The right wing think tank, The TaxPayers’ Alliance (TPA) claim they were founded ‘to speak up for ordinary taxpayers fed up with government waste, increasing taxation and a lack of transparency’. However, they not only fail to speak on behalf of ordinary taxpayers, but they are subsidised by them through a funding network that is far from transparent.
The Alliance is officially registered as a small private limited company so is exempt from audits of its accounts. Donations made directly to the TPA are registered in ‘abbreviated accounts’, which withhold information about income, expenditure and the identities of donors. However, the TaxPayers’ Alliance does not receive the majority of its funding directly, but from a registered charity called the Political and Economics Research Trust (PERT), who claim to fund ‘public benefit research’.
This creates an added layer of administration and costs, which seemingly goes against the TPA’s principle of bureaucratic efficiency. Conceivably it must therefore be in the Alliance’s interest for this added layer of administration, to receive funding via PERT. In his piece published last week tax specialist Jolyon Maugham QC posited that ‘every pound [high income tax payers] give to the Taxpayers’ Alliance costs them (after tax) £1.82. Were it a charity, that same pound would cost those same backers £1’ .
Tax exemptions exist for charitable causes and donations to maximise the support that charities receive. Due to this, the status of ‘charity’ is carefully guarded: “To be a charity an organisation must be established for charitable purposes only, which are for the public benefit. An organisation will not be charitable if its purposes are political.”
However, in 2009 the Tax Payers’ Alliance Chief Executive Matthew Elliot, now Chief Executive of Vote Leave, presented the TPA, the Centre for Policy Studies and the New Culture Forum as key parts of the ‘conservative movement’. Between 2010 and 2014 80 per cent of PERT funding went to these self-identified conservative political groups. Unsurprisingly, Companies House records reveal that PERT originally had a different name – The TaxPayers’ Alliance Research Trust.
Total PERT grants amounted to £2,030,750. £1,595,000 of this was granted to the Tax Payers’ Alliance, tax exempt. The libertarian Centre for Policy studies, headquartered next door to the Alliance, was granted £55,000. A tax exempt £80,750, was donated to The New Culture Forum, who describe themselves as ‘a response to … Culture Wars, [that] the liberal Left have dominated.’ They also happen to use the Headquarters of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, and are advised by one Matthew Elliot, ex-chief of the TPA.
Three further groups received PERT funding in this period. Business for Britain who, strangely enough, were founded by Matthew Elliot, and back Vote Leave, received a tax exempt £320,000 from PERT. Global Britain led by Consulting Director Ewen Stewart, who unsurprisingly has worked for both the TaxPayers’ Alliance and the Centre for Policy Studies, received £10,000, as did Commonwealth Exchange.
The four main beneficiaries of PERT grants – who received over 99 per cent of funding – are clearly highly overlapping groups. They do little to hide it: sharing HQs, self-aligning with the same right wing causes and movements and even being constituted by the same individuals. Principally the actions of PERT and the TaxPayers’ Alliance thwart the spirit of the law as they take advantage of existing tax exemptions, intended for charitable public good, for their own preferential tax arrangements and those of their aligned political organisations.
The donation policy of the TaxPayers’ Alliance states ‘we have never received, and would never accept, government grants or any other taxpayer-funded subsidies.’ Yet, between 2010 and 2014, through the exploitation of charity tax exemptions the TaxPayers’ Alliance alone received a tax-payer funded subsidy to the tune of £143,725 each year – their fair share . With every donation they deny our public services vital resources that they need, whilst claiming the mantle of the tax payer’s interests. The TaxPayers’ Alliance may well have the funding that they need, but they are a morally bankrupt organisation.
Disclaimer: there is no suggest that any of the organisations mentioned above have engaged in any illegal activity.
For a more in-depth look at the TaxPayers’ Alliance’s use of PERT in this period, and the previous court case on the subject, we recommend reading Jolyon Maugham QC’s piece on http://www.waitingfortax.com