HMRC Is Shite

HMRC Is Shite
Dedicated to the taxpayers of Britain, and the employees of Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC), who have to endure the monumental shambles that is HMRC.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

New Head of HR

Accountancy Age reports that Mike Clasper (one of the "committee of three" running HMRC) is to recruit a new head of HR for HMRC.

As noted, the job spec requires the new HR head to inspire the thousands of demoralised staff whilst making a few thousand redundant.

Any takers?

Tax does have to be taxing.

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  1. Why don't you apply for the job, Ken?

  2. Do HR departments do anything apart from cost money? They don't have any real input to how an organisation is run and that's what matters.

    Staff morale is more to do with being part of an efficient organisation whose value you can believe in, in feeling your own efforts make a difference and in having them properly recognised.

    Off topic, but I suspect the civil service unions have a lot to do with low morale because of a leftist ethos that prevents salary being properly performance related. I haven't worked in public sector myself but I have worked in a huge blue chip company with strong white collar unions and have seen what they do to staff quality, the decent people just leave.

  3. xoggoth,

    You raise some very interesting points.

    HR departments take a lot of flak in any organisation, much of which is quite probably justified. At the end of the day, you can't get away from the fact that HR functions have to be carried out - pay, recruitment, training, career development, etc all have to be administered within an organisation somewhere. The question then is whether, and to what extent, these functions should be centralised, rather than carried out by local line management. Err, discuss!

    I strongly agree with your second paragraph. I think that is the crux of the problem that HMRC currently has with staff morale. I don't agree with the assertions frequently made on this site that the senior management is entirely to blame for that, however. Mistakes have certainly been made: for example the department didn't have the security culture that it should have, and I remember the predecessor to this week's Vision statement that was published during the Varney era - when the organisation responsible for administering the tax system has a vision statement that doesn't mention money it's pretty obvious that staff are not going to buy in to its direction! However, morale is always going to suffer due to the upheaval caused by the merger of two very large organisations and, in particular, because of the ensuing building and staff reductions. Having said that, I think that having VAT and the former IR taxes in the same body makes a lot of sense (border controls is another question), and reducing staff costs is not necessarily a bad thing where efficiencies can be made without unacceptably compromising services (which, of course, is this blog’s favourite topic).

    I suppose you can say that, by definition, any union is leftist, as the whole concept of the union movement is basically a socialist one. I don't get the impression that the two unions that represent HMRC staff (PCS and ARC) are particularly Marxist. On the question of performance related pay, however, I think it’s important to consider the people who join, and remain in, HMRC.

    Traditionally, HMRC (and, I presume, other government departments) pay less than their public sector equivalents (though I did see a TV show about a former Zoom airline call centre employee who had been on £11,000!) and, as you say, performance pay has generally been resisted. In return, the attractions are job security, work-life balance, and the pension. How long we keep our final salary pensions remains to be seen, but there are accountants working in the department who joined, on a salary a fraction of what they were getting from the Big Four, because HMRC does not require them to work 85 hours a week!

    Given the above, I don't think performance related pay would be a great motivator for the people who choose to work there. Yes, there is the danger of some of the good people leaving – some, who are sufficiently motivated by money (and don't mind the hours and stress), will always go to PricewaterhouseCoopers and sell avoidance schemes. The introduction of a more performance related pay system would not change this unless it was accompanies by a massive increase in pay, which would never be politically acceptable.

    The general feeling among HMRC staff with whom I have discussed this seems to be that performance related pay would be seen as demotivating and divisive. Given that the people who work there generally do not do so in the blinkered pursuit of a bigger paycheque, I'm inclined to think they're right.
    Personally I am (marginally) against performance-based pay. What is important is performance-based promotion, which obviously leads to higher pay. You should be paid for the job you do, and if you’re good enough at it you should be promoted. This is something that has traditionally been problematic in The Inland Revenue (and, I think, in C&E). There are grades to which it has previously been almost impossible to be promoted without passing exams, which is fair enough because you need to know the tax law to be able to do the job. However, getting onto the (lengthy) exam courses is dependent on success at recruitment events. As a result, someone who is excellent at their job and very well suited to the job at the higher grade can fail the assessment centre because they have an off day. Similarly, it is presumably possible for someone to have a really good day! I will caveat this criticism by saying that the use of assessment centres is perfectly in line with wider commercial practice in the private sector.

    On the other hand, things are changing, as there is now more of a management-based career path, which does not require someone to sit tax exams. There is some disquiet about this, however, because of the fear that professional managers without tax expertise end up managing people doing tax technical work, although I have never come across this being a problem (I’m sure I can be corrected on this) and there are plenty of management positions in the organisation that don't require in-depth tax knowledge.

    I look forward to being selectively quoted by Ken! :)

  4. what will be interesting and useful is if the new bod can motivate the HR department to provide a better service.

    In the old days if you had a HR problem then you sat down with somebody from HR, discussed the problem face to face and came out of the meeting with a solution.

    Now we either email or phone, what are, effectively, call centres, with staff who won't deal with the complicated issues (well duh! these are the only times that we feel the need to contact HR), because it takes them too much time and impacts on targets (I'd love to see if there's anything about QUALITY in the aformentioned targets). In other words HR is a waste of time!

  5. I'd like to confirm that Performance Related Pay already exists within in HMRC, and it clearly doesn't work.

    The rules seem to change on an annual basis, but the fundamental concept is that your performance is rated and your pay rise is weighted accordingly. (That is a very simplified explanation - the reality is rather more detailed)

    However, HMRC still has a strong 'buddy' culture whereby some people will be given a Top box marking year after year because they're good friends with their manager, not because of the strength of their contribution.

    Additionally, there are caps in place which limit how many Top box markings can be given. Thus, out of a team of 50, 10 people can give an outstanding service for the year and deserve a Top marking, but only 5 will actually get it due to the imposed financial limits.

    Put this into perspective. You work your arse off all year and are told at the end of it, "Sorry, but we've reached our limit for Top box markings so I can only give you a 'Good' I'm afraid". Meanwhile, a smooth-talking wastrel in a different team 20 feet away who doesn't do a spot of work all year gets a Top box marking because he regularly goes to the pub with his boss. Trust me, this is not an invented example - it actually happens on a frighteningly regular basis.

    Accordingly, the PRP system in HMRC doesn't work. It does not consistently reward Top performers, but rather gives a cursory nod towards a concept which should, in theory, work very well.

  6. PP is an active demotivator - it means in effect: "find out what the minimum effort is to obtain a "good" marking"... and don't do a jot more than that, because one thing is for sure, unless you're one of the boss's drinking/golfing buddies you ain't gonna ever get a "top" marking.

  7. Re tax specialists being managed by non specialists - this is becoming a greater problem with many VAT specialists(ex C and E) now managed by ex Inland Revenue managers who don't have a clue about VAT and would can't recognise whether a VAT specialist has done a good job or not - and is causing a lot of resentment in the ranks. I do agree with the comments about the TOP markings going to the smooth talking wastrels and those of us who slave away on the casework being overlooked