. With five in the UK, Open Data Day saw a total of 168 events take place across the globe. Groups of varying sizes made use of available open data and conducted research, built platforms for accessing, using and visualising data, and made the case the further release of information for public use.

For Open Data Day Manchester, TaxHack got to work on our Public Procurement Project with an aim to identifying companies receiving large public sector contracts that also made use of tax havens.


–          Download council spending from council websites, focusing on large Northern councils. By focusing on councils relatively close to one another, it would be easier to draw up patterns in regional procurement practice.

–          Clean the data so that it would be machine readable and could be queried.

–          Use DueDil and company databases that are freely available to highlight company group structures that make use of tax havens.


–          As someone from Open Data Sheffield tweeted, “#opendata is like a broken lego set. You think it’s all there, but when you start playing with it …”. Getting hold of the council data proved problematic in some cases. While councils are legally obliged to publicly share all council spending over £500, there is not a unified standard for the quality of the data. This means that some of the council data was very messy, with data is the wrong fields and not appropriate for querying.

–          While DueDil has in-depth information about companies which would be vital for background checks, the company group search is not conducive to automated subsidiary searches. Identifying company locations and relationships had to be done manually, by scrolling over the DueDil visualisation of an entity to see where it was based.


–          Shortly after starting, a member of Open Corporates got in touch offering to help. After a quick phonecall we were put in contact with Spend Network, who had made it their mission to aggregate council spending data for querying. We contacted Spend Network and asked them to bundle up a list of all the suppliers of services for the last 12 months for Leeds, Liverpool and Sheffield Councils. This arrived by the end of the day and will be used in future work.

–          In 2012, ActionAid worked with DueDil to update their information on the FTSE 100 companies. Subsidiary information for these companies is now freely available in a machine readable spreadsheet from their website.

–          From previous research TaxHack had a spreadsheet for Manchester City Council spending over £500 from September 2011 to September 2012, which is available for querying.



–          Using the FTSE 100 index from ActionAid and the Manchester City Council spend data, we were able to create a spreadsheet that shows which FTSE 100 companies are receiving Manchester City taxpayers money through public procurement, and are also using tax havens. This spreadsheet will soon be available on our Links to Datasets page, but these are the findings:

Note:  TaxHack and associates are not suggesting these companies are engaging in tax avoidance, tax evasion or any activity deemed to be illegal or immoral.

BT Group Plc via British Telecommunications Plc and Manchester Communication Academy

  • Received £1,752,919.65 through 193 transactions between September 2011 and September 2012
  • 12 subsidiaries in Jersey
  • 2 subsidiaries in Cayman Islands
  • 3 subsidiaries in British Virgin Islands
  • 2 subsidiaries in Bermuda
  • 9 subsidiaries in Isle of Mann
  • 1 subsidiary in Gibraltar
  • Total: 29 subsidiaries in tax havens.

Capita Plc via Capita IT Services (BSF) Limited

  • Received £12,721,659.95 through 651 transactions between September 2011 and September 2012
  • 28 subsidiaries in Jersey
  • 9 subsidiaries in Guernsey
  • 3 subsidiaries in Isle of Mann
  • Total: 40 subsidiaries in tax havens.

The Royal Bank of Scotland via Lombard North Central Plc

  • Received £23,219 through 6 transactions between September 2011 and September 2012
    • 22 subsidiaries in Jersey
    • 37 subsidiaries in Cayman Islands
    • 9 subsidiaries in British Virgin Islands
    • 15 subsidiaries in Guernsey
    • 3 subsidiaries in Bermuda
    • 6 subsidiaries in Isle of Mann
    • 8 subsidiaries in Gibraltar
    • Total: 100 subsidiaries in tax havens.

National Grid Plc via National Grid Gas Plc

  • Received £1,232 through 2 transactions between September 2011 and September 2012
  • 3 subsidiaries in Jersey
  • 6 subsidiaries in Cayman Islands
  • 3 subsidiaries in Isle of Mann
  • 1 subsidiary in Gibraltar
  • Total: 13 subsidiaries in tax havens.

