Could this be the year HMRC sorts itself out?

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2012 could be a year for significant change at the top of HMRC, indeed it could be a year in which the organisation shows that it can recover against the odds, explains Simon Sweetman.

Following Lesley Strathie’s retirement on health grounds (sadly, today we have heard of her death at the age of 56) we have the announcement that Dave Hartnett will go next June. Mike Clasper, the chairman, presumably stays, but is a part timer and figurehead.

We also know that Lin Homer will be the new chief executive to replace Dame Lesley. In keeping with modern notions, she will be a total amateur in taxes: she has lately been head of the Border Agency and of the department of Transport, following a career in local government. That gives her substantially less relevant experience even than her predecessor, and absolutely no experience at the public interface.

We do not know, and probably will not know for some time, who will take Dave Hartnett’s place. One can assume this is likely to be an internal promotion, since nobody from outside is likely to take a substantial pay cut to take the job. Dave has in fact suffered an astonishing amount of personal abuse in recent years, much of it from contributors to this website, but has clearly had to carry a considerable burden as practically the only person at the top end of HMRC who knows anything about taxation (and, from my experience, has been sorely misrepresented). The only other member of the board with a tax background is Mike Eland, and even on the executive committee the two of them are joined only by Stephen Banyard. When Dave Hartnett appeared before the Public Accounts Committee he did say that he felt that more top level appointments should be people with tax backgrounds, but nothing has yet come of that.

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18th Jan 2012 16:37

Wow Simon!

Have you been paid by HMRC to do a PR jobby.

I'm afraid it is my belief that HMRC will, as many other public services, totally collapse this year. That in itself is not a bad thing because I believe (for every drop of rain that falls (OGA)) that this is a year of major world financial change, of which we will be a large part. Euroland has all but gone (financially). Other countries are fed up with too few people having too  much (billions) while many have to scrimp and save.

I also predict a general election either October this year or may next. Outcome will be an all party coalition. No I'm not a JW.

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18th Jan 2012 21:14


Whoever is brought in, given Liz Homer’s appointment I think we are assured that it will be person who will do as ordered; by the Treasury, wo will keep them under their thumb.


No government can afford to have its tax agency collapse, more likely that they will continue to fiddle and fire-fight.

I think you’re too pessimistic about public services and under estimate the ability of the Civil Service to be bullied and corrupted. The staff won’t put up too much of a fight because they have to pay mortgages and put food on the table.


Euroland, like the UK and USA, went bust long ago and in effect printed money …. They will continue to do so because their politically astute options are limited to survival and re-election.


I am surprised to learn that AccWeb only learned of Strathie's death today. If it checked Ken Frost's site "HMRC is S###e" it would have discovered that fact far earlier, it would also learn many other matters that are rather revealing of HMRC.  


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19th Jan 2012 08:56

Doubtful Simon, very doubtful

Although HMRC's outgoing management were a useless bunch, the fundamental problems that HMRC suffers from is not related to the management team (although they have made problems worse), but rather the whole direction of HMRC.

The only way that the current call centre oriented approach might have worked would have been if the tax code had been radically simplified (or at least for non-corporate taxes), sufficiently to allow taxpayers to deal with their tax affairs with a high-probability of them being correct first time around.

As it is, we have the same ever growing tax code(albeit the pace has slowed since Gordon Brown was in charge), yet the ability of HMRC to deal with taxpayers affairs seems to be diminishing by the year. This is primarily due to the haemoraging of good staff and their replacement with well meaning, but insufficiently trained and experienced staff.

The only way that HMRC can be redeemed is by going in one direction or the other, it either needs to rebuild it's internal competence and get away from these idiotic call centres except for the most trivial issues or the entire non-corporate side of taxation needs to be rewritten from scratch and the vast majority of existing complexity needs to be thrown away.

The Office of Tax Simplification is nominally charged with this, but is too bound by those with vested interests in the status quo (especially civil servants) to achieve any radical transformation.

So if we were taking bets, I'd have a £100 on HMRC getting marginally worse over the next year rather than better.

Miraculous transformations of government services DO happen and a good example is the way that the Canadian government was massively overhauled in the 1990's, but it takes a bold and transformative leader, party and parliament to do so, not our current bunch of political pygmies.


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19th Jan 2012 10:31


I don't think you realise the depth of hopelessness of leaders abilities that the world is feeling.

That is why I have said that if Hitlor were around today he would clean up and not just Europe. This is a very frightening and at the same time exciting era. Once the momentum starts things will change very quickly.

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19th Jan 2012 11:04

I have every confidence...

...that the world's "leaders" are clueless and that they will continue to fail to "lead" and that their mistakes will multiply exponentially. It would have been better if they'd done nothing and let the banks go bust. Looking back at history, I think we are at about 1931 ....1933 is not certain but those rocks are looming.


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19th Jan 2012 13:30

Sort itself out - is that a joke?

IMO HMRC as getting progressively worse as time goes by. They are sherking their responsibility of tax collection on to our good selves.

HMRC employs staff that know little or nothing about tax. This was reiterated from the top when it was said too many many people at the top know too little about tax.

For me it is a complete false economy to try and collect tax for UK Plc from what is fundementally a call centre based system.

Employ konwledgable staff, pay them the right salaries and you will see a gross tax intake far in ecxess of the increased costs.

Many of the countries problems and indeed the worlds problems arise from a lack of tax intake. Pushing the rates up to 50% will never work. Start by looking at the taxpayers who do not declare their entire earnings and to boot may well claim tax credits!!

If everyone paid tax then there would be no need for a 50% tax rate.

I suspect I am living in a dream world!!

I wonder what the reaction from HMRC would be if I or a group of us said we are leaving the profession to assist you in colelcting tax. We do not want salaries but do want 25% of the tax collected!!

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19th Jan 2012 14:43

If Euroland didn't

waste so much money on keeping EMP's in the style that they are unacustomed too there wouldn't be a need for HMRC to squeeze, in any way possible, every last penny out of us.

I could continue but governments won't listen till it's too late or Germany have finished printing enough DM's.

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20th Jan 2012 12:19

Lin Homer?


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