Taxing job ahead for Barlow and Troup

BY ALL ACCOUNTS, HM Revenue & Customs’ latest non-executive appointments are incredibly distinguished, as would befit such crucial roles at one of the largest and most important government departments.

Barlow, who is coming in for outgoing chairman Mike Clasper as lead non-executive director, spent more than 30 years at KPMG where he held a senior partner role.

During that time, he quickly gained respect for his ability to cut red tape, ascribing personal responsibility to his team members rather than allowing paper work to cloud the picture, say colleagues.

Given his background, there is little doubt of Barlow’s calibre. Indeed, in the words of retired former KPMG head of tax, Loughlin Hickey, the Revenue is “fortunate” to have a man of “absolute integrity”.

There are some reservations, though, as flagged up by ICAEW fellow and serial tax blogger Ken Frost. The concern is how Barlow might find the time to focus on the business of levying and collecting the country’s taxes between his roles at … Smith & Nephew, the Brunner Investment Trust, the Racecourse Association, the Horseracing Business Levy Board, Historic Royal Palaces, China British Business Council and PA Consulting Group. Some will no doubt wonder how Barlow will juggle his HMRC tasks with those asked of him through his other responsiblities.

Barlow’s advocates will point to his track record and say he would not have accepted the challenge if he felt he had too much on his plate.

There are no such concerns over Troup, whose only hat – as tax assurance commissioner – will be his HMRC one.

He began his career as a tax lawyer at Simmons & Simmons, before moving onto the Treasury in 1995 to assume a special advisor post. Two years later, he was back at Simmons & Simmons, where he remained before returning to the Treasury in 2004 to become director of business and indirect tax.

His arrival has been met with the approval of the CIoT, with president Patrick Stevens declaring “experienced tax professionals at the top of their profession” were “what HMRC needed”.

The taxman has been at the centre of controversy relating tothe so-called sweetheart deals struck with big business to end tax disputes, while there has been extensive criticism levelled at the department over its general performance.

The UK Uncut activist group has won permission to challenge HMRC in the High Court over one such deal struck with Goldman Sachs, said to have seen the Treasury lose out on £20m.

Among the other tasks facing the pair will be the Revenue’s continued fight against tax avoidance. With the issue firmly in the public gaze, the effective implementation of the general anti-avoidance rule is paramount, especially if it is to bring down this year’s £5.2bn figure of tax write-offs.

It is safe to say the jobs they walk into will not be for the faint of heart.

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