Pearson Plc via Pearson Education Ltd

  • Received £2,506.13 through 2 transactions between September 2011 and September 2012
  • 2 subsidiaries in Jersey
  • 2 subsidiaries in Cayman Islands
  • 1 subsidiary in British Virgin Islands
  • 1 subsidiary in Bermuda
  • Total: 6 subsidiaries in tax havens.

United Utilities Group Plc via United Utilities Water Plc

  • Received £1,852,383 through 770 transactions between September 2011 and September 2012
  • 4 subsidiaries in Jersey
  • 1 subsidiary in Isle of Mann
  • Total: 5 subsidiaries in tax havens.

–          Using Duedil, we were able to manually track the group structure of some companies not in the FTSE 100. These findings could not be exported into a spreadsheet, and so are outlined below.

Laing O’Rourke Plc via Laing O’Rourke Construction Ltd

  • Received £38,052,787.54 through 36 transactions between September 2011 and September 2012
  • Laing O’Rourke Plc is subsidiary of O’Rourke Investments Limited, whose parent is Laing O’Rourke Corporation Limited which is based in Cyprus, and is a subsidiary of the ultimate parent company, Suffolk Partners Corp which is based in the British Virgin Islands.

Headcrown Group Plc via Cruden Group Ltd

  • Received £13,854,288.63 through 130 transactions between September 2011 and September 2012
  • Headcrown Group Plc is a subsidiary of two companies which are based in Jersey: Chardonnay Ltd and Holdsworthy Ltd

John Laing Public Limited Company via Amey Highways Lighting Manchester

  • Received £8,064,424.93 through 101 transactions between September 2011 and September 2012
  • John Laing Public Limited Company is a subsidiary of the ultimate parent company Henderson Infrastructure Holdco, which is based in Jersey.


–           Based on current research, at least £76,325,420.83 of Manchester City Council spending between September 2011 and September 2012 went through companies who have parents or subsidiaries in tax havens.

–          There should a legally binding national standard for open data detailing council spending over £500. If the data cannot be queried or re-worked, then a question arises as to whether it can be called ‘open’. Some councils are also lagging behind on the release of their spending data, suggesting they should be pressured to release them. These ‘slow-coaches’ could be the first to implement an independently verified open data standard.

–          If the ActionAid and DueDil project was extended to the FTSE 500, then this work could be greatly accelerated. An open and machine readable database of companies is essential to speed up further research.

Future work:

Open Data Day was a great way to kick off TaxHack work, and there is much we plan to do on this project in the future.

–          A ‘heat map’ could be drawn up to identify where companies are situated geographically.

–          Liverpool, Sheffield and Leeds Councils’ spending data will be analysed in the future using similar methods.

–          A different company database may be more useful to this kind of work.

–         We are looking for new ways to present our findings. Any suggestions on how to release or visualise our work would be greatly appreciated.


We look forward to another successful hackathon, and will keep our followers updated!

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The Fair Tax Mark – A summary of the principles and the importance #fairtaxmark #taxjustice #FTM

After a year of consultation and research, the Fair Tax Mark launched today. This marks an important step for the tax justice movement, and will help inform progressive consumers who want to reward companies acting ethically.

The Fair Tax Mark is a simple concept. It is a label for companies that are open and transparent about their tax affairs, and signifies a business that is either paying the right amount of tax or is serious about working towards the right amount of tax. It is for businesses to proudly state that they contribute to the society within which they operate, and for consumers who want their spending to reflect their principles.

The basis of the Fair Tax Mark can be seen as arising from the high-profile revelation of companies like Amazon and Google taking advantage of loopholes in the UK tax code, and shifting profits in order to avoid vast amounts of tax payments.  While boycotting these companies is one way to show disapproval and hopefully affect their behaviour, the Fair Tax Mark offers a positive and practical channel for consumers to ‘vote with their feet’.

