Overview: the tax trinity

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

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

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

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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