Britain’s Black Economy season: The Town That Went Offshore

This experiment, part of the Britain’s Black Economy season, is an example of BBC Two’s commitment to tackling contemporary issues with lively and intelligent content.Kim Shillinglaw, Controller, BBC Two and BBC Four
Date: 05.11.2015     Last updated: 11.11.2015 at 10.04
Category: BBC Two
As Britain’s economy becomes ever more divided between the rich and the rest, BBC Two’s Britain’s Black Economy season explores how different levels of society are finding the loopholes in the system. Are we all living by the same rules when it comes to tax?

How do the wealthy and big multinationals exploit tax law and tax havens to protect their profits? What are the tricks of the trade in this backdoor to the economy?

In The Town that Went Offshore, BBC Two unravels the complex tax operations of some of the biggest companies in the UK and finds out if it’s possible for local businesses in a small town in Wales to turn the tables by setting up their own similar arrangements.

The tax practices of some of the biggest companies operating in the UK have been in sharp focus in recent years with big name brands being criticised and a Government seeking to crack down on tax loopholes. We’ve heard how creative accountancy can be used to legally pay little UK tax – but how does it actually work and can the businesses in a small town in Wales make it work for them?

Presented by Heydon Prowse, co-presenter of BBC Three’s The Revolution Will Be Televised, this film follows an alliance of local businessmen and women from Crickhowell in the Brecon Beacons on this unique theoretical TV experiment as they uncover the tax avoidance techniques multinationals employ, and try to apply them to their very own DIY tax plan.

Crickhowell is a feisty, small town dominated by local, independent businesses, some of which have been passed down three generations. They’ve recently come together to fight off a planning application from a large supermarket chain. How will the local traders - who run the salmon smokery, the local coffee shop, the adventure clothes shop, the optician, the book shop, and the bakery – get on with turning their local ledgers to mastering the accountancy schemes like those used by some of the biggest corporations in the UK?

Coffee shop owner Steve says: “I have always paid every penny of tax I owe, and I don’t object to that. What I object to is paying my full tax when my big name competitors are doing the damnedest to dodge theirs.”

Jo, who runs the local smokery in the town, says: “Until now, these complicated offshore tricks have only been open to big companies who can afford the lawyers’ fees. But we’ve put our heads together, and worked out a way to mimic these big tax dodgers. It’s jolly clever.”

Gian Quaglieni, Commissioning Executive for BBC Current Affairs, says: “Heydon brings his usual energetic, satirical edge to this revealing experiment that attempts to make sense of the global tax affairs of some corporations. Through the eyes of Crickhowell residents, it looks at whether the score can be evened up for their local businesses.”

Kim Shillinglaw, Controller of BBC Two and BBC Four says: “This experiment, part of the Britain’s Black Economy season, is an example of BBC Two’s commitment to tackling contemporary issues with lively and intelligent content. From the get-rich-quick schemes and counterfeit goods that lure ordinary people, to the tax havens of the super-rich, Britain’s black economy stretches from the very top to the bottom of society. It is said to be worth £150bn, it's all around us, and many of us are in on it. This series of revealing films explores who are the winners and losers in Britain’s Black Economy.”

The Executive Producer is Gian Quaglieni for the BBC and Alan Hayling and Alex Cooke for the production company Renegade Pictures. It will be produced and directed by Tom Costello and Riete Oord.

Britain’s black economy is said to be worth more than £150 billion a year - 10 per cent of our total GDP. The Britain’s Black Economy season examines how its tentacles spread from the top to the bottom of British society.

Other programmes in Britain’s Black Economy season are:

Britain's Trillion Pound Paradise - Inside Cayman

How do the wealthy operate in the shadowy world of the global black economy?

Four and a half thousand miles away from here lies a secretive slice of Britain - a sun-soaked Caribbean paradise the size of Bognor Regis: the Cayman Islands.

Watched over by a Governor appointed from Whitehall, the Caymans are well and truly British, but with one big difference: no-one seems to be paying a penny of tax. Not locals. Not expats. Not big global corporations. And thanks to this tax-free status, Cayman has built a finance industry that's brought one and a half trillion pounds into its banks. There are twice as many companies registered here as there are people.

But what's really going on? Is it tax avoidance on an epic scale? President Obama thought so - he described one building here, Ugland House, home to nearly 20,000 registered companies, as "either the biggest building, or the biggest tax scam, on record". And are our household brand names mixed up in it?

Now Jacques Peretti has been given unprecedented access to Cayman's politicians and financiers, its millionaires and the ordinary British expats who've built a life here in the sun. He's on a mission to get to the heart of what makes Cayman tick - and to uncover the unexpected truth about what its existence really means for all of us.

The executive producer is Lucy Hetherington. It is being produced by Chalkboard TV.

Black Economy Grafters

No-one is more strapped for cash than those at the economic bottom, so why pay more than you have to, especially if much of it ends up in the hands of the taxman? Britain’s black economy grafters will sort you out, and you’ll have some spare cash to treat the family. The way they see it, they dice with the law so the rest of us don’t quite have to...

This character-driven film will spend a few months in the lives of the grafters - and the people out to get them. Each year, the government loses £1.3 billion in taxes to counterfeiting, and taxpayers lose nearly £2 billion a year in revenue from tobacco smuggling alone. And that’s not even counting the millions spent on chasing down and prosecuting these black profiteers. As well as our cast of outspoken grafters, this film will follow some of the dogged investigators perpetually on their trail: the Trading Standards agents and private detectives whose job it is to stop them. The film will focus on the lives of three different sets of grafters: counterfeiters, ticket touts and tobacco smugglers.

The executive producer is Samantha Anstiss and the director is Max Shapira.