Strategy & Operations » Leadership & Management » HMRC CFO Simon Bowles resigns after six year stint

SIMON BOWLES, HMRC’s £185,000-a-year director general and chief financial officer, is set to leave his post for pastures new.

Bowles, an ex-Arthur Andersen man and one of scores of senior public servants earning more than the British prime minister, will officially depart in March 2015 – exactly six years after he took on the job.

HMRC chief executive, Lin Homer said: “Simon’s contribution to HMRC has been significant, both as the chief finance officer and through the wise counsel and continuity he has provided to ExCom through years of change. He can be proud of his achievements and of his contribution to the department.”

Yet news of his departure, at least how it was somewhat mischievously penned in a Sunday broadsheet’s City gossip column, provoked ire from the taxman’s most senior spin doctor.

The four paragraph story linked his departure to last week’s news that the HMRC had “totted up a further 100,000 tax bills incorrectly, after botching 5.5m payments for 2013/14”.

Taking the opportunity to “separate fact from insinuation” via the Sunday Telegraph’s comment section, HMRC comms director Stephen Hardwick, John Prescott’s former policy adviser  and speechwriter, responded how “our finance chief informed our CEO a long time ago that he had decided to leave on his sixth anniversary, but we only announced it this week because that’s when his six months’ notice begins. Simple, really.

“Second, he’s a permanent senior civil servant. He’s not on a contract, so the ‘not seeking to renew his contract for another three-year stint’ is tosh. He could stay as long as he likes.

“Third, the alleged ‘botched 5.5 million payments’, is the process that the PAYE system has gone through for the last 60 years, when any discrepancies between what tax has been paid by employees and what they owe are sorted out. This usually occurs because someone has changed jobs, had a pay rise, got a benefit or something which hasn’t been notified to HMRC during the year.

“With Real Time Information, the size of these discrepancies will reduce – provided we get the right information from employers – but there’s always likely to be the need to reconcile people’s tax accounts at the end of the year. Oh, and our latest best estimate is 18-20,000 incorrect notices were sent out in September, not 100,000. And none of this operational stuff comes under the chief finance officer.

“Finally, HMRC brought in record revenues last year – £506bn – to pay for our nation’s public services, so however much we might make mistakes from time to time (no organisation is infallible), we’re doing very well at the core job. And we achieved this while keeping within a shrinking budget. This budget stuff is what our Finance Chief is responsible for and he has done it brilliantly for the past five and a half years. He will be sorely missed when he goes.”

It’s not yet known where the former CFO of Fiberweb and deputy group FD of the RAC, is headed.