Directors' Cut: HMRC's Robert Jones kicks off our series of quick-fire interviews with directors from across government

Directors do some of the most interesting and challenging work in the civil service. Here, Robert Jones, intermediaries director, HMRC, explains what it takes to do his job
Robert Jones was once offered a bribe of Chinese medicine

By Civil Service World

30 Jun 2023




What does your role involve?

We work to transform HMRC’s approach to those various bodies (paid tax agents and other “intermediaries”) that act in some way between HMRC and its customers. Our aim is to make the system more efficient while driving up market standards and ensuring customers are properly protected.

To do your job well you need...

Strong internal and external stakeholder engagement skills to build a persuasive, evidence-based case for change and then drive forward whatever action is needed to make that change.

First job in government?

An immigration officer at Dover stamping passports, interviewing asylum seekers and searching lorries – there was a separate immigration and customs function back then and I interviewed travellers entering the country.

Proudest achievement to date?

Probably setting up the first national response to victims of human trafficking. We were implementing an international treaty in UK law, meaning that for the first time there would be a multi-agency framework for identifying and providing protection for victims of trafficking. Within a year, we’d identified the first victims and provided them with appropriate, targeted support. It was a frantic period of change with a tangible outcome which provided the basis of today’s modern slavery response.

Headshot of Robert JonesMost bizarre thing that’s happened to you at work?

Working for the immigration office landed me in some strange situations, from a night in the back of a van with Essex police waiting for a vehicle suspected of carrying illegal immigrants to unload, to being offered a bribe of Chinese medicine. Memorably, I once interviewed a traveller who had already been refused entry to the UK, but insisted it was her first visit. When shown her details on the computer she claimed that was her identical twin sister, same name and everything. I asked if this was very confusing for her family, but she said it never caused problems, then invited me out for dinner. I refused, of course!

If you weren’t a civil servant you’d be... 

A forester – I like trees and woodland. I was a chef for a while so I could have done that, or maybe a professional tennis player if I’d had any talent! 

What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve ever been given?

To identify and control risk but not be scared of it. You have to take risks to make a difference.

If you could wave a magic wand over the civil service, what would you change?

I’d make it less constrained by bureaucracy and process, and to have a greater appetite for risk and be more willing to fail and learn from it.

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