SKETCH: Public Servants Beyond Control

Yesterday, the Public Accounts Committee was enquiring into whether Gift Aid is being abused, or is doing what it’s meant to (increase charitable giving).

In the course of several seething exchanges, Margaret Hodge said to the head of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs:

“That inconsistency is unacceptable. Really, really unacceptable.”

“You are saying absolutely the opposite of what you’re saying in the report”

“You are giving me a graph that doesn’t even tell me what it’s measuring!”

“I didn’t understand a word of that.”

Lin Homer’s department allows its officials to brief information to journalists that it steadfastly refuses to Parliament.

To journalists they can say: “This is the inside track that justifies the cosy, sweetheart, one-soapy-hand-washing-the-other behaviour of HMRC.” And then to the Public Accounts Committee they say: “We will not answer your question. It’s client confidentiality, you see. We’d like to. Yes, transparency is a target which we are increasingly out-performing.”

The committee found no way through Ms Homer’s administrative thicket to attack her position effectively.

Are we lay members of the well-informed, well-connected, politico-media-lobby-academic class sure we have a clear idea what we’re up against?




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