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.

Plan:

–          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.

Challenges:

–          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.

Solutions:

–          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.

 

Findings:

–          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.

Conclusions:

–           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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