Jon Thompson admits HMRC staff have “very little trust in senior leadership”

New chief executive and permanent secretary tells MPs that technology issues and new performance management regime are at the root of organisation’s problems

By Jim Dunton

09 Jun 2016

The new chief executive and permanent secretary of HM Revenue & Customs has admitted that staff morale “remains rather worryingly low” at the organisation and that further work is required to improve the situation.

Speaking before MPs on the Treasury Select Committee on 8 June, Jon Thompson said he was still trying to “get to the bottom” of the issues behind the organisation’s low scores in the annual Civil Service People Survey.

However, in his first appearance before the committee since taking the helm of HMRC from Dame Lin Homer earlier this year, Thompson conceded that IT problems and a new performance management regime were core problems that required attention. 

What does the latest Civil Service People Survey tell us about staff morale?

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Last year, HMRC year landed a People Survey engagement score of 45% – the lowest in the survey’s rankings, and considerably below the civil service wide benchmark of 58%. 

In addition to that score – which measures factors such as how proud staff are of their organisation, and how much it inspires them – HMRC was ranked bottom of the list in the “pay and benefits” and “leadership and managing change” categories.

Thompson told MPs that in the 10 weeks since he took the helm of HMRC, he and executive chairman Edward Troup had made a point of visiting staff around the country to gauge their views. 

“I’ve probably met more than 3,000 members of staff so far,” he said. “What I generally find are teams who are very proud of what they are doing; who are very proud to demonstrate what they are doing; they generally are very positive about their immediate team leader.”

However, under further questioning, Thompson added that there was a disconnect between the staff he talked to and staff survey results that showed there was “very little trust in the senior leadership” of the organisation.

“It is concerning that the people you meet are happy, like doing [their work], and are proud of it; but when they fill in that staff survey, they say they don’t like HMRC,” he said.

“People are concerned about performance management and they’re concerned about the technology offer that we’re giving them. 

“We are rolling out new technology across the whole of the estate, so we think we should be able to solve that; and we’re looking at a performance management system […] which people regard as a sort of totemic thing: they really, really don’t like it and we’re listening very, very carefully to what we can do about it.”

MPs also quizzed Thompson and Troup on HMRC’s handling of the “tax gap” between revenue owed and revenue received, and on investigations into offshore tax-avoidance in the wake of the Panama Papers revelations earlier this year.

Troup told the committee that around 70 HMRC staff were engaged in investigation work under a £10m programme announced by chancellor George Osborne.

Despite telling the committee that the Panama Papers were only part of a bigger picture of intelligence work for the department, he also admitted that investigators had so far been unable to get access to the documents from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

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