Dublin domicile used by British MPs as stick to beat Shire over tax avoidance

Cantillon: drug company paid 0.015 per cent tax on £24 billion of sales

Shire Plc chief executive Flemming Ornskov. Photograph: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Shire Plc chief executive Flemming Ornskov. Photograph: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

 

The report this week from Britain’s public accounts committee makes for very uncomfortable reading for the Big Four accountancy firms, particularly PricewaterhouseCoopers, whose UK practice is accused of promoting tax avoidance “on an industrial scale”.

It is an unusually blunt report in the vehemence of its attacks on the “narrow and self-serving” tax deals done by PwC and some clients. But the Irish Government would do well not to lose sight of the UK parliament’s main target – what it sees as the unfair competition presented by low-tax jurisdictions such as Luxembourg, the Netherlands and, yes, Ireland.

Some of the most scathing criticism in the report relates to the affairs of drug company Shire. Its corporate headquarters since 2008 have been in Dublin after it joined an exodus from the UK in the face of tax measures announced by the then Labour government.

However, its operational headquarters remain in Basingstoke in England and it is registered in Jersey – allowing it to avail both of a FTSE 100 listing and Ireland’s more flexible corporation tax regime.

The public accounts committee noted that, of its 5,600 employees, barely 100 operate out of Ireland and none out of Jersey. England apart, its main operational focus is on the United States.

With the current intense focus on controversial international tax arrangements, Shire’s decision to avail of the convenience of Dublin domicile is a stick with which the British parliament is determined to beat us in its efforts to close what it sees as tax loopholes.

Any case the Government here will make is hardly helped by the financial transactions highlighted in the UK report. It noted that while Shire has external borrowings of around £800 million, it uses loans between various subsidiaries of up to £10 billion to effectively move profits to jurisdictions like Luxembourg where, MPs noted, it paid 0.015 per cent tax on £24 billion of sales.

All of which would make it easy to see why some would view it less as a drug company delivering innovative therapies for attention deficit disorders, rare genetic diseases and Crohn’s, and more as an exercise in financial engineering.

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