The chief executive of HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) is to step down as head of the tax authority in April, it has been announced.
Lin Homer – who was awarded a damehood in the latest New Year's Honours list – was appointed to the role in 2012. She previously served as permanent secretary at the Department for Transport, and before that as chief of the now-abolished UK Border Agency.
In a statement published on Monday, Homer said the start of the new Spending Review period was "a sensible time to move on".
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She added: "HMRC has secured ministerial support and funding for our ambitious transformation programme and it has the leadership team in place to deliver it. My successor will be able to put their full weight behind seeing the transformation through to 2020.
"It has been a privilege to have been with HMRC during a period when the improved performance of the department has been increasingly recognised and we have the full backing of ministers for our future plans.
"HMRC is a critical organisation which does vital things – to collect the revenues to pay for public services, support families with targeted financial support and facilitate trade for UK businesses. I have found commitment to public service and dedication to customers among our people wherever I have been, coupled with a deep level of specialist expertise and operational excellence."
The announcement of Homer's exit says that she is "not currently actively seeking her next role and intends to take a break over the summer", while Homer has told HMRC staff: "I will be fully sensitive to the responsibility and care that senior HMRC officials should take when considering the appropriateness of potential roles and organisations."
Homer's predecessor Dave Hartnett came under fire from some quarters for taking on an advisory role with tax consultancy Deloitte after leaving office.
HMRC is currently part-way through a change programme dubbed "Building Our Future", which includes plans for increased use of digital services, including a new system of personal tax accounts, as well as a radical downsizing of the tax authority's estate.
Its number of offices is set to fall from 170 to just 13 over the next decade, while HMRC headcount has also fallen significantly over the past decade – from 96,000 members of staff in 2005 to an expected 52,000 by this April.
In a press release accompanying the announcement of Homer's departure, the tax authority pointed to a number of achievements during her tenure, including "successive, record-breaking increases in total revenues and compliance revenues" and a reduction in the tax gap – the difference between the amount of tax due to the exchequer and the amount it actually collects in a given year.
According to the latest figures, HMRC has managed to increase total tax revenue in each of the past five years, with tax take up by £11.9bn between 2013-14 and 2014-15, while the tax gap has narrowed by 0.2% year-on-year.
But the tax authority has faced repeated criticism for elements of its work, particularly from MPs on the Public Accounts Committee, which used a recent report to highlight shortcomings on both customer service and the tackling of aggressive tax avoidance schemes.
Margaret Hodge – the former chairwoman of PAC who frequently clashed with Homer during public evidence sessions – took to Twitter on Monday to give her assessment of the chief executive's record.
The Labour MP wrote: "Lin Homer retiring at 58? Always polite and solid performer at PAC but presided over awful service to public, huge tax gap and poor morale."
Staff morale at HMRC was also the focus of reaction from the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union.
According to the latest civil service People Survey, staff engagement at the tax authority is the lowest of any government department, lagging some some 14 points behind the Whitehall average in spite of a 2% year-on-year improvement
Confidence in "leadership and managing change" at the department also improved slightly year-on-year, but at 30% is 12 points below the civil service average and again the lowest in the civil service.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: "We do not believe Lin Homer has been a force for good at HMRC and she leaves a department wracked by low staff morale, a highly politicised senior civil service and with industrial relations the worst we have ever known.
"Her departure is an opportunity to put these things right and we hope this initiative is seized, so we can work with senior officials to rebuild trust and put HMRC back together with the resources it needs to do its vital work."
But chancellor George Osborne heaped praise on the HMRC chief, saying she had made "a real contribution to public service modernisation and transformation".
He added: "She has put the foundations in place that will see HMRC become one of the most digitally-advanced tax authorities in the world. It is to Lin’s great credit that the National Audit Office last year judged HMRC to be one of the strongest departments in Government – a legacy of which she can be rightly proud."
Cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood meanwhile paid tribute to a "dedicated, professional and courageous colleague" who had been "a pleasure to work with".
"We all wish her the very best with whatever she decides to do next," he said.
Confirmation of Homer's intention to step down from the top job at HMRC comes just a week after Whitehall's current longest-serving perm sec, the Treasury's Nicholas Macpherson, announced that he would be leaving the civil service in the spring.