Chief executive Jim Harra discusses the many challenges of the year just gone, and those to come in the months ahead
As government moved into its second year of leading the country’s response to the coronavirus crisis – while also managing the UK’s ultimate exit from the European Union, delivering a potentially planet-saving global climate conference, and progressing major reform ambitions – civil servants were likely busier in 2021 than in any other year on record.
Jim Harra, chief executive of HM Revenue and Customs, reflects on the “high-wire act” that faced the department in 2021.
What was your highlight of 2021?
Delivering pay and contract reform for colleagues.
This was the first commitment I made when I became chief executive of HM Revenue and Customs in October 2019 and, a year-and-a half later, colleagues voted overwhelmingly for a deal that puts more money in their pocket, addresses unfairnesses in our old pay and contract system, and gives HMRC the employee deal we need to deliver better public services.
How did you tackle the biggest challenges facing your organisation in 2021?
Balancing HMRC’s priorities in 2021 felt like a high-wire act.
At the start of the year, we had to implement all the changes for the end of the EU exit transition period and support businesses to get to grips with them, for much of the year we had to continue running the furlough scheme and self-employed income support scheme, and, throughout, we had to keep key services in the tax system going.
Ending the coronavirus support schemes on 30 September was a key milestone in the UK’s – and HMRC’s – return to normality. I am immensely proud of how HMRC stepped up to the huge challenge of supporting 11.7 million jobs and 2.9 million self-employed people during the pandemic, but I am pleased that we are now able to focus more of our resources on administering the tax system.
What is your number one priority for 2022?
There are several to choose from – getting the tax system back on an even keel following the disruption caused by the pandemic; carrying out compliance checks on claims under the coronavirus support schemes and recovering any overpayments; delivering major government reforms like the Health and Social Care Levy; using the investment we were given in the Spending Review to modernise the tax and customs system and improve our defences against cybercrime.
Which historical, mythical or contemporary figure would you most like to join you for a New Year’s Eve celebration?
Patsy from Ab Fab.