Vir Cantium

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So #UKUncut Would Rather Starve Galleries and Museums

Vodafone Shop

Where Lucifer gets his top-ups

There was much excitement yesterday among UKUncut members when the Tate launched a consultation on the potential use of apps for visitors and those interested in the gallery.

The interest, you see, was not that the Tate was looking at a potentially useful addition to their offer to visitors, but that the thing was sponsored by Vodafone.

Vodafone, as those who have been following these things will recall, are Evil. Very Evil, because they’ve only paid the amount of tax that they’ve been asked for. A year ago, they negotiated and settled with HMRC, after a ten year dispute over a grey area of tax law, to pay £1.25bn. UKUncut got it into their heads that the sum of £6bn should have been paid. Clearly Vodafone’s conduct is utterly immoral and UKUncut – whose supporters I am sure must make a habit of overpaying the taxman themselves so as not to be hypocrites – have been sniping at the company, much like one might open fire on a tank with a pea-shooter. Using mushy peas.

In terms of actual tactics they are targeting the company, I assume, because it is easier than (a) protesting to HMRC, who agreed with Vodafone the amount of tax due, (b) attacking the government, who ultimately set the rules, and (c) avoids having to face up to the complexity of the actual situation; i.e. that HMRC felt it better not to risk a lot more than £6bn by taking the matter through the tribunal and courts, since had they lost then other cases could have been seriously jeopardised.

So we come back to the Tate. Apart from trying childishly to sabotage the consultation by ensuring that much of the thread was polluted by deleted “off topic” comments, some made the point that had the likes of Vodafone “paid their taxes” then galleries, museums and the like wouldn’t be facing cuts in state funding.

The position I have on this is one irreconcilable with that of UKUncut, in that I do not think arts and culture should receive any state funding beyond, perhaps, that linked to school-age education. It is not an A&E service or defence. If these institutions are producing what their audience or customers want, then they should not need subsidy. If they are not, by catering for too small a minority interest or working for the producer rather than those actually footing the bill, then they do not deserve subsidy.

On a practical level, if the last year has demonstrated anything it is that no organisation can regard its finances as stable or sustainable as long as they are reliant on taxpayer handouts. If bodies like the Tate are taking sponsorship from Vodafone, then good for them. If they are looking to improve the quality of the visitor experience, good for them, for it will help justify the entrance fees that I feel they should be allowed to charge (something for another post one day).

UKUncut, on the other hand, would be happier that such institutions were suffocated, pushed hard against the bosom of the state. All the while they would reject Vodafone at al. giving directly to good causes, rather than feeding the beast from which they would prefer the nations cultural bodies to suckle their rations and remain reliant upon.

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2 responses to “So #UKUncut Would Rather Starve Galleries and Museums

  1. Adrian Sharpe August 9, 2011 at 7:42 pm

    I partly agree with you. The state should fund only necessary things such as health and I agree that the arts does not fall into that category. I also agree with you that the arts should happily take monies from private sector companies that wish to sponsor them. Where I fundamentally disagree with you is that companies such as vodafone should not be allowed to ‘negotiate’ their tax bill. I cannot negotiate mine and neither do I seek to do so. As for you comments about not being reliant on taxpayer handouts are you really are so simple as to not understand that if Vodafone has ‘negotiated’ its tax bill down by £1.25bn (I am going to use your figures) then the small amount of money you receive in sponsorship is a handout from the taxpayer. Think about it. If you cannot understand what I say then please get the government to negotiate my tax bill down by £2k and I will happily sponsor you for £50.

    • vircantium August 9, 2011 at 8:48 pm

      The ‘negotiation’ in the Vodafone situation was effectively an agreement in lieu of the case going to court. This was only necessary because of a lack of clarity in the law, thus one cannot say that the bill was negotiated down since no-one really knows what figure it would have been ‘down’ from, or how much the taxpayer has or hasn’t ‘lost’.

      The alternative would be to have HMRC act as the final arbiter in all matters of interpretation of tax law. It is surely unacceptable that there be no recourse to the courts to challenge a government or its agencies in how they carry out their roles. The ire of UKUncut should have been turned towards Parliament for drafting sub-standard legislation.

      In fact, answering another point of yours, negotiation takes place all the time over the affairs of taxpayers in many different circumstances, from the Vodafones to the one-man sub-contractor seeking to justify a deduction or mitigate a penalty, as I have done many times in my professional life on a client’s behalf (sadly I cannot count Vodafone among my client base).

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