HMRC, making a PR disaster out of a mistake

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I’ve defended HMRC’s right to collect PAYE owing, very publicly, including on Radio 2 in the last week.

I maintain that position.

But Dave Hartnett is not helping the Revenue’s position when talking to the BBC in such fashion that they could report:

The UK's top tax man has refused to apologise after taking the wrong amount of tax from six million people.

Dave Hartnett, Permanent Secretary at Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC), claimed media stories of blunders and IT failures were wrong.

And he warned those who owed £2,000 or more in back tax they would have just over three months to repay it in full.

When it’s perceived you’ve made a mistake say so. It’s the first rule of PR: stop digging.

NB: Wrote this yesterday, got called away and didn’t post it, and then Dave Hartnett was forced to apologise.

I’m afraid in the process he’s done a massive disservice to HMRC, giving its critics an enormous opportunity to say it’s not fit for purpose.

They’re wrong, of course. But the case for reform is overwhelming – and that does not require flat taxes, privatisation (absurdly) or any other such madness. It requires a belief in the importance of tax, in the importance of public service, in the importance of investing in public service, in the importance of letting civil servants do their jobs to the best of their ability, rather than making them work to dumb rule books, and overall to the importance of getting things right. I believe all that is possible. I’m not convinced the Board of HMRC do. And therein lies a problem.