Many will see the irony in the readers of Accountancy Age voting for the head of the Inland Revenue as their Personality of the Year. In most instances, accountants appear at odds with the Revenue.
But given their proximity to and interest in Revenue affairs, it is perhaps accountants who are best placed to make a judgement about Sir Nick. And their backing him is a real mark of his achievement.
Since his appointment to chairman of the Revenue board in 1997, Montagu has been leading an unprecedented amount of change. Its scale would be daunting for most senior managers, but Montagu has gone at it with determination, focus and gusto.
To summarise, he has led a huge project to transform the Revenue from an ‘enforcer’ to an ‘enabler’ – or from policeman to helper. This has come on the back of the mammoth change at the Revenue as it took charge of the distribution of benefits using tax credits for the wage packet.
This has had to involve not only an effort to change the culture of the Revenue, but also enormous structural reorganisation as the department came to terms with being more customer focused. It is difficult to overestimate the scale of this task, but while some would disagree with the policy, the implementation under Montagu has been carried through with both professionalism and determination.
With its changing role, Montagu, in a move rare among Whitehall mandarins, recognised the need to deal with the public perception of the department.
His decision to retire Hector, the long-standing Revenue mascot, was in many ways momentous. And it came at almost the same time as the appointment of a marketing director, the first appointment of its kind among government departments.
Montagu was open enough to admit Hector with his white, male, middle-class image ran the risk of doing more harm than good in terms of the Revenue’s relationship with the public and as a recruiter. The adoption of Mrs Doyle, the tea lady from hit TV sitcom Father Ted, to promote self-assessment signalled the clear change of tack Montagu was seeking.
But Montagu has also sought to engage the profession in his effort for improvement. As part of the structural changes, Revenue directors have been instructed to liaise with professionals in an effort to find solutions to difficult issues. The Working Together project has led to Revenue officials working with tax professionals from the Chartered Institute of Taxation on problem areas.
Montagu is spoken of as an urbane manager who is open to ideas yet retains intellectual authority over his department. He has developed a high public profile, not least because of his principled belief that he will publicly defend the department and its staff when he views them being unfairly treated. This has earned him a reputation of being tough – MPs who have questioned him at select committee hearings will agree with that.
Damian Wild, editor of Accountancy Age, said: ‘Montagu came to the Revenue with a big job to do. He’s gone about it with energy and enthusiasm. While there will always be complaints about the Revenue, many recognise the effort he has made to make improvements. I’m not surprised our readers have recognised that.’
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