Early on in his ministerial career, John Healey was tasked with pulling the
plug on individual learning accounts, the adult education grants that entitled
people to £200 worth of further education.
The accounts were the targets of fraudsters, and the MP for Wentworth,
elected in 1997 and appointed to the adult skills post just six months before
the scheme was abolished, had to break the news that this particular scheme did
not look like it was going to work.
He is getting good at that now, having last month announced a similar delay
to a construction industry tax scheme, put back a year to deal with the
complicated IT issues involved.
The scheme introduces a more sophisticated IT platform for contractors and
sub-contractors in the construction industry. Tax complications arise in the
building industry around the issue of whether or not sub-contractors are
self-employed or employed, and a network is being set up to deal with them.
Healey currently holds the post of financial secretary to the Treasury, and
the construction industry scheme is only one of his problems.
He is also responsible for public/ private partnership issues, and, closer to
home for many tax advisers, R&D tax credits.
Born in Wakefield, Healey, 45, was educated at Lady Lumley’s Comprehensive
School in Pickering and then at Christ’s College, Cambridge.
After leaving university he worked as a charity campaigner, and subsequently
as campaigns director for the TUC. He is neatly positioned at present, with
strong links to Gordon Brown, having been the chancellor’s parliamentary private
secretary from 1999 to 2001.
After his spell at the Department for Education and Skills, he became
economic secretary to the Treasury, before being promoted this year to his
current post. Ruth Kelly, it should be noted, followed the same route.
Described by fellow MPs as someone who is on top of his brief and likeable,
as well as being young, Healey clearly has a promising future, not least when
Gordon Brown finally takes over.
Was the delay to the construction industry scheme embarrassing, though?
Perhaps. ‘Better to get it right first time than to have problems with it down
the line,’ says Chas Roy-Chowdhury, head of taxation at ACCA.
For HM Revenue & Customs, reeling after successive assaults on their
management and IT schemes in the light of the tax credits fiasco, that ability
to avoid embarrassing scrapes could prove a skill worth honing.
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