Monday, December 05, 2011

Meltdown Britain - Tax Office Staff Ready to Rebel

Britain's Daily Mail is reporting that rebel staff at Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs offices up and down the Kingdom have set up a whistleblower network to expose "corruption, ineptitude and mismanagement" within the tax department. According to the Mail: "The group, calling themselves Dissent, claim to have 324 members and ‘a presence in every office across the UK".

HMR&C has been in a state of meltdown since well before the current government took office in 2010. Staff cutbacks launched by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown have weakened capacity to tackle Britain's yawning tax gap (see photo), and senior management have displayed extraordinary weak judgement, most recently in respect of the special deal done with Goldman Sachs. It was this deal, according to the Mail, which triggered the launch of Dissent:

"Dissent appear to have formed after it emerged the country’s top tax official signed off a deal which let investment bank Goldman Sachs off a £10million tax bill."

The official in question is David Hartnett, who has recently been the target of civil society demands for his resignation. Hartnett and his advisers are also responsible for the appalling agreement between switzerland and the UK, which appeases tax evaders while undermining international attempts to cooperate against organised tax evasion.

On this matter, the dissenters at HMR&C are clearly infuriated by the double standards of successive UK governments which crack down hard on (mainly less-well-off) benefit fraudsters, while doing nothing about (mainly wealthy) tax dodgers:

"We wish to speak out against the bad practice and double standards that operate in Revenue & Customs. We wish for a fair tax system that does not reward the wealthy elite and big business.

‘We have amassed a comprehensive database of personal information on staff members including expenses, benefits, conflicts of interest etc."

The tax justice agenda is deepening in unexpected ways. Revenue officials are better placed than most to expose tax injustices at the coalface. We hope the UK government will carefully review the complaints raised by the dissenters at HMR&C and take action against the causes of the complaint. Tax justice is a fundamental of parliamentary democracy, and when tax officials turn whistleblowers there are strong grounds for concluding that something rotten is at hand.

The original Mail article can be read here.


Blogger James said...

This is something hugely significant, and potentially also very dangerous.

I was for 20 years a civil servant. One of the things that was dinned into me was that in Britain civil servants are political neutrals: we are allowed a degree of political engagement (but that narrows the further up the ladder you go), but when push comes to shove, orders from management have to be obeyed, whatever issues of conscience you have with the politics involved. The only legitimate way to refuse to comply with an instruction is to resign.

Whistleblowing is not an act of political rebellion. But organising a network (and calling it Dissent to boot) is a different matter. I'd see that as an act against the tradition of neutrality, and if I am right it strikes right to the heart of the British constitution - hence its importance.

Now you may wonder where I'm coming from with this, that I should offer such warnings. My answer is not that I condemn or commend Dissent: it is that I am unsurprised that, after successive Conservative and Labour governments poisoned the public-sector ethos by introducing special advisors at managerial level, people at the shop floor should decide they can do the same. It suggests that there needs to be a major re-examination of the existing constitutional settlement to rein in all undue political influences in the Civil Service. The alternative - a politicised bureaucracy like that which exists in, for example, the USA - is too dreadful to contemplate.

6:20 am  

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