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Will Morris GE
Will Morris, second in from the left, holding his award from the UK tax office (HMRC)

HMRC has given a gong to the director of global tax policy at General Electric (GE), the US's largest corporation, for helping it run the tax system in Britain - despite the company's prolific tax avoidance record in America.

It comes a day after MPs lambasted executives from three of the world's biggest corporations - Amazon, Google and Starbucks - for having "immoral" tax arrangements claimed to drastically reduce the amount of money they handed to the Treasury.

GE's Will Morris scooped the tax office's External Engagement Award 2012 "for championing ever-better customer understanding within HMRC, informing the public debate on large business and tax and condemning tax evasion and abusive tax arrangements with no commercial purpose," said HMRC's press release.

He attended a ceremony at Number 10 alongside other winners of the same award.

In 2010 the New York Times exposed GE has having paid no taxes that year to US coffers despite global profits of $14.2bn, with $5.1bn of that deriving from its American business.

The corporation claimed a tax relief of $3.2bn back from the government.

It reportedly uses "innovative accounting" and high-pressure lobbying for tax-breaks in order to seriously reduce its tax liabilities.

Morris, who is a member of the clergy as well as a tax advisor, supports a campaign on opening up debate over business tax led by lobby group, Confederation of British Industry (CBI).

"The aim of the campaign is to begin to join the debate ... This has been a one-sided debate so far - but that is part of the fault of business. Business has not so far made its own case," said Morris in a video on the CBI's website.

"There is a very strong case to be made both in terms of the tax that we pay, but also in terms of moves the government has made, and just a great change in the landscape over the past ten years which means that quite a lot of the abusive tax planning that people think that business gets up to simply doesn't happen anymore.

He added: "I think it's important to note that companies have changed the way that they operate about this as well ... There are people who have made the case against us, and we now need to start to make our own case, and that's what this campaign is all about."

HMRC has been under fire for its approach to corporate tax avoidance in the past.

It faced criticism for a purported "golden handshake" deal between former boss Dave Hartnett and Vodafone, which saw the telecoms giant let off a £6bn tax bill.

The award for GE's Morris, who has worked in the past for the US tax office, will likely fuel public perception that the tax office is in the pockets of big business.

"I am deeply disappointed to see a man who represents one of the biggest tax avoiders in the world be given an award for assisting HMRC," said Richard Murphy, head of anti-avoidance campaign group Tax Research UK.

"I'm doubly disappointed when I know the effort he has put into locking transparency in international tax on issues like country-by-country reporting, which would expose the use of tax havens by multinational corporations.

"At a time when civil society is demanding reform of corporate tax - and parliament is too - to reward a man who places obstacles in the path of that progress does appear very strange indeed."

A government minister welcomed Morris's award.

"We are determined to make the tax system in the UK as simple and transparent as possible and are grateful for the contribution that those outside government make to the development, operation and delivery of the tax system," said Conservative David Gauke, Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury.

"I'm delighted to present these awards today which showcase some of the excellent work going on between HMRC and the tax profession."

HMRC defended its decision to give Morris the award.

"Mr Morris received an award in recognition of his role as Chair of the CBI Tax Technical Committee, also as an active and influential stakeholder, informing the public debate on large business and tax, and contributing to a wide range of consultation exercises," a spokesman for HMRC told IBTimes UK.

"He was instrumental in shaping and driving a CBI report, published in April 2012, on 'Tax and British Business: Making the Case', which condemned tax evasion, abusive tax arrangements with no commercial purpose and 'black-box' schemes, and welcomed proposals for a General Anti-Abuse Rule."
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