CUSTOMS AND REVENUE MERGER – Row over secret report.

Paymaster general Dawn Primarolo has been asked why a report on the possibility of merging Customs & Excise with the Inland Revenue cannot be shown to the Commons Treasury Select Committee. Committee chairman Sir Michael Spicer said he had written to Primarolo requesting the report which contains evidence regarding a merger. Dame Valerie Strachan, chairman of the Customs Board of Commissioners, told the Treasury committee at the end of November that the report could not be handed over because it was commissioned by a previous government. She revealed details of its conclusions, that a merger could not be ruled out but would entail short-term costs likely to outweigh efficiencies, yet maintained that evidence for the findings could not be handed to the committee. Sir Michael sent the letter following a sitting of the committee in late December and said it was determined to see what was in the document. ‘It’s important because Customs has based much of their response to us on this report,’ he said. It is understood the paymaster general would not have considered the letter until after Christmas but a spokesman said she would reply early in the New Year. Controversy has dogged the report since Dame Valerie, who will end her tenure as head of Customs on 9 January, appeared before the committee. On that occasion committee member Jim Cousins told her: ‘My concerns about the running of the agency are rather greater at the end of these questions than they were at the beginning.’ Analysis, page 5.

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