With 1 in 4 consumers wanting to boycott tax dodgers, the Mark takes the tax justice campaign into the arena of business, providing a platform for competition between companies. Those who want to do well in a marketplace of increasingly aware consumers will apply for the Mark.

Supported by advisors from KPMG, Centre for Global Development, Open Knowledge Foundation and Mazars LLP, the Fair Tax Mark is another example of a practical solution spearheaded by tax justice campaigners that is backed by technical capability. The team also have realistic criteria and expectations, currently restricting assessment to businesses trading solely in the UK.

The Fair Tax Mark has come about from ethically minded business and civil society groups coming together to fill a void. It represents a progressive effort to solve problems created by destructive corporate interests and government negligence. Over the coming months it will be sure to gain interest, and any businesses who want to align themselves on the right side of the tax justice debate would be smart to get the Mark. With an estimated £12 billion lost to public purse every year from corporate tax avoidance, the need is certainly there.

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@OpenDataMcr @TechHubManc and @TaxHack present : Open Data Day 2014 Manchester. Why and Where? #odd14 #opendata #taxjustice

Link to event


This Saturday, TaxHack and Open Data Manchester are co-hosting an event for Open Data Day 2014.

Described by the Open Knowledge Foundation, “Open Data Day is a gathering of citizens in cities around the world to write applications, liberate data, create visualizations and publish analyses using open public data to show support for and encourage the adoption open data policies by the world’s local, regional and national governments.”

For us, it’s an opportunity to get started on our Public Procurement Project. TaxHack will be analysing Manchester City Council spending and looking for companies using tax havens.  Are companies receiving public sector contracts – and thus tax payers money – making use of secrecy jurisdictions? On Saturday we’ll seek to find out. If they are, then we can start to question why.

TechHub Manchester are providing the venue for this event. TechHub are located in several places in the UK, and aim to provide an environment for nurturing technology startups. They host events for developers and businesses to meet, and have created an international network of like-minded and focused tech entrepreneurs.

Open Data Day is a great opportunity to meet people and get to work on whatever data project you have. At some point during the day we’ll share our ideas and findings with the international network of researches, statisticians, visualisers, developers and everyone else who is taking part.

As with all Open Data Manchester events, this Saturday is open to all who are interested in the benefits of open data, no matter your technical ability. If you’re going to be in the city centre and want to join in, register on the Eventbrite page below…

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Progress made on tax and transparency ahead of the G8. But investment needed to ensure the opportunity is seized #taxjustice #taxhack #transparency

This morning, George Osbourne stated that a number of notorious tax havens have agreed to much greater levels of transparency and information sharing. Anguilla, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, Montserrat and the Turks and Caicos Islands are among the jurisdictions to have made the concessions, with Cayman Islands making a similar move.

This can be taken as a small victory for those campaigning for a more transparent financial system. Automatic information exchange agreements are integral to the tax justice campaign. Defined by the OECD, “automatic exchange of information (also called routine exchange by some countries) involves the systematic and periodic transmission of “bulk” taxpayer information by the source country to the residence country concerning various categories of income (e.g. dividends, interest, royalties, salaries, pensions, etc)… Automatic exchange of information requires the standardisation of formats so that information can be captured, exchanged and processed efficiently in an automated matching system.”

Greater extension of AIEAs to other countries will mean that tax authorities will have the necessary information to prevent tax avoidance. However, today’s win is only a baby step. For one, these secrecy jurisdictions have only agreed to automatically share information bilaterally with the UK and multilaterally within the G5 (Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain). Transferring information to OECD countries who are at the heart of the offshore financial system will not bring about dramatic change just yet.

Another problem is that the UK tax authority HMRC is shamefully understaffed and under-resourced. Since 2004 successive governments have been downsizing HMRC by tens of thousands of staff and millions of pounds, meaning they have been unable to fulfill their current job of making sure tax avoidance and evasion is revealed and kept to a minimum. If the UK government were really committed to a new era of transparency they would invest in HMRC. Or give funding to open data groups and auditors who could do the qualified research for them.

