I am a local resident living in Horsham and also an active member of my local Library.
And I am delighted with the commitment West Sussex County Council has made to keep its libraries open in these challenging times.
However, I have just read an article in the County Times regarding WSCC providing Amazon space for their distribution lockers in three libraries in West Sussex.
Amazon was one of three companies asked to appear before the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee in November 2012 to answer questions relating to tax avoidance.
House of Commons - HM Revenue and Customs: Annual Report and Accounts - Public Accounts Committee
The committee found Amazon evasive and unwilling to answer legitimate questions on the company’s structure and the true location of its economic activity.
Amazon has a reported turnover of £207m for 2011 for its UK company Amazon.co.uk, on which it has shown a tax expense of only £1.8m, however it shows a European-wide turnover of €9.1bn for its Luxembourg based company (Amazon EU Sarl) and a tax of €8.2m.
Amazon has over 15,000 staff in the UK, invoices UK customers from the UK, hires UK staff in the UK, has inventory physically in the UK for UK customers and to all intents and purposes has the majority of its economic activity in the UK, rather than in Luxembourg, but pays virtually no corporation tax in the UK
The Prime Minister David Cameron has condemned this practice of ‘really aggressive tax avoidance’.
The commercial advantage Amazon gains through not paying its share of UK tax gives it an unfair commercial position that threatens established UK booksellers and other retailers.
As quoted in the County Times, county councillor Lionel Barnard clearly sees these lockers as a being beneficial, ‘They also help provide a regular income and ensure our branches are kept up-to-date with the latest technology. We understand people buying products from Amazon may also like to borrow books and so decided that our branches are perfectly placed for the new lockers’.
Surely this is a very thin causal link. The same logic could also apply for people buying groceries.
What is clear is that whilst our local libraries might need help, Amazon does not.
Horsham library is now one of six local pick up points in Horsham sharing this role with local supermarkets and convenience stores.
Amazon at the moment is offering a free delivery service to its lockers in January on a two day basis and £1.99 on a next day basis. This is an initial promotion.
I have emailed Mr Barnard, deputy leader of West Sussex County Council, the following questions.
Once the service is established what proportion of the delivery costs will WSCC receive?
Has WSCC contributed to the cost of installing these lockers?
What is the projected income from this deal and what will happen to these funds?
Under what remit does WSCC feel obliged to assist Amazon in its commercial operations and ethically should WSCC be going into business with a known UK tax avoider of huge proportions?
Surely, the correct ethical and moral decision would be to ask Amazon to remove its lockers from WSCC libraries and revoke any business arrangements that have been made until Amazon can be clearly seen to be contributing its fair share of tax within the UK.
Guildford Road, Horsham