Britain's top taxman is set to retire after a catalogue of disasters while he was head of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. HMRC confirmed last night its under-fire Permanent Secretary of Tax David Hartnett is to retire next summer.
Mr Hartnett’s reign has been dogged by gaffes as well as controversy over his department’s dealings with big companies.He raised eyebrows by signing off a deal which let Goldman Sachs off a £10million tax bill. MPs on the powerful Public Administration Committee accused him of being ‘cavalier’ with taxpayers’ money last month.
The 60-year-old, who has been described as Britain’s most ‘wined and dined’ civil servant, was also quizzed over the 107 breakfasts, lunches and dinners he enjoyed over three years with big firms.Last year Mr Hartnett was hauled over the coals by the Chancellor following a fiasco that left millions of workers with the wrong tax code and facing hefty bills.He initially refused to say sorry to the 1.4million families landed with unexpected demands averaging £1,400 each.
But following an intervention from Chancellor George Osborne, he was forced to issue a grovelling apology.
While the HMRC veteran survived that crisis, he faced more calls to resign over a series of ‘sweetheart’ deals he has struck with big companies.MPs repeatedly accused him of lying over a settlement with U.S. bank Goldman Sachs, which cost the taxpayer as much as £8million. Mr Hartnett was also heavily criticised over a deal he signed with Vodafone. After a lengthy legal battle, the mobile phone giant handed over £1.25billion to settle an investigation into its 2000 takeover of German rival Mannesmann.
However, documents leaked from the non-ministerial department suggest the tax authorities had wanted to collect £6billion from Vodafone. HMRC dismisses this figure as an ‘urban myth’.Last week the Daily Mail revealed a rebel group of tax office staff have set up a whistle-blowing network aimed at exposing what they claim to be errant bosses within HMRC.
The group claims to have 324 members and ‘a presence in every office in the UK’ and says it is ‘tired of the corruption, ineptitude and mismanagement from within the department in recent years’.Recent research shows low morale at HMRC has affected its service as just 13 per cent of staff felt that when changes were made they were usually for the better.Only 18 per cent felt motivated to help the tax office meet its objectives and only 37 per cent of employees thought poor performance was dealt with effectively.A spokesman for HMRC said: 'Dave Hartnett has neither resigned nor been sacked. He has chosen to retire in the summer of 2012 aged 61.'