The Independent reports that businesses in Crickhowell, a Welsh town, have joined forces to try to take advantage of the tax avoidance measures enjoyed by large multinationals.
Pursued by a BBC TV crew and with the full support of Chris Davies, the new Conservative MP for Brecon and Radnorshire, they’ve taken advice from experts and submitted a proposal to the Treasury which will apparently minimise their tax bill.
If it works they plan to start offering it to other towns across the country.
Admittedly, this is one of those instances where the rebels purport to be the true loyalists: the stated aim of this campaign is to pressure the Government into cracking down on tax ‘dodging’.
This gives the lamentable impression that if the Government squeezed Google and Amazon hard enough, the traders of Crickhowell would wind up their cooperative scheme and return to meekly signing cheques to the Treasury.
If it truly works, Conservatives who believe in localism, community cooperation, low taxes, and small government should eschew so apologetic a view and grasp this idea with both hands.
Simply put, tax avoidance is the price that politicians pay for having a complicated tax system which gives them lots of levers to pull and the scope to give special dispensation to favoured industries or activities.
The Government recognises this – hence George Osborne’s creation of the Office of Tax Simplification.
But the temptation offered by the ability to use the tax system to dish out reward and punishment has historically proved too great, and a genuinely simple tax system is a remote prospect.
As ever, making the system more complex and expensive to navigate puts small businesses at a disadvantage.
Crickhowell has hit upon perhaps the perfect Conservative solution: independent citizens pooling their resources and cooperating to offset the advantages enjoyed by big business.
Imagine a Britain where every town had tax efficiency co-op – perhaps overseen by the local chamber of commerce – providing local businesses (and who knows, even individual taxpayers) with the sort of tax advice currently affordable only to the rich.
This would help support small traders facing competition from national chains and keep more money in the local economy.
It could also do for Twenty First Century Britain what mass participation in things like friendly societies did in the Nineteenth Century: provide a communal means of educating and equipping people to take control of their financial circumstances.
It might also finally put enough pressure on the Government to make a genuinely simpler tax system happen.
Tory MPs ought to make a beeline for Davies’ door, get hold of these plans, and set to work on their own constituencies. Local action for lower taxes is a winning slogan for a fine idea.