Here’s Matt Brittin, Google’s boss in northern Europe, speaking in 2012: “Google set up in London 11 years ago now and it was a natural choice. It is such a cosmopolitan international city and there is a huge array of talent you can access – and that’s the most important thing for Google when building its teams outside the US.
“Also, the UK is the No 1 internet economy in the world. We spend more money buying things online in this country than anywhere else on a per head basis. So actually it has been a great place for us. We’ve been so successful in the UK that we want to try to give something back.”
You can still watch that clip on YouTube and the sentiments might be worth comparing with what Brittin ends up telling the parliamentary accounts committee this week, when he’ll have another go at explaining Google’s tax affairs to MPs.
In 2013 he described how the London HQ – once so successful he’d felt moved to promise “something back” – was in fact effectively working for a higher power in a lower tax zone. Since then, January’s much criticised agreement between Google and the UK tax authorities means the website will pay £130m in back taxes – a deal that’s inexplicably found few backers, save for George Osborne dubbing it a “victory”. Actually, the chancellor was right: it’s a victory for Brittin.
Osborne’s monkey business
As George Osborne found a victory in the Google deal, he may yet be able to unearth the odd positive in the manufacturing figures that will be published this week.
It will be tricky: manufacturing has been in recession and there seems to be more bad news on the way. The UK steel industry has shed thousands of jobs as it suffers at the hands of cheap Chinese imports, and engineering groups that manufacture kit for oil companies are feeling the pinch too.
But China may provide a welcome distraction this week, as the country celebrates the start of the year of the red, or fire, monkey. Those born in the year of the pig (such as the chancellor) seem to be in line for a rosy 12 months.
Chinesefortunecalendar.com predicts: “Basically, your career luck is good. You will realise your job is much easier than before… You have better knowledge to handle your position. But you still need to stay alert. Any negligence on your duty will ruin your reputation and career development.”
Still, Osborne shouldn’t get too cocky. When it comes to health, the website foresees “diabetes, diarrhoea, bladder and neuralgic pain”.
No soft soap for HSBC on money laundering
“Who could you be tomorrow?” HSBC enjoys asking. It is a brilliant slogan, as the bank’s punters have previously spent many an afternoon pondering that exact question as they built new identities via which they could launder money for Mexican drug cartels.
That episode, of course, ended with HSBC being fined a record $1.9bn (£1.32bn) in 2012 by the US authorities – even more than the $470m penalty it got last week for “abusive mortgage practices” in relation to the housing crisis. But don’t worry: we get a chance to enjoy a re-run of the laundering episode again this week.
Last month, US district judge John Gleeson ordered the release of a report detailing how well HSBC has complied with anti-money-laundering requirements since being whacked with that record fine. The report is due on Friday after Gleeson cited the public’s right of access under the first amendment. As he ruled: “This case implicates matters of great public concern and is therefore one which the public has an interest in overseeing.”
There are other views, of course, including the US Department of Justice and financial regulators, whom HSBC cites when it says the release could make it easier for criminals to launder money. These days, that’s an activity it no longer likes to facilitate.