Who should be running HMRC if it isn’t to be the Big 4 and ‘senior business people’?

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Discussion of the appointment of nPower's Volker Beckers as a non-executive director brings back into sharp focus the very odd pattern of appointments to the HMRC board of directors.

HMRC says its non-executive directors are:

senior business figures from outside the department who bring a diverse mix of expertise and skills from across both public and private sector.

Now that's odd for a start. First, why only 'senior' business people. Why not ordinary people, people from civil society, trade unionists, or others? What about the SME community - easily the interest group with most interaction with HMRC? Why are none of these involved? HMRC says it:

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

Do they really think that only ' senior business people' can do this? If so the process of biased from the outset. Firstly it's biased against women as fewer women than average reach such roles and secondly it is definitely biased against minorities in society for the same reason. But it is also inherently and intrinsically biased against most HMRC users. Is that what we really want in the management of a public body?

It's unsurprising then that this is the list of current non-execs:

These are the current non-execs:

Ian Barlow

Until March 2010, Ian spent 37 years with KPMG, latterly as Senior Partner, London, working at Board level with international clients in many industry sectors.

Today he serves on a number of public and private boards and in the public sector. He is Chairman of WSP Group and The Racecourse Association. He is a board member of Smith & Nephew plc, The Brunner Investment Trust PLC and PA Consulting Group Limited. Ian is also involved in a number of public bodies and business organisations, including the London Development Agency and China British Business Council. He acts as a Trustee of the Historic Royal Palaces, an independent charity, and as Chairman of their Campaign Board.

Ian is a Fellow Chartered Accountant of the Institute of Chartered Accountants for England and Wales, a Chartered Accountant (Canadian) and a Fellow of the Institute of Taxation.

Ian chairs HMRC.

Colin Cobain

Colin is a highly successful Chief Information Officer (CIO) who has won many awards for his work in retail. He was formerly Group CIO of Tesco where he played a key role in transforming their technological capability. Colin is currently a non-executive Chairman of Safe Surgery Systems and Interim CIO at Supervalu, a $45 billion retailer/wholesaler in the US.

Having started his career with the Mars group, he has also been Chief Executive at Incepto, Complementary Channels Director, Systems and Logistics Director, Systems and Business Development Director, Director of Retail Developments and Head of MIS all in the Kingfisher plc group; Colin has also been IT Director at Rumbelows, part of Thorn EMI plc.

Tesco have, of course, never been the subject of questions about their tax planning.

Philippa Hird

Philippa is an experienced Human Resources professional specialising in effective delivery of complex change. She was until recently Group Human Resources Director of ITV. Prior to ITV, she held Personnel Director roles at Granada plc and Granada Media Group. Her current roles are board member of Polka Theatre in Wimbledon and governor of Wimbledon Chase primary school.

Previously she was a board member of Opportunity Now and of Skillset and Vice President of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).

The only woman. At least we got one.

Volker Beckers

Volker has been Group Chief Executive of RWE Npower since January 2010. He has led large change programmes and has a very strong focus on public and customer engagement. He joined the energy company RWE AG in 1993 and became Group Chief Financial Officer of RWE Npower in 2003.

Before joining RWE, he worked in the IT industry in Germany and ran CompuNet's (today, Computacenter) education and training centre, before moving to their consultancy arm.

nPower are now in the news.

Norman Pickavance

Norman has experience in HR and organisational development, most recently as Group HR & Communications Director of WM Morrisons Supermarkets Plc, a 130,000-strong organisation.

He previously worked in manufacturing and other international and high-tech businesses.

He has also been a Non-Executive Director with the Leeds Teaching Hospital's NHS Trust and has worked at board level for over a decade.

Morrisons has tax haven subsidiaries in Jersey, Guernsey, the Isle of Man, Hong Kong and Gibraltar, at least.

John Whiting

John is currently the Tax Director of the Office of Tax Simplification and the Tax Policy Director of the Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT). He will be stepping down from the latter role but will remain involved with the CIOT.

Previously, he was a tax partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers for 25 years. He was awarded the OBE in 2008 for services to the tax profession.

Another Big 4 tax partner.

So I'll ask the question: are these the people you think should be monitoring HMRC?

And if not, who should be?