Ed Miliband highlighted a “culture of irresponsibility” at some major companies, during an address in which he accused Google of going to “extraordinary lengths” to avoid paying taxes.
Mr Miliband – a keynote speaker at Google’s Big Tent event in Watford – also highlighted the need for people to come together “for a common purpose” to create “responsible capitalism”.
He was speaking after reports that the company paid only £10m in corporation tax in the UK between 2006 and 2011, despite revenues of £11.9bn.
Mr Miliband said: “I can’t be the only person here who feels disappointed that such a great company as Google, with such great founding principles, will be reduced to arguing that when it employs thousands of people in Britain, makes billions of pounds of revenue in Britain, it’s fair that it should pay just a fraction of 1 per cent of that in tax.
“So when Google does great things for the world, as it does, I applaud you. And when Google goes to extraordinary lengths to avoid paying its taxes, I think it’s wrong.”
Mr Miliband is understood to be keen to talk to Google chief executive Eric Schmidt, who last week came under fire from MPs over the firm’s efforts to shelter its multibillion-pound profits from UK taxes.
Asked if he regarded big companies, such as Google and Starbucks, as “the banks of the past”, Mr Miliband said he saw some similarities. He said: “The banks caused a financial meltdown which we are all paying for and will pay for for months to come. Despite my problems with Google, I don’t think they are about to do that.
“I have deep problems about the culture, and I think the culture isn’t that different to the culture we saw at the banks.
“I think there is a culture of irresponsibility among some of the biggest firms in the country, and that has got to change.”
In an address which included references to fictional businessmen Willy Wonka and Simpsons character Mr Burns, Mr Miliband also criticised David Cameron for failing to raise tax issues with Mr Schmidt at a meeting in Downing Street. Earlier yesterday Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said that he did raise the controversy directly with Mr Schmidt at Monday’s meeting of the Business Advisory Group. He told Mr Schmidt his company was among those causing massive public concern.
Labour’s toxic legacy: Page 13