Knight’s reign comes to an end

He never liked it. But we could never bring ourselves to ignore the knighthood, no matter how much he would have preferred us to do so.

That problem will solve itself on 19 March when Sir Nick retires as chairman.

He won’t now miss the Budget, as it turns out, which falls that week.

And there are plenty of other things he won’t miss either. The furore around tax credits for one, though the civil service – not just the politicians who designed the scheme – must bear some of the responsibility for its execution. Then there was the almighty row about the Revenue’s controversial Mapelely Steps PFI deal. At its peak, the Treasury select committee referred to ‘serious lapses, well below the standards expected, by all the officials concerned’. Ouch.

But that sounds like Sir Nick’s reign was all bad, which it wasn’t. He oversaw the introduction of electronic filing for individuals and companies.

And while it would be an exaggeration to describe it as an unqualified success, there are certainly fewer critics than there were. Nowadays you will even find a degree of optimism among many accountants in practice.

Meanwhile, he has dragged the Revenue kicking and screaming into the 21st century, though critics might say it skipped the 20th entirely.

Sir Nick also killed Hector, a feat that caused him no small amount of pride. He hated the bowler-hatted, middle-aged, middle-class and overly male message that the cartoon taxman frequently sent out. He also introduced greater openness to Somerset House and beyond. Revenue officials now make regular appearances on the conference circuit. Before that the message on policy was more one of accept and comply.

Ann Chant will take over as acting chairman next week. A career civil servant, Chant is currently deputy chairman and director general of strategic service delivery. And she faces challenges from day one.

It will fall to her to oversee the likely merger with Customs & Excise, which hinges on the outcome of the report by Treasury permanent secretary Gus O’Donnell into the efficiencies of both departments. But she is saved one task. More than anything, Sir Nick oversaw the transformation of his department from tax collector to provider of benefits through tax credits.

And that is a legacy for which his successor should be grateful.


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