A couple who run two high street bookshops have handed in a petition signed by more than 150,000 people to Downing Street, calling for internet retailer Amazon to pay its fair share of UK tax.
Frances Smith, 66, and her husband Keith, 63, who run bookshops in Warwick and Kenilworth in Warwickshire, launched the petition on the campaigning website Change.org last December.
The couple are furious that their business, which pays tax normally, is being put under tremendous pressure from a massive company like Amazon, which pays little.
The couple, who live in Warwick, have been supported by a number of celebrites, and MPs, including Margaret Hodge, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, who accompanied Mrs Smith as she handed in the petition.
Author Charlie Higson and actor Stephen Fry have also backed the campaign. Mr Fry has tweeted a weblink to the couple’s petition and wrote: “Amazon may be useful but should they be getting away with funnelling their money through Luxembourg?”
Amazon hit the headlines last year after it was accused of “immorally” minimising UK tax bills along with Starbucks and Google in a damning report by the Public Accounts Committee.
While Amazon’s UK website reported a turnover of £207 million for 2011, its tax expense was just £1.8 million, the report said.
Starbucks took the decision to review its “tax approach” and pledged to pay a lump sum to HM Revenue and Customs over the next two years in light of the public pressure that followed.
Mr and Mrs Smith, who set up their first shop in Warwick in 2004, are hoping their petition will force Amazon to follow suit.
Mrs Smith said: “150,000 people are telling the Prime Minister to take action on this issue. We’ve heard some warm words from government on clamping down on the tax avoiders, but not so much action.
“Surely it’s about time that all companies who choose to do business and make profits in this country pay a reasonable amount of tax on their operations, just like we do.
“As independent booksellers, we are happy with competition in the market but it must be on level terms and by dodging corporation tax in this way, Amazon start with an unfair advantage.
“Big companies’ use of tax loopholes just adds to the continued assault on the high street and town centres about which we despair. Please let’s see some decisive action now.
“We’ve got to keep the pressure up so the government realises this is an issue close to people’s hearts. We have to keep banging on about it so the government knows it is important to people.”
The couple’s petition has been hosted by Change.org, which has had a string of successful campaigns, and has millions of subscribers around the world.
Calling on people to support their stance, the Smiths write in their petition that businesses like theirs have already been pushed “to the brink” by the huge discounts offered by online retailers, but that “what’s even worse is that Amazon, despite making sales of £2.9 billion in the UK last year, does not pay any UK corporation tax on the profits from those sales”.
Charlie Higson, author of the Young Bond series of novels, said: “My position is that Amazon is convenient and cheap, but at the expense of traditional bookshops that have to pay the full tax rate. How can anyone else possibly hope to compete?
“There has to be a level playing field. I would be bereft if we lost all our bookshops and all book sales were in the hands of one single retailer that sells books for next to nothing.
“For a company to barge in, hoover up all sales of everything online and not pay UK tax appears to be bordering on the criminal. And for the government to have let them set up in this way is also bordering on the criminal, it’s certainly very stupid, but then what do I know about EU tax laws?”
Brie Rogers Lowery, UK campaigns director at Change.org, said: “Frances and Keith have shown the web has opened up campaigning to everyone.
“Their campaign has taken the fight direct to Amazon via Downing Street – and shown that the power to build movements is firmly in the hands of the people.”
A spokesman for Amazon said: “Amazon pays all applicable taxes in every jurisdiction that it operates within.
“Amazon EU serves tens of millions of customers and sellers throughout Europe from multiple consumer websites in a number of languages dispatching products to all 27 countries in the EU.
“We have a single European headquarters in Luxembourg with hundreds of employees to manage this complex operation.”