Small businesses must be able to compete on a level playing field

Hard-working small business owners in Dover and Deal high streets must be allowed to compete on a level playing field with online giants like Amazon.

I was quizzing Richard Allen, an expert witness from campaign group Retailers Against VAT Abuse Scheme (RAVAS) during a Treasury Select Committee hearing in Parliament on Tuesday (July 3rd).

I said "Do you think that small businesses get the book thrown at them while big companies like Amazon get off lightly because the Treasury have a secret policy, a secret direction to HMRC not to be too hard on the big boys?"

Mr Allen said: "I was told by a senior official that HMRC had been instructed not to go too hard on Amazon yet."

I then asked: "Do you think there is a concern that the tax conditions in which online retailers like eBay and Amazon operate – that they have an unfair competitive advantage over high street businesses that pay business rates, that pay their taxes, that employ people in Britain, where these enterprises don't?"

Mr Allen said: "Yes, and the reason for that is because the regulatory environment which those online businesses operate is not as tough as the regulatory environment for the high street retailer.

"You couldn't sell dangerous products in a shop. You couldn't openly be selling goods with no VAT charged on them in the shop."

I am now urging Treasury ministers and officials to take note of the troubling evidence heard by the committee of MPs. We must do everything we can to support the great British high street. Small business owners in Dover and Deal work tirelessly to make a success of their shops, cafes and restaurants. So we cannot have a situation where Amazon and eBay have an unfair competitive advantage over high street retailers. There must be a level playing field. Online giants must pay their fair share of taxes.

The British government lost up to £1.5 billion last year as the result of tax evasion by overseas companies selling goods to consumers in the UK without charging or accounting properly for VAT, according to the National Audit Office.

Amazon paid just £15 million in tax on European revenues of £19.5 billion in 2016. Ebay's UK business paid £1.6m in tax in 2016, despite reporting more than £983 billion in revenues.