Taxman may reopen Google’s £130m settlement case
By Ben Riley-Smith POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT
DAME LIN HOMER, HMRC’s outgoing chief executive, last week admitted she was not a “deep” tax expert as it emerged that Google’s £130million settlement could be reopened. Addressing a cross-party committee of MPs, Dame Lin said she was “rather proud” of the deal and said it was a “good thing” George Osborne, the Chancellor, shared the analysis. However, an HMRC official said if new facts should come to light from settlements Google is currently securing with other countries then the taxman will look again at whether it should pay more. It came as Google executives and senior HMRC officials appeared before the Commons Public Accounts Committee over the internet giant’s agreement to pay £130million in taxes. The deal, hailed as a “major success” by Mr Osborne, triggered a furious response from opposition MPs and campaigners who called it a “disgrace” given its huge UK turnover. Dame Lin defended the deal, saying: “We feel the work we have done… is bringing about a change in behaviour. We are rather proud of that. If the Chancellor thinks that as well, that’s a good thing.” Reminded by an MP she once admitted to being “not a tax expert”, Dame Lin said she was not a “deep expert”. She added that other senior officials had more experience but the comments triggered bemusement on social media. Jim Harra, HMRC’s director general of business tax, said it was possible the taxman could reopen Google’s deal. He said up to 30 officials including lawyers and forensic investigators were involved in the six-year Google case but added that it was impossible to work out the cost to the taxpayer. At the beginning of the session, Matt Brittin, president of Google Europe, Middle East and Africa, found himself being ridiculed by MPs. Labour MP Meg Hillier, chairman of the committee, demanded four times to know what Mr Brittin was being paid, only to be told: “I don’t have the figure but I will happily provide it.” She replied: “You don’t know what you get paid? “Out there, taxpayers, our constituents, are very angry, they live in a different world, clearly, to the world you live in, if you can’t even tell us what you are paid.” Google executives insisted that the company had paid the right amount of tax, adding it would back a more “simple” and “transparent” tax system being adopted. It emerged that executives would have discussed Google’s tax status in private meetings with ministers, despite executives’ claims that the settlement was reached with no involvement with politicians. Records show that Tory ministers met Google executives 25 times.