That’s not to say the job was beyond anyone in the civil service – there are plenty of very able people in Whitehall. It’s just that given the government’s track record in trying to cosy up to business, someone like David Varney was always going to be a good bet.
It’s worth reviewing the task ahead of him. The merged organisation will consist of something like 90,000 people with a budget of £4.2bn. The man in charge will have to manage a reduction in head count by about 10,000 and recover as much as possible of the estimated £26bn of tax going uncollected each year.
As has been said elsewhere, what lies ahead of Varney is an almost Herculean task. But that’s as it should be. The Revenue and Customs are two of the most important departments for government. Together they will be the country’s tax collector, the provider of revenues vital for government spending plans.
Varney certainly seems like the right man for the job. First, he has led big organisations. After 30 years at Shell, he moved to British Gas where he oversaw the successful dividing of the company into Transco, Centrica and BG Group. Indeed, he was so impressive that he was then drafted in to help British Telecom through its own tale of woes, splitting BT to produce mmO2, the company he leaves for the Revenue.
A glance at his CV illustrates one other important fact about Varney – his versatility. Such is his apparent grasp of management principles that he can take them anywhere and apply them with enormous success.
He also brings experience from the private sector where the customer is king. For an organisation that sees itself with clients, both as taxpayers and as receivers of tax credits through the payroll, it is vital for the Revenue to have someone who is client-focused. Only the private sector could provide that.
But a word of warning. Varney has made his name largely by splitting things up, not bringing them together. The problems in one may not be the same as the other. And lastly, we know he is walking into an organisation with a morale problem, not only because of the impending job losses, but also because of the raft of new services staff are having to deliver under extreme pressure. Overcoming these problems will not be easy.
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