HMRC has announced the appointment of Jim Harra to the new position of ‘second permanent secretary’ following the retirement of executive chair Edward Troup at the end of this year.
The appointment will take effect from 1 January, and sees Harra move from his dual roles of tax assurance commissioner and director general for customer strategy and tax design to act as second-in-command to HMRC CEO Jon Thompson.
Second permanent secretary is a new role created following Troup’s retirement, and is the result of what an HMRC statement called “a recruitment exercise across Whitehall.”
The move has been formally ratified by the Prime Minister and confirms Harra as Thompson’s deputy and the leading tax professional in the department.
As part of a restructuring exercise, in October 2016 HMRC reduced its four directorates down to three: customer strategy and tax design; customer service; and customer compliance, with Harra leading the customer strategy and tax design group. It is not yet known who will fill Harra’s role as head of this group.
Along with Troup’s retirement, the tax authority has seen a number of senior leaders depart in 2017, with both customer services group head Ruth Owen and head of customer compliance Jennie Granger stepping down in May 2017.
Enormous and important challenges ahead
Announcing the appointment, cabinet secretary Jeremy Heywood commented that Harra “brings with him a wealth of relevant experience and I look forward to working with him as he takes up his new role.”
Harra first joined the Inland Revenue in 1984 as an inspector of taxes and has gone on to serve as director of corporation tax and VAT, director of personal tax customer operations, director personal tax operations and director general business tax.
Speaking about the appointment, Harra himself commented: “The work we are doing in the department, to create a tax system that makes it easier for taxpayers to get things right, and to prepare for the UK leaving the EU, is vitally important and touches every life in the country. I am proud to have been given the opportunity to help lead this important work.”
Harra has been one of the Revenue’s driving forces behind the development of the Making Tax Project, making numerous public appearances and statements to try to assuage the accounting professions concerns about the scheme.
In August 2016 Harra told AccountingWEB that HMRC wants to integrate tax compliance with how people run their businesses. “Rather than having to do a separate exercise to do tax compliance,” he said, “we want the updates to be produced from their business activity.”
And in November 2016, Harra wrote to the Financial Times to reassure the public that HMRC will not be asking anyone to file accounts five times a year, nor introducing in-year quarterly payments.
Along with championing MTD, Harra has also recently appeared on a BBC Panorama programme about tax avoidance, told the Treasury Select Committee of MPs that HMRC needs significantly more border staff to cope after Brexit, and defended the new IR35 rules for public sector entities.
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