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Who appoints these State stooges?

In 2011 it was widely believed that Dave Hartnett, boss of HMRC, in a multi-billion offshore avoidance dispute with Vodaphone, had let off the company with some paltry payment without even consulting his lawyers. The PAC therefore instructed the National Audit Office, headed by Amyas Morse, to investigate this and 4 other dodgy deals.

Before this inquiry had even begun, Hartnett and Morse had a private meeting on 15 December 2011, after which Hartnett circulated an email to several senior colleagues saying that Morse “told me that he has made clear to the NAO (i.e. his own organisation) that his expectation is that nothing of substance will be found in the review”. This prejudicing of the result of the investigation clearly raises questions about Morse’s integrity and impartiality as Britain’s auditor-general and principal inquisitor into public spending. But he has form.

He had already assured MPs that it “wasn’t very likely” that the Vodaphone settlement had been “unreasonable”, i.e. even at an earlier stage protecting Hartnett from any serious embarrassment. So who appointed Morse in the first place and checked on his quality and honesty of judgement?

I myself had a previous experience of Morse. As Environment Minister I had resisted for 2 years giving approval for the commissioning of the MOX (mixed oxide fuel) plant at Sellafield on the grounds that it was a ‘white elephant’ for which there was no market.

In the end my judgement was overruled by Blair. In the first decade the plant was supposed to produce 120 tonnes of MOX fuel; it produced 8 tonnes, and none of it was sold. I therefore wrote to Morse demanding that he undertake an inquiry into this waste of £1.2bn of taxpayers’ money. Morse wrote back declining to do so on the grounds that it was a long time ago and there were now no lessons to be drawn from it. So did this man, either spineless or corrupt, get his job as Britain’s public spending watchdog?

Nor is this the only example of apparent corporate influence over HMRC. Volker Beckers was finance director of RWE Npower plc which for nearly a decade avoided any payment of corporation tax through offshore financing. Not a man, one would have thought, to appoint to the board of HMRC.

But, strangely, that happened. It gets worse. The chairman, Ian Barlow, was previously head of tax at KPMG when they were running their most aggressive tax avoidance schemes, while HMRC’s head of tax, Edward Troup, was formerly a City lawyer when he opined that tax avoidance “is not immoral, it is inevitable in a market economy”. Just the people to give Osborne cover when he pretends to be cracking down on avoidance of tax.

The Treasury Select Committee and PAC should be stringently challenging these appointments at the outset, refusing to ratify them if there are good grounds for doubting their suitability, and even after being appointed recalling them where necessary to answer accusations about their performance and passing a vote of no confidence in them where justified.


  1. Patrick Coates says:

    Please explain why you are at a New Labour conference Saturday with Clair Hawkins, Owen Jones and Tristram Osborne, CLPD have said this organisation is finished, or is Peter Willsman mistaken?

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      Patrick: You’re right that a small number of people on the Labour left have agreed to speak at the Progress conference this year including Michael Meacher, Owen Jones and Ann Pettifor. I am sure that they will all put a left case to a largely unappreciative audience, but there are always some people who can be moved even at these events. As to whether they are “finished”, I think that is not yet clear. There is quite a lot of hostility to them from mainstream Labour supporters and within the trade unions which I think has harmed their credibility. However, they are still very well funded by Lord Sainsbury and money buys quite a it of attention and organisation. On the ground though they have always been weak, having depended on the corruption of a command and control system which is now being dismantled, and they are now feeling weaker and under attack. That is no doubt why they were so keen to have some token lefties speaking.

  2. peter willsman says:

    What I have said is that they are on the way into the dustbin of history.Their heads are in the dustbin but their feet are still poking out.

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