TaxHack would be a willing recipient of this…

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Where Does My Money Go? You can find out here…

This website from Open Spending uses neat visualisation to show you where you daily taxes in the UK are spent. There’s also regional and departmental breakdowns to get a clearer picture.

The current form is pretty basic, but it provides a good template for how financial transparency can be made accessible to the public.

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Introductory session at Open Data Manchester next week! #taxhack #odm #opendata

The introductory session for TaxHack will be taking place at the Open Data Manchester meeting next Tuesday, on the 30th April. We’ll be discussing the basic principles behind TaxHack, the current ideas, and suggestions for the future of TaxHack.

All are welcome. The Open Data Manchester events are always friendly, inspirational, and a great place to meet motivated, tech-savvy people who are up for making a change. Come along at 6.30pm to MadLab on Edge Street, M4 1HN.

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OpenSpending provides inspiration and a platform for #taxjustice #transparency #offshoreleaks #taxhack

OpenSpending is a project that we at TaxHack really like. The underlying principle is “about Mapping the Money. The aim is to help track every (public) government and corporate financial transaction across the world and present it in useful and engaging forms for everyone from a school-child to a data geek.”

It is based on an open platform of participation and all manner of contributions are welcome. They are present at various hackdays, and the data collected is available in a central database through the OpenSpeding API.

How can OpenSpending be useful for the Tax Justice movement? The number one rule of investigative journalism – particularly with corruption and tax abuse – is to FOLLOW THE MONEY.


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As of Today Tax Avoidance is ILLEGAL (Guest reblog by newtz)

The argument that tax avoidance is legal is now dead and gone, for good. The world of tax abuse changed today, for the better.

Posted on April 15 2013

Richard Murphy (Tax Research UK)

The new Guidance on the new General Anti-Abuse Rule (GAAR) in UK taxation has been published today. I sat on the committee drafting this guidance, and so there are some restrictions on what I can say about it, especially with regard to process, but no restrictions at all on what I can say about what it means.

First, let’s get the obvious observation out of the way: despite all that I will say that is positive about the GAAR it remains the case that this is not the legislation I wanted to tackle tax avoidance in this country. I’ll deal with that in a separate post, because this GAAR does have major structural problems within it.

And then let me say that within this constraint I welcome the GAAR and most especially parts A to C of the new Guidelines that are published to day.

The reason for my enthusiasm is that the GAAR Guidelines are without precedent as far as I know in UK tax law, because they are in effect legal precedent in their own right that any court has to take into account once Royal Assent is given. And that opportunity has been seized by those drafting them to fundamentally change the environment of UK tax avoidance law forever.

For over seventy years UK tax avoidance has been considered legal on the basis of four UK court decisions. As Part B of the new Guidance notes:

Amongst these Court decisions the following are routinely cited as providing legitimacy to even the most abusive tax avoidance schemes:

“My Lords, the highest authorities have always recognised that the subject is entitled so to arrange his affairs as not to attract taxes imposed by the Crown, so far as he can do so within the law, and that he may legitimately claim the advantage of any express terms or of any omissions that he can find in his favour in taxing Acts.  In so doing, he neither comes under liability nor incurs blame.”[1]

“Every man is entitled if he can to order his affairs so that the tax attracted under the appropriate Act is less than it otherwise would be.  If he succeeds in ordering them so as to secure this result, then, however unappreciative the Commissioners of Inland Revenue or his fellow taxpayers may be of his ingenuity, he cannot be compelled to pay an increased tax.”[2]

“No man in this country is under the smallest obligation, moral or other, so as to arrange his legal relations to his business or to his property as to enable the Inland Revenue to put the largest possible shovel into his stores.  The Inland Revenue is not slow – and quite rightly – to take every advantage which is open to it under the taxing statutes for the purpose of depleting the taxpayer’s pocket.  And the taxpayer is, in like manner, entitled to be astute to prevent, so far as he honestly can, the depletion of his means by the Inland Revenue.”[3]

And as the GAAR Guidance then notes:

The GAAR Study Group Report was based on the premise that the levying of tax is the principal mechanism by which the state pays for the services and facilities that it provides for its citizens, and that all taxpayers should pay their fair contribution.  This same premise underlies the GAAR.  It therefore rejects the approach taken by the Courts in a number of old cases to the effect that taxpayers are free to use their ingenuity to reduce their tax bills by any lawful means, however contrived those means might be and however far the tax consequences might diverge from the real economic position.

