The end of 2017 brought with it positive steps forward by the Government on tackling corruption. As Co-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Anti-Corruption I warmly welcomed the Home Secretary’s announcement that a new national economic crime centre has been established to tackle high level fraud and money laundering; as well as other measures introduced by the government to ensure the UK is a hostile environment for cases of fraud, bribery, corruption and money laundering.
The new national economic crime centre within the National Crime Agency (NCA) will task and coordinate the national response to economic crime, backed by greater intelligence and analytical capabilities. It will draw on expertise from across government, law enforcement and criminal justice agencies, as well as new resources provided by the private sector.
To further improve the coordination of the law enforcement response, new legislation will allow the NCA to directly task the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) to investigate the worst offenders. The SFO will continue to act as an independent organisation, supporting the multi-agency response led by the NCA.
In addition to these measures, the APPG and I were glad to receive the Government’s publication of the UK Anti-Corruption Strategy, on the 11th December. The Strategy lays out the Government’s plans to tackle domestic and international corruption through 2022. The publication is a welcome step forward and has the potential to be a powerful tool in tackling domestic and international corruption, and we will be using it to support but also scrutinise anti-corruption efforts in the UK.
The Strategy is a crucial document but another step I and many colleagues across the house would like to see progress on in the new year is a public register of beneficial ownership. Such a register would make public, information detailing the ownership of properties here by overseas companies. This measure, in pursuit of greater tax transparency, has cross-party support demonstrated in the Westminster Hall Debate I held on the 22nd November, on Public Country by Country Reporting.
During the debate, my colleagues and I pressed the case to the Government for the largest companies operating in the UK to publish the country-by-country reporting. This would mean we could see exactly where they are making their profits, where they have employees, where they have sales revenues and what tax they are paying on a territory-by-territory basis in all the key territories in which they operate. Although companies are already required to disclose this information privately for HMRC, public disclosure of this would make companies publically accountable and allow them to be challenged on why they are reporting large profits in territories with very few employees, very low revenue and very few assets, perhaps a suggestion that they are avoiding paying their fair share of tax.
Allowing this information to be public would enable us all to make sensible buying decisions on whether we wish to use such companies. Such a move would help to change the behaviour of the largest companies and show that the UK does not believe that the use of aggressive tax avoidance, artificial structures or territories in which they have no substance, is an acceptable way to behave.
I am looking forward to the APPG’s next event with Global Witness who are launching a property register app tool, which will allow individuals to type in their constituency and find out about nearby properties owned by anonymous companies. I hope to make progress on a public register and other matters with the new Anti-Corruption Champion, John Penrose MP, whom I look forward to working with to combat corruption domestically and internationally in the new year and beyond.