Today, much of London has been gridlocked by the TUC march.
It’s never a bad thing that people want to engage in our democracy by demonstrating (even where the motivation of many lies in self-interest) but this afternoon’s attack on Fortnum and Mason is quite revealing.
The ’secret target’ mooted during the day was unveiled as F&M’s flagship store on Piccadilly, and it was subsequently occupied by UK Uncut.
Why there? I’m an avid reader of Private Eye and they’ve never been mentioned in the tax avoidance debate. So, what about their owners? Fortunately this isn’t a great corporate conspiracy. It’s all on Wikipedia. Fortnum is owned by Wittington Investments Limited, which in turn is is 79.2% owned by the Garfield Weston Foundation, and 20.8% owned by members of the Weston family.
And what of the Garfield Weston Foundation? Well, it’s actually one of the UK’s largest grant-making trusts.
From it’s 2009 annual report:
“This year, the Trustees have supported 1518 appeals out of a total of 3513 applications, which is a slight increase over last year. While the annual income has remained at a similar level to last year (around £38.5 million) the total cash donations of £37.6 million are lower than last year £41.1 million. This, however, is a reflection of the need for the Trustees’ to be prudent in order to bring their reserves up to a more conservative level following the substantial commitment to Oxford University of £25 million last year towards the development of the Bodleian Library. The figure of £37.6 million includes the second tranche of
£10 million of this grant and the Trustees are committed to pay the final £5 million next year. The Trustees have also been mindful of the possibility of requests for urgent funding being made by charities which have had their funding from other sources cut due to the difficult economic conditions and wished to maintain some temporary reserves to cover such eventuality.”
Additionally, F&M’s managing director, Beverly Aspinall, joined from that other great corporate evil, (sarcasm, by the way) the John Lewis Partnership, where she’d been for 24 years.
So, the demonstrators chose to attack a company with a female MD that has just funded one of Britain’s top libraries, that donated £37.6m to good causes in 2009 alone, and is building up reserves to help charities hit by the spending cuts.
Many have suggested the motives of many in the current protests is nothing to do with politics and everything to do with prejudice. Today, we saw conclusive proof.
UPDATE: UK Uncut have issued a press release, on the occupation. It’s quite remarkable. Here’s the link to the action:
F&M is owned by Whittington Investments. Whittington also owns a 54% share of Associated British Foods. They allege ABF have dodged over £40 million in tax.
So - hang on - Fortnum and Mason hasn’t actually done anything wrong? Nor has its parent company. ABF has. And the only link is that the two companies have mutual shareholders. But they’re occupying F&M. Indeed, the headline reads “UK Uncut occupy tax dodgers Fortnum and Mason.” - then goes on to describe how they are not.
One ABF owned business is Primark. So, why not occupy Primark? Thankfully, the release includes a quote from Sally Mason, a Uk Uncut supporter from Manchester who is currently occupying Fortnum & Mason. Her quote is quite illuminating, for it includes the line: “Fortnum & Mason is a symbol of wealth and greed. It is where the Royal Family and the super-rich do their weekly shop.”
Yes, they do make expensive things. Including a ‘Royal blend’ tea. Then again, prices of that start at £1.50 - hardly super rich territory.