July 24, 2012

Amazon, the non-UK company, plans major London office


... in so many ways.

‘A splendid feather in our cap.’ That’s how Mayor of London Boris Johnson described the recently announced Amazon ‘digital media centre’ in London. I can think of a few other words: ‘total piss-take’ spring most readily to mind.

In April it was announced that, despite generating sales of over £7bn in the UK over the previous three years, Amazon had paid no corporation tax in the country. As MobyLives observed, ‘Amazon UK based its non-payments on two loopholes it believed allowed it to do so: it denied it was a retailer, and denied it was even a UK company, despite its name.’ The HMRC, the UK’s tax authority, has launched an investigation.

And now the Telegraph reports that Amazon, which months ago denied that it had a UK branch at all, has bought an eight-storey, 47,000 square foot office near to the Barbican in London. Employees of online film rental service LoveFilm and Pushbutton, both of which are owned by Amazon, will move in immediately. Amazon then plans to go on a hiring spree as part of its bid to ‘design and develop the next generation of TV and film services for a wide range of digital devices.’

Boris Johnson has already fallen over himself to fawn on Amazon, and David Cameron will no doubt see this as a major coup, too: the building Amazon has bought is close to  Silicon Roundabout in east London’s Old Street, and so to Cameron’s pet project Tech City, which has been criticized as by turns ineffectual and heavy-handed in its attempts to stimulate the capital’s tech industries.

By welcoming Amazon with open arms before the issue of its tax evasion has been resolved, the government gives a clear message to corporations that they are not accountable. Yes, London needs new jobs, but the recovery of the economy is also reliant on Amazon and other tax-evading corporations paying the millions of pounds they already owe, and continuing to pay taxes in years to come.

If Cameron will speak up about a comedian’s tax arrangements, calling Jimmy Carr’s situation ’morally wrong’ and ‘very dodgy’, then why the hell is Amazon allowed to do as it pleases?


Ellie Robins is an editor at Melville House. Previously, she was managing editor of Hesperus Press.