The taxman doesn’t need another Hector

Gavin Hinks, AccountancyAge

It turns out the taxman needs one because Adam Hart-Davis, the TV history and
science boffin who has fronted self-assessment promotion for the past few years
cannot be relied upon to back his paymasters.

In a Radio Five interview he said he wished tax was simpler and that it was
too complex. In short, the man who told us on national television that tax
didn’t have to be taxing, actually thought that it was.

But, no offence to Hart-Davis, he perhaps was never the right man for the
job. This is not because he failed to exude intelligence and honesty, he
certainly does ­ it’s because he failed to address a key need for HMRC ­ it’s
need to depart from the image of the taxman being grey-haired, middle aged, male
and white. For those who can remember that far back that was the image of the
pinstriped, bowler hat wearing cartoon mascot for the Revenue, Hector the tax
inspector. After him came Mrs Doyle, the accident prone tea lady from Father
Ted, an effort to make the taxman cool by appealing to the comedy tastes of the

As watchable as he may be, Hart-Davis embodied many of the things HMRC wanted
to escape. His departure from the role is an opportunity to put the marketing
right and set the right image for tax payers.

To do this, however, a parallel effort must be made to make taxpaying
simpler, including making online systems work reliably. Self-assessment is going
in the right direction, but there is a bigger effort required. Hart-Davis was
certainly not alone in his views. There’s no point in having quality marketing
without having something of quality to market.

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