Dick of the Year – Dave Hartnett
This is (probably) the final nomination for 2011’s Dick of the Year award. We will open voting tomorrow.
Nobody expects The Telegraph to like the taxman, but when they’re criticising him for not charging big businesses enough tax, you know he’s got to be pretty dodgy.
Dave Hartnett, the Permanent Secretary for Tax at HMRC, is well known to everyone who has ever been on a UK Uncut action as the man who let Vodafone, Goldman Sachs, and countless other corporations off their tax bills. A government report has found that £25 billion went uncollected, although some campaigners think the figure could be much higher.
Hartnett is also known as the most wined and dined civil servant in Whitehall, after having received corporate hospitality on 107 occasions between 2007 and 2009 – that’s an average of just over once a week. But with what they’re saving on tax, I’m sure these companies can afford to fund these little perks without passing on any undue cost to their shareholders.
Under Hartnett’s leadership, HMRC have operated in a culture of secrecy, which has included attempting to sack and prosecute Osita Mba for reporting the possibly illegal tax deals to the National Audit Office. When he was summoned to appear in front of the Public Accounts Committee, Hartnett refused to give full and open answers to MPs, claiming that the information was confidential. An HMRC spokesperson later criticised the PAC report for being “based on partial information, inaccurate opinion and some misunderstanding of facts”, apparently without any sense of irony.
But Dave Hartnett’s worst crime wasn’t the lack of transparency or accepting some free dinners – it was the part he played in making the cuts seem necessary. It suited the Coalition to have taxes under-collected, because if the government has less money coming in, that makes it seem more believable that the country can’t afford decent public services. All of the money that HMRC didn’t collect could have been used to fund schools, the NHS, social care, disability benefits, or any of the hundreds of other worthwhile things that have been affected by the austerity measures; but it’s not, because it’s still in the pockets of people who were already rich to begin with.
Despite calls for his resignation, Hartnett has stayed on in his £160K-a-year job, although he will retire in summer 2012 (at the age of 61, a luxury few other civil servants can afford). The title of Dick of the Year might be a fitting send off for him.