The last quote from the judgment of Lord Clyde in the Ayrshire Pullman case epitomises the approach which Parliament has rejected in enacting the GAAR legislation.  Taxation is not to be treated as a game where taxpayers can indulge in any ingenious scheme in order to eliminate or reduce their tax liability.

Accordingly, it is essential to appreciate that, so far as the operation of the GAAR is concerned, Parliament has decisively rejected this approach, and has imposed an overriding statutory limit on the extent to which taxpayers can go in trying to reduce their tax bill.  That limit is reached when the arrangements put in place by the taxpayer to achieve that purpose go beyond anything which could reasonably be regarded as a reasonable course of action.

So let’s be unambiguous: the argument that tax avoidance is legal has now been cast aside, forever. That is no longer true. And for those in doubt, a case that in 2007 (see here, page 9) said needed to be over-turned for good has also been cast aside by this GAAR Guidance. As part C of the Guidance notes when discussing extreme views that can be ignored when determining what is reasonable in the GAAR context notes:
There are less obviously extreme views – which may be commonly held – that nonetheless cannot be regarded as reasonable for the purposes of the GAAR.  Perhaps the clearest example is the view that it is the function of HMRC and the Parliamentary drafter to get the legislation right, and that if they fail to do so there is nothing wrong with individuals or companies exploiting defects in the drafting[4].  However, this is wholly inconsistent with one of the basic purposes of the GAAR, namely to deter or counteract the deliberate exploitation of shortcomings in the legislation.  Accordingly, even if such views are held by someone who would ordinarily be regarded as reasonable, and indeed may be eminent in a field of work (such as accountancy or the legal professions), those views themselves would not fall to be regarded as reasonable for the purposes of the GAAR.
So let’s be clear: the argument that loopholes are there to be exploited is now dead. And the rule in Partington v The Attorney General of 1869 is no longer UK law. That rule was the consequence of this statement:
If the person sought to be taxed comes within the letter of the law he must be taxed, however great the hardship may appear to the judicial mind to be.  On the other hand, if the Crown, seeking to recover the tax, cannot bring the subject within the letter of the law, the subject is free, however apparently within the spirit of the law the case might otherwise appear to be.  In other words, if there be admissible, in any statute what is called an equitable construction, certainly such a construction is not admissible in a taxing statute.
That nonsense has now come to an end.
But let me add another note of satisfaction. In 2009 I discussed a general anti-avoidance principle with Dave Hartnett in a private conversation as a result of general anti-avoidance rules I had assisted MPs to table in parliament (see here and here). He said at the time that he would love to kill off the Duke of Westminster ruling but had no idea how to do it. Well now that Duke of Westminster has, for tax purposes, been put in his box for good, as have all the other wholly unhelpful precedents I have referred to. If I played a part, I’m pleased.

[1] Lord Sumner in Fisher’s Executors v CIR [1926] AC395

[2] Lord Tomlin in Duke of Westminster v CIR [1936] AC1

[3] Lord Clyde in Ayrshire Pullman v CIR (1929) 14TC754

[4] Reflecting the dicta of Lord Cairns in Partington v Attorney-General (1869) L.R. 4 E. & I. App. 100

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Map of capital flight from developing countries #offshore #development

This map from the Guardian gives you an idea of the scale of money escaping developing countries through tax havens.

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Animation on how the world of tax havens works #offshoreleaks #taxjustice

If you needed a tour on how secrecy jurisdictions work, check this video out.

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