The government’s latest reshuffle has seen former management accountant Liz Truss move to chief secretary to the Treasury, with previous incumbent David Gauke promoted to work and pensions secretary.
Accountants crying out for a steady hand on tax policy may take solace that one of their own has been appointed to the second most senior ministerial position in HM Treasury. However, Truss does take on a rather full inbox.
This includes resurrecting or amending a Finance Bill heavily trimmed in the rush to get it passed before the snap election, and big decisions regarding the government’s much-discussed Making Tax Digital plans: whether to scrap the quarterly reporting requirements of the scheme, keep the exemption thresholds at £10,000 and finalise the yet-to-be published consultations for partnerships and ‘complex’ businesses are among the most pressing issues.
A CIMA member, Truss spent 10 years working for both Shell and Cable & Wireless in executive and accountancy roles before winning the seat of South West Norfolk for the Conservatives in 2010.
Environment, food and rural affairs secretary from 2014 to 2016, Truss took over the Justice brief as the first female Lord Chancellor in the thousand-year history of the role. There she came under criticism for her lack of legal training (traditionally a requirement for the role), and for failing to defend three judges attacked by the media following the Article 50 court verdict.
Gauke pensioned off
Truss replaces David Gauke, who has been handed a promotion to the work and pensions department. Gauke, along with former financial secretary to the Treasury Jane Ellison, was seen as a leading figure in the government’s Making Tax Digital plans.
A former solicitor, Gauke moves to the DWP after seven years at the Treasury, first as Exchequer secretary in 2010, then financial secretary in 2014 and finally as chief secretary to the Treasury from July 2016 to June 2017.
During his time at the Treasury Gauke firmly nailed his colours to the mast of HMRC’s digital strategy, and in 2015 spoke with AccountingWEB about the need to move the tax system into the 21st century. At the time, errors were still cropping up from the real time information for PAYE system. This issue could continue to haunt Gauke in his new role, where he will be responsible for overseeing the universal credit system that is fed by HMRC’s data.
His personal website also claims he has played “an important role” in reducing tax avoidance and tax evasion.
Commenting on the appointment, former pensions minister and now Royal London director of policy Steve Webb said that there were few candidate in the Conservative Party who know more about pensions than Gauke.
“In his five years at the Treasury during the Coalition he played a key role in developing the detail of the pension freedoms and was a keen supporter of automatic enrolment,” said Webb. “I always found him to be knowledgeable and willing to engage in discussion and debate.
Webb went on to warn that the lack of an outright Conservative majority means radical reform in any area will be hard to get through Parliament, but we may see “sensible incremental changes” as a result of the auto enrolment review.
Other news and appointments
In a bruising night for the Conservatives, financial secretary to the Treasury Jane Ellison lost her seat in Battersea – a replacement has yet to be named at the time of writing.
The economic secretary to the Treasury, otherwise known as the city minister, Simon Kirby was also unseated, with a replacement yet to be announced.
For other accountants in the cabinet it was business as usual, with ICAEW member Justine Greening remaining as education secretary, while former KPMG tax manager Karen Bradley is still culture secretary.