Ten things Jon Thompson should do first

February 25, 2016

Congratulations to Jon Thompson, the new CEO of HMRC and to Edward Troup, the new Executive Chair.  What are the first things that ought to be on their to-do lists as they start their new posts?  Here are a few suggestions – feel free to add others in the comments.

  1. Appoint some civil society non-execs  Look at the Board members here: Ian Barlow was a senior partner at KPMG.  Joanna Baldwin is a digital strategy consultant.  John Whiting heads the OTS.  Mervyn Walker comes from British Airways and Anglo American,  Simon Ricketts from Rolls Royce.  Edwina Dunn came from a data mining company.  All good fits with the HMRC strategy, no doubt, but where is the “critical friend” there to speak up for the ordinary taxpayer, the elderly, the digitally excluded?  Cast your net a bit wider.
  2. Appoint some board level women and minorities  Look again at the Board pictures: seven men and five women.  But replace Homer with Thompson and you have eight men and four women.  And an Oscar-worthy level of whiteness.  You’re going to have to deal with an equal pay claim from your staff that I hear is already dragging its slow way through the courts.  Why not make a point of ensuring equality and diversity are baked in from the start?
  3. Be nicer to your staff.  There’s a really low bar to meet here!  HMRC bumps along the bottom of the Civil Service staff survey, there’s an equal pay dispute, compulsory redundancies on the horizon, a toxic relationship with the unions – seriously, you could be a Good Guy, a Hero even, with very little effort on your part.  Just be a decent human being, talk to people, and do your best and you’ll be fine.
  4. Check the plans for the redoubt  Seriously, is withdrawing from huge areas of the country into thirteen redoubts the best way forwards?  It’s probably cheaper (but why can’t staff work remotely?  Don’t you have secure computers and phone lines any more???) but you’ll lose good people from inside – and you risk losing the goodwill of the taxpaying public you serve.  If you’re going to do it anyway, then you need a charm offensive to get people outside of the Whitehall bubble – inside and, more importantly, outside of the department – on side.
  5. Sort out the phones.  If it was me, I’d make up a rota.  Every Board meeting, one Board member should come prepared with a recording of a call they’d made to ask a question.  Just sit round a table and listen to how many menus they have to go through, how many times they have to speak to an automated system, before they get to a human being (time it!).  The actual call – well, you could send a letter of commendation to the officer they finally speak to, assuming they handle the human part of the transaction as well as most of your staff do.  It’s the getting to the buggers that’s a, well, bugger!
  6. Slow down the rate of change.  Look at the TIINs for every single consultation that you publish and every new piece of legislation you propose.  See that question on “policy objective”?  Look on CivilWiki at the instructions on how to complete a TIIN.  See the seven questions model.  The first question to be answered is always why are you doing this at all?  Put the CEO behind asking for an answer, and you could single-handedly slow down the pace of change in tax legislation for a generation!
  7. Get rid of outsourcing.  There’s a reason tax collectors are so reviled in the Bible: they were outsourced agents of the Roman Empire.  Or, to put it another way, people often hate dealing with HMRC.  But they hate even more having to deal with some profit-making entity acting on behalf of HMRC.
  8. Integrate debt collection and customer service  Honestly.  It sounds counter-intuitive, but if you dismiss debts of £100 or so as not worth collection you’re missing people at the start of their relationship with HMRC.  Look at what happens with CIS monthly penalties if you don’t go out and talk to people the first time they miss one.
  9. Remember history  HMRC and its predecessor departments have a long and proud history.  But a rubbish archive.  Seriously, employ an historian and a couple of archivists and you’ll find most of your problems have been considered, solved and then recreated before, sometimes several times.
  10. SaMBA all the time No, I don’t want you to start Strictly in the 100PS courtyard (although if you do, can I watch?)  But I was charmed to learn yesterday that the Small Firms Impact Test is now called the Small and Micro Business Assessment, or SaMBA.  Now I have some experience of this.  It’s hard to find small and micro businesses who will talk to you.  You have to go outside of London, outside of office hours, and outside of your comfort zone.  Because if you don’t, you end up with VAT MOSS…

Good luck!


  1. Can I vote for you for the non-exec post. You’ve already got the first meetings agenda right there.

  2. Brilliant. Well-considered, thoughtful, practical, good humoured, evidenced, wide-ranging, connected, useful and brief. Send it to them with a covering note suggesting that a careful reply to these points — rather than a standard reply (thank-you-we’ve-binned-without-reading), a non-specific dismissal, or patronising incomprehension — would be time well spent all round and a wonderful start for them.

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