A radical idea…

January 11, 2016

…but it just might work.  Next time, let’s try having a tax professional at the head of HMRC?

Bear with me.  Today we saw the announcement that Lin Homer – sorry, Dame Lin Homer – is to leave HMRC in April.  This explains the “lately” mention in the announcement of her honour:

Ms Linda Margaret HOMER, CB

Lately Chief Executive, HM Revenue and Customs. For public service particularly to Public Finance.

People had been speculating on that “lately” for a while, and now we know.  (And, incidentally, has anyone been able to get a reasonable response from HMRC’s Press Office lately?  They seem to have cut back on staff so far that you have to be from someone Really Really Important before they have the capacity to get back to you.)

Now, opinions may differ on Homer’s legacy.  In the current climate you could well argue that still *having* a department is enough of a victory for any public servant (every now and then some oddball tweets me that it’s outrageous that HMRC hasn’t got any commercial competition.  There’s a whole other blog entry on the biblical “tax collector” and why they were thought to be evil, being outsourced collectors who took a cut of as much as they could get away with screwing out of you…)  Yes, there is still an HMRC, it’s still staffed (mostly) by public servants, they still (mostly) get (sort of) reasonable-ish terms and conditions, considering, and they still do the best they can in a department which isn’t corrupt in a system which hasn’t (yet) developed a reputation for corruption.

Damning with faint praise?  Maybe.  It doesn’t look much, when you look at it from that point of view, but in the current climate she probably did a pretty good job.  It’s just… well, you know.  The management-speak when there was any kind of internal challenge (yes, the leadership and managing change section of the HMRC Staff Survey is worth another look – ouch!).  The combative appearances before select committees.  The usual government-speak of statistics in verb-free public-speaking sentence fragments.

Was she the right person, in the right job at the right time?  Well, hindsight is easy, but does anyone have a different and more to the point better candidate in mind?

The important thing is, what comes next.  Angela Knight is now head of the Office of Tax Simplification.  The next person to head HMRC needs to be, I’m afraid, everything Angela Knight is not.  They need – in my view, anyway – to be a tax professional, so that they can talk to the tax industry and to their own tax professionals and command respect.  They also need to have, or at any rate quickly to achieve, a high profile with the wider taxpaying public, the muggles, so that the dangerous view that “they’re all the same” doesn’t become embedded in the British tax administration.  And they need to be able to manage a department which, ten years ago, was created out of two different departments by the simple method of putting them all into one black box and letting the strongest survive.  After the Darwinian winnowing that resulted, HMRC’s management now needs to be conducted on a rational basis, by someone who understands that there may be “22 professions in HMRC” but it’s the results achieved by the tax profession on which they will, ultimately, be judged.

Do I have a candidate in mind?

Not a scooby, sorry!  And it was all going so well…


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