It is unusual for a tax official to become the subject of widespread public opprobrium, but David Hartnett may well have set the standard by which future HM Revenue & Customs senior officials are judged. The man blamed by many of the Vodafone fiasco where, it is alleged, said multinational avoided as much as £4 billion pounds in tax liabilities, and linked to the deal whereby Goldman Sachs dodged £10 million in interest charges that other companies, in similar circumstances, were forced to settle, has become a lightning rod for political dissatisfaction with a Government Department struggling with low morale, pressure to reduce costs by 5% per annum and an increasingly complex tax code.
The announcement that he will be retiring next summer will have come as a surprise to many, including many working for HMRC itself, although the arrival of a new Chief Executive, Lin Homer, does offer a convenient window of opportunity - she will probably want to build a new team around her, and at sixty-one, Dave might not want to be a part of it.
On a personal note, and as someone extremely junior in this rather large, critically important piece of governmental architecture, I can't claim to know much about his performance. That said, his solid grounding in the technical areas of taxation always earned respect, especially amid a leadership who were usually appointed on the basis that knowing how to run an organisation is more important than knowing anything about tax. In truth, in an organisation that prides itself on its professionalism and specialist knowledge, theory is rather secondary to practice, and many of us are reassured by the notion that someone 'upstairs' actually might understand what we do.
I suspect that the history books might not be too kind to Dave, and would suggest that he will be one of the early casualties of a media that does not respect the old model of confidentiality and discretion that stood the Civil Service so well in the past. Civil servants did not take public positions, and in return, the media didn't attack them, as the Minister was responsible. The idea that a civil servant might have to publicly defend a position or an action remains something that is quite difficult to adapt to.
And so, what do we know about the new broom? A former Chief Executive of Suffolk County Council, and then Birmingham City Council, she has reached her current position via roles as Chief Executive of the UK Borders Agency and Permanent Secretary at the Department of Transport. So, no obvious tax background there. Trained as a lawyer... but not a tax lawyer, as I understand it.
However, the Deputy Leader of Suffolk County Council, when she was Chief Executive, was none other than my lovely wife who, naturally, is far too discreet to say very much. But if she's from Suffolk, she can't be bad, can she...