HMRC chief salutes digital progress but targets reform of pay and processes

Jim Harra sheds light on the department’s priorities for 2020 – and why he once hid his sister’s Christmas presents

The annual perm secs round-up published by PublicTechnology sister publication Civil Service World sees Whitehall’s senior leaders open up on their biggest challenges and opportunities – as well as their remembrances of Christmases past. Jim Harra, chief executive of HM Revenue and Customs, discusses digital tax, improving respect across the department, and hiding his sister’s Christmas presents.

What was your highlight of 2019?
Throughout the whole year, colleagues in HMRC have performed amazingly, collecting record revenues to pay for the UK’s public services, continuing to transform the way we administer the tax, customs and benefits system, and helping businesses get ready for Brexit. I’m incredibly proud of how everyone has stepped up to these challenges.

What has been the most significant change in your organisation this year?
The huge progress in delivering on our objectives. From opening two of our 13 new regional centres and migrating 1.3 million businesses onto a new digital service that makes it easier for them to get their VAT right, to launching a fresh Customs Declaration Service for traders – it’s been a busy year.

What will be the biggest challenge of 2020 – and how are you preparing to meet it?
Our biggest challenge is making HMRC a great place to work. Colleagues are very engaged with their jobs but they are unhappy with the impact of change on them and their work, and very displeased with their pay. In addition, the respect at work review we completed in 2019 shows that colleagues do not always experience behaviours which meet HMRC’s core values. We have submitted a proposal for pay reform to HM Treasury, making the case for a fairer, more sustainable pay deal for HMRC staff next year. And on respect at work, we have begun to reform our HR policies and processes, including a programme to improve the capabilities of managers and staff to recognise and address unacceptable behaviour. We have also held conversations with over 16,000 colleagues that will define shared standards of behaviour across HMRC.

Tell us a favourite festive memory from your youth…
To prove to my younger sister that it was our parents, and not Santa, who filled our stockings, I once hid all the nuts and satsumas before going to bed on Christmas Eve. On Christmas morning, my mum was waiting at the bottom of the stairs. She forced me to reveal the whereabouts of the missing stocking fillers and then sent us back to bed until Santa had “finished his delivery”. 

Sam Trendall

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