Hartnett: it could be worse

Posted on

I note the Mail reports:

He had refused to apologise for the underpaid tax fiasco — and it was only after pressure from the Chancellor that the country's top tax official finally said sorry.

But despite his apology, David Hartnett's career last night hung by a thread after a senior Cabinet minister publicly failed to back him.

Four times yesterday, Treasury Chief Secretary Danny Alexander sidestepped a question over whether the official had his full confidence.

As a man I like Dave Hartnett. We’ve got on, I think. You will find me i n the list of those who has, supposedly notoriously, wined and dined — at HMRC expense. We seem to have a habit of appearing on the same television documentaries. He’s invited me to speak at the Treasury on several occasions. And I’ve also been a critic — especially over staffing.

Now he’s under threat — for an undoubted gaffe.

The difficulty is if he goes — who understands tax within the management of HMRC? Just about no one. That’s the farcical situation that would remain.

I do think he should stick to tax.

I do think we need managers in HMRC committed to public service, innovative (non-free market) thinking about how to manage an essential public service for best effect for the public that it serves. The existing Board gives little sign of understanding that — and if the Tory back benchers who are making moves around HMRC get their way we’ll be back in the Roman age of tax farming — with the massive corruption and abuse that goes with it.

So most of all HMRC needs a serious review. And the outcome would be that tax management would be a priority for its Board — and it hasn’t been. And public service would be a priority and it hasn’t been. And HMRC trained staff would have a serious role to play in its management — and much has gone wrong since they were. And the Varney era would be consigned to history — and call centre mentality with it.

But although Dave Hartnett is part of the problem — because he’s embraced much that’s wrong in HMRC — he’s also the virtual last of a breed — a tax person near the top of HMRC — and we need them, but surrounded  by very different thinking about what it means to run a public service for the public good — where nothing short of excellence will do.

That’s a political change, of course. But that change does not mean throwing out the tax people to deliver what we need. It means listening to what the tax people say, because the staff of HMRC know what’s wrong with the place. They just need to be given the chance to put it right.

So in the meantime Hartnett is needed, like it or not, because until suitable replacements from within HMRC are ready to take his place he’s all the tax management we’ve got.

Thanks for reading this post.
You can share this post on social media of your choice by clicking these icons:

You can subscribe to this blog's daily email here.

And if you would like to support this blog you can, here: