‘It’s all about delivering our digital transformation this year’ – HMRC chief

Deputy chief executive Angela MacDonald discusses her pride in the achievements of 2023, and the tax agency’s big plans to be ‘bold and innovative’ in using digital technology this year

The yearly Permanent Secretaries Roundup published by PublicTechnology sister publication Civil Service World sees government’s senior leaders discuss the experiences of the past year – as well as shedding light on their plans for festive season and the year beyond. Angela MacDonald, deputy chief executive and second permanent secretary of HM Revenue and Customs, reports on a year that made her proud, and a busy period of digitisation ahead.

 Tell us three words that sum up your 2023… 
Well, that’s quite simple… proud, proud, proud.

…And why you chose those words.   
Proud that each day HMRC collects the money that funds critical public services and provides financial support to those who need it most. For the majority of UK citizens and businesses, the regular process of tax collection happens seamlessly and digitally with no further effort required. Each day we keep the tax system safe and protect citizens data from harm. And importantly, we pursue those who do cause harm; this year saw the conclusion of our lengthy investigation into Bernie Ecclestone – who finally pleaded guilty to fraud and paid back £652m, which included a 200% penalty for failing to comply – a real success.

Proud to be deputy head of the operational delivery profession. The vast majority of the civil service is made up of colleagues spread right across the UK, delivering services for citizens. The operational delivery profession provides opportunities for all civil servants to develop skills – from apprenticeships to degree-level management qualifications. This year we’ve been investing in our most senior talent, supporting them with the skills to take on chief executive and director general roles. We are also stretching our skills into transformation, digital and AI, all capabilities necessary to deliver modern and digital government services. 

And proud of HMRC’s role on the world stage. We’re recognised globally as a world-leading tax authority – and when I speak to my international counterparts it really brings home to me what an excellent system we have. We play our part in supporting the UKs global reputation, supporting other countries to build tax capacity and capability. Tax is a truly global business and strength across the whole landscape in turn supports the UK; our success in the Bernie Ecclestone case was achieved with support from Singapore. We’re also focused on building a world-class customs capability. The historic Windsor Framework agreement between the UK and EU restored the smooth flow of trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland – and the publication of the Border Target Operating Model was a really significant piece of cross-government working, setting out how we’ll simplify and digitise the way goods from across the world are imported more safely and securely into the UK.

What are your organisational and personal priorities for 2024?  
For HMRC, it’s all about delivering our digital transformation. Millions of our customers have already switched to digital – good quality services, available 24/7 – through the HMRC app and online. But there is more to do and it’s our ambition to reduce contact by phone and post by an additional 30%. This is partly about delivering what our customers expect – 86% said they wanted to deal with us digitally in our most recent survey on contact method preferences – but it is also necessary to respond to efficiency targets and a growing customer base. Switching to online, for those that can, allows us to target our advisor resources towards those who really need extra support. 

We need to be bold and innovative in the way we do that, which can mean making brave choices. Over the summer we switched our self-assessment service to online, webchat and chatbot support rather than phone lines. We’re evaluating the lessons from that trial and they’re really encouraging.

But this is a change for our people as well as our customers. HMRC is going through a real period of transformation, and I personally want to ensure that our people are supported through that in the right way for them. 

What’s your favourite festive treat, and what makes you say: ‘Bah, humbug’?   
For me, Christmas is about family, so my festive treat is having my family at home around me, where we can all sit in our pyjamas all day if we want to, and just enjoy being together. This year feels extra special as it will be my first year as a granny, so I’ll be particularly enjoying spoiling my nine month-old granddaughter rotten! 

As for the bah, humbug – I’d say it’s the pressure to have a TV or Instagram version of a good Christmas. I definitely won’t be dressed in a sparkly dress or a Christmas jumper, playing family board games, simultaneously finding time to whip up a Mary Berry-style storm in the kitchen… But I will be enjoying spending time with the people that mean the most to me, doing whatever we all fancy.  

All entries in Civil Service World’s 2023 Permanent Secretaries Roundup can be read here

PublicTechnology staff

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