HMRC’s Annual Report and Accounts for 2019/20 have just been published so of course I downloaded and took a look. The publication comes in at a stonking 333 pages and, believe me, it was most certainly not produced by the angels in response to my prayers.
The publication is colourful, full of lots of super happy people going about their work, with only the occasional one bearing a frown (perhaps they are contemplating the VAT Reverse Charge or whether IR35 should be applied or, more likely, pondering where all the billions of pounds that should have been saved from eradicating those pesky mistakes on a VAT return are post-MTD).
In fact, I can’t remember the last magazine or brochure that had quite as many shiny happy people, as REM might say. Maybe it’s something they put in the staff tea.
Augmenting the happy people pictures are more graphs than at the average government Coronavirus briefing. It’s obvious that the current thinking within government is that graphs are the best way to deliver facts that may involve numbers, which is not necessarily wrong. But, as they say, familiarity breeds contempt and in all honesty there are just too many graphs trying to explain inconsequentials. I can’t dispel the thought that there is a ‘sleeping bullet’ buried within the umpteen graphs and the 333 pages if I’m honest, but I may be just being cynical, which is a sad thing to have to report. This type of hyped-up, glossy corporate brochure has that effect on me.
So overtly corporate has HMRC become that we are even treated to a ‘View from the Top’ type of article from the ‘Chief Executive and Permanent Secretary’, which is a very strange title, giving on one hand a semblance of accountability to a board or maybe a chairman while on the other having that element of permanence that some say is enshrined in a career in the civil service.
His opening sentence is: “I’m proud to have spent my entire 36-year career in HMRC and its predecessor, Inland Revenue.” So the head of HMRC has never seen life ‘on the other side’, has never had to actually work to generate an income from a product that has actual competitors, has never experienced the effects that badly generated legislation can have on a business, has never had to generate a true sale, nor has ever had a genuine customer in the true sense of the word. Yet here he is smiling away, no frown from him, extolling the virtues of his business, his staff and their record of achievements.
Do we really need this type of hype? Do we really need this type of hype in this type of format? Do we really need 333 pages to explain what HMRC want to achieve, how they are going about it and how well they are doing at it? And let’s not get to what it cost to put together.
More importantly, should the head of HMRC actually be a full-time, lifelong company man? Should the head of our revenue service not have had 35 years being indoctrinated into a certain way of working, into a certain way of thinking? Should the head of our revenue service be able to call upon some work experiences that were not formulated from within the civil service? I have my opinion and I’m sure you will have yours.
It’s a huge document that should be vastly reduced into smaller chunks and released throughout the year, but it is apparent when they say “we are committed to making it easier for our customers to pay their taxes” they mean pay it sooner.
Working with Agents and Intermediaries
I couldn’t resist having a look at the section on ‘Working with Agents and Intermediaries’, which out of 333 pages covers two paragraphs; yep, that’s two paragraphs, not quite half a page. However, you will all be pleased to know that HMRC are working on improving standards, by which they mean OUR standards, because of course THEIR standards are so high they don’t need improving. So two paragraphs: the first one warning us that if our standards don’t meet their expectation you can expect a call from your professional body. The second paragraph tells us that they have developed the Agent Service Account and that we can deal with HMRC digitally! Oh, and that they have rebranded the old Joint initiative Steering Group, which was a grouping of themselves and some select professional bodies, and are calling it ‘The Representative Bodies Steering Group’. Which is a good way of saying ‘some of the Bodies Steering Group’, and basically that’s it. Half a page out of 333 says it all, really.
• Tony Margaritelli, Chair, ICPA