Profile: Customs chairman Richard Broadbent

It’s easy to see why. His career has taken him all over the world and at just 49 he seems to have covered most aspects of finance from almost every conceivable angle.

He was appointed to the role of chairman of Customs & Excise in December 2001 and began the restructuring process the following February. Prior to this, he endured a testing period as global head of corporate finance at investment bank Schroders. Before that, Broadbent was at the Treasury for ten years during which time he served as private secretary to both Labour and Conservative ministers.

The combination of roles has given him a sound base in business and the politics surrounding it. Despite this, his appointment as chairman must have raised a few cautionary eyebrows within UK plc.

If eyebrows were not raised over his appointment, they soon will be.

The industry is rife with gossip over the increasingly aggressive tactics employed by Customs & Excise.

Broadbent is bringing hard-nosed business tactics to a government department in need of serious modernisation. He talks of Customs as ‘insular, reactive rather than strategic’ and opting for ‘least pain solutions.’ This would have to change if he was to succeed in his aim. That aim is clear – to increase the amount of hard cash earned from indirect taxation. His main target? UK plc, among others.

The difference in approach between Customs and the Inland Revenue is well illustrated by the language they use. Where the Revenue sees its approach as customer-focused, Customs sees it as risk-based. This is not unreasonable and Broadbent is quick to point out to accountants that a risk-based approach is sensible due to the nature of the beast.

His worry is not only the extremely small minority that choose to stretch the boundaries of the law to its limit and beyond, but also the inadvertent mistakes that creep in. Some will see this as eminently sensible. Some, no doubt, will take it personally.

Part of his clampdown may be delivered through his push for the accreditation of tax advisors. It is an approach that has resulted in a mixed response from the industry – to some it is good, to others, offensive.

But this will not deter Broadbent. He does not come across as the type who cares what others think. Some will see this as bloody-minded, but some will take it as a prerequisite for the job in hand. His reputation of a hard-nosed businessman not to be crossed came with his spell as global head of finance at Schroders.

A conflict with the then chairman, Win Bischoff, over US working practices is rumoured to have led to his resignation. Whether this was the case or not hardly matters. What is for certain is if he gets his way business will have a much closer partnership with Customs than ever before. Whether this is a case of keeping your friends close, but your enemies closer remains to be seen.

What is certain is that if he gets his way, business will have a much closer partnership with Customs than ever. Whether this is a case of keeping your friends close but your enemies closer remains to be seen.

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