*Opinion* Our local shops and businesses are suffering from tax-avoiding competitors

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Where I live, in Kew, there is an independent book shop which has weathered the economic storm. There are businesses like this all over our constituency.

In the window of this book shop, there is a notice stating how much tax the business paid last year, and what this amount of money could fund, such as training for a student nurse.

The notice also states the amount of tax their principle rival, the online bookseller, Amazon, paid in the UK last year: £0.

Zero!

Nothing.

Whenever I go in there, I am struck by that comparison. Do not come into this shop to browse, only to buy in Amazon, is what the notice implies.

And they are right. Tax avoidance is immoral and is not a victimless crime. Yes, the tax take of the country goes down, but it also affects our local communities. How can a neighbourhood coffee shop compete with Starbucks and their "voluntary" decision to pay their corporation tax? How lovely of you to voluntarily decide to pay for the services in this country on which your business depends.

In 13 years of government, Labour did nothing to tackle this. In fact, they encouraged it. The Conservatives' heart is not this kind of root and branch reform.

I spoke at the Liberal Democrat conference about this, and I am pleased that the Liberal Democrats in the Coalition Government are spending more money on inspectors in order to crack down on the worst cases. Unfortunately though, as has been exposed in Private Eye over a long period of time, HMRC themselves have in the past been happy to do "sweetheart deals" supposedly in the long term interest of the economy.

But actually our economy depends on thriving local and independent shops and businesses. So let's be rightly proud that the UK has lowered corporation tax to make this one of the more attractive places to launch a business. But as long as there are companies who don't care what level our corporation tax is because they won't be paying a penny, then the situation is unacceptable.  Small and medium business owners are what makes this country tick and are our greatest hope to get us out of the diabolical economic situation we landed in after the 2008 crash. Those small and medium business owners deserve a level playing field.