Overview: the tax trinity

by Nick Huber

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23 Oct 2008

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After nearly a year of shortlists, interviews and media speculation HM Revenue & Customs has finally appointed a new chief executive.

Lesley Strathie, currently the CEO of Jobcentre Plus and second permanent secretary at the Department for Work and Pensions, will start her new job next month.

What’s Happened?

The appointment of Strathie, who was seen as one of frontrunners for the job, is part of a managerial shake-up at the tax man that was announced last week.

Dave Hartnett ­ who was acting chief executive and seen as a possible candidate for the chief executive job ­ has been made the new permanent secretary for tax.

Hartnett and Strathie will work under Mike Clasper, the recently appointed HMRC chairman and former boss at BAA, Britain’s largest airport operator.

What’s next...

Strathie will be taking on one of the most high profile and toughest roles in Whitehall.

Key items in her in-tray will include pushing through around 12,500 more job cuts as part of an efficiency programme and improving the department’s record on data security after last year’s fiasco of the lost computer discs holding the personal details of 25 million people.

The lost data discs made newspaper headlines and lead to the resignation of chairman Paul Gray after less than a year in the job.

There is also the small matter of finishing HMRC’s ambitious offshore tax avoidance crackdown as it reaches a critical stage. The investigation into tens of thousands of British citizens who are hiding money in bank accounts in offshore tax centres ranging from Liechtenstein to Bermuda, has yet to secure a criminal conviction.

HMRC is planning to offer taxpayers a second chance to come clean about tax owed on profits made from their offshore accounts. News of a likely tax amnesty ­ which would offer taxpayers leniency in return for voluntary disclosure ­ comes amid criticism from some senior accountants that the investigation is not making enough progress.

Three new bosses in a huge government department that is midway through a restructuring might seem like a recipe for confusion. But John Whiting, speaking for the Chartered Institute of Taxation, welcomed the new management structure.

‘The various appointments bring an end to the uncertainty at the HMRC,’ he said.

He added that Hartnett’s role appeared to be a hands-on technical role ­ looking at changes to the tax system, for example ­ while Strathie and Clasper seem to be tasked with running the organisation.

Whiting said that, as long as the roles were clearly defined, the new structure seemed logical, noting that large companies had similar divisions of senior executives.

Strathie, a career civil servant, began her career in unemployment benefit offices in south west Scotland before moving to London in 1984. She was appointed chief operating officer of Jobcentre Plus in 2003 and then its chief executive. In 2005 she was made second permanent secretary at Department for Work and Pensions. At Job Centreplus Strathie cut staff to meet government efficiency saving targets and faced problems with IT systems. That experience will likely prove useful in her new job at HMRC.

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Financial Planning and Performance AnalystCabinet Office-Greater London-Competitive




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