On the money with Gavin Hinks

How much do we care about the taxman? It’s pretty easy to find an excuse to
complain, whine, belly ache and bleat about HM Revenue & Customs.

Abrupt and sudden policy decisions, aggressiveness, a lack of clarity,
inconsistencies, inefficiencies, unjustifiably sweeping powers. They’re all on a
long list of failings tax advisers and tax payers like to trot out about the

Of course some of it is justified. Some of it just because the taxman is a
very big target (a bit like a barn door, it’s difficult to miss) and, of course,
it does the thing we don’t want anyone to do ­ take our money.

But there is a genuine worry about HMRC. As big as it is, efficiency drives
have stripped the department of thousands of staff. Staff surveys seen by
Accountancy Age show morale is falling and last week Stephen Timms,
financial secretary to
the Treasury, refused to rule out pay cuts.

It seems the department is as big a target for government as it is for
taxpayers. You can’t go around cutting jobs and pay in the NHS ­ not a popular
move before an election. You wouldn’t touch the armed services right now, given
the fight they have on their hands in Afghanistan. And it’s unthinkable that
education would even be considered for a few cutbacks. But HMRC staff? Fair

But this is the department government is counting on to collect as much
revenue as possible. And with the fiscal deficit the way it is, government needs
them. So isn’t it strange tax collectors keep getting punished. What’s more, it
doesn’t look like its helping tax payers and tax advisers do what they need to

At the risk of alienating myself, I have to say it’s time to spare a thought
for the taxman. You can’t expect its people to go on doing a good job if you
keep knocking them. And if they don’t? Well, we all pay.

Gavin Hinks is editor of Accountancy Age

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