Posts Tagged ‘Dispatches’


Not quite a smoking gun. But still terrifying.

July 10, 2012

Here on Storify you’ll find my take on the Channel 4 Dispatches story last night, as it happened, on Twitter.

The programme looked at HMRC’s Non-Execs – the Board members who aren’t civil servants, aren’t there in a management role, and are there to keep the organisation on track.  As it says on the HMRC website:

HMRC looks to its Non-Executive Directors to:

  • bring guidance and advice
  • support and challenge management about the department’s strategic direction
  • provide support in monitoring and reviewing progress

and it found that a couple of them had business interests that you could categorise as in the “interesting” end of the tax avoidance spectrum.  One was director of a company which was located in Guernsey… and as I said on twitter at the time

“We are not in Guernsey for tax reasons”? I also have a rather nice bridge I could sell you if you’re interested…?
The other was director of an estate agency group and the programme managed to find some staff in one of the group companies who helpfully advised him on how to avoid stamp duty on a big ticket purchase.
It wasn’t exactly a smoking gun, no.
To me, the worrying thing was the flood of comments (which I’ve collected in the storify link) essentially saying that HMRC is corrupt and why should I pay my taxes when HMRC is corrupt.
If I were on the Board of HMRC today what would absolutely terrify me would be the thought that the public have started to perceive of HMRC as corrupt.
It isn’t, of course.
Yes, I am absolutely confident it isn’t.  Or at least I saw no evidence of corruption in the areas of the department with which I came into contact,  my 25 year career in the Department only ended in March and I don’t believe a culture of corruption can have taken hold in a mere three months.
But I do think there is a problem, and it’s this.  Business interests have become the arbiters of HMRC’s success, rather than the interests of the citizen and the wider polity.
Look at the HMRC’s non-execs:
  • Ian Barlow – KPMG
  • Colin Cobain – Tesco
  • Philippa Hurd – ITV
  • Phil Hodkinson – HBOS
  • John Spence – Lloyds TSB

and then compare them with, for example, the BBC’s Board of Trustees

The BBC includes former employees of the organisation, academia, politics and economics as well as big business.  HMRC’s non-execs are, in contrast, almost painfully non-diverse.  Where is the trades unionist (how about Liz (Baroness) Symons who was the first female General Secretary of the FDA union?)  The former employee (how about Liz Bridge, former Tax Inspector and now construction industry taxation expert)? The economist (how about Richard Murphy)?

Are we really moving towards a society where tax is to be compulsory for the little people but optional for big business?  Where tax policy making will be outsourced (and not to citizen groups)?  Where the only people who are qualified to guide, advise, support and challenge HMRC are – bankers?