Simon Sweetman was an inspector of taxes for 18 years. He left the Inland Revenue in 1989 to join Chartered Accountants Scrutton Goodchild & Sanderson, later part of Scrutton Bland, where he was successively a senior manager and later a partner. He has been an independent consultant since 2001. He is a former member of the tax policy unit of the Federation of Small Businesses and the small business working group of the Chartered Institute of Taxation. He is also on the tax law review committee of the Institute for Fiscal Studies and is currently chair of the Working Together group for the Suffolk and North Essex area.
Wot, no taxman?
Followiing the departure of Dave Hartnett, Simon Sweetman assesses the new-look HMRC board.
I return – with no apologies – to the question of who runs HMRC.
Since Dave Hartnett’s retirement we have a new and slightly different structure.
Mike Clasper, whose contract had ended, has also departed. As nobody seemed quite sure what his role was, that might make little difference.
Lin Homer is now chief executive and permanent secretary, the perfect model of the modern public servant - though I don’t see the term “servant” used these days, which may tell us something.
Her career has consisted of flitting from job to job, from Hertfordshire to Suffolk to Birmingham to the Border Agency to Transport to HMRC. How many of those organisations are the better for her input?
Edward Troup is the tax assurance commissioner, having been director general for tax and welfare at the Treasury and a career tax lawyer.
At the Treasury he was the perfect mandarin, a man who said things that sounded informative at the time: but afterwards it would be very difficult to establish exactly what he had said that he could be held to. He is a man who knows a great deal about tax in a tax lawyer’s sort of way.
The other tax expertise on the new-look HMRC board will be provided by Ian Barlow as the “lead non-executive director”. He was formerly with WSP group, which seems to have started with engineering but become one of those mysterious all purpose consultancies this government loves so much. But, much more to the point, he is a former senior partner of KPMG.
Now, there is much joy in Heaven over sinners that repent and I know former tax industry high achievers who are quietly putting something back into TaxAid or LITRG to atone for their pasts. But this looks much more like an appointment to make tax safe for UK PLC and its hired hands.
In my day (and I know this sounds pompous) the senior people in what was then HMIT had worked for most or the whole of their career in the department. Most of them probably started as graduate entrants, but some had started lower down in the ranks than that. In any case they knew the organisation and how it worked, knew what a tax office looked like and what it did. And they knew a lot about tax.
That was before self assessment, before the merger with Customs, before contact centres. It was also an organisation that worked with a good deal less in the way of powers than it now has.
Much of what has happened since has been reactive, down to the growth of the tax avoidance business, and of course many of the people who might have ended up running HMRC were tempted away to join the dark side. But it still bothers me that HMRC has nobody at the top who knows what it is like at the sharp end.