ARC responds to Lib Dem announcement of 2,250 new tax inspectors

Everybody has seen press reports of Danny Alexander’s speech on Sunday to the Liberal Democrats conference in Birmingham. ARC members will have recognised the announcement of “2250 new tax inspectors” firstly as yet another abuse of a still-cherished job title; and second and more importantly, simply as a recycling of last year’s news, about a part of the SR reinvestment package.

Alexander’s exact words to the conference in fact referred to “HMRC staff” rather than tax inspectors, so maybe he’s off the hook on that one, and in fact that whole part of his speech is specifically trailed as a progress report on last year’s announcement. So if we have any issue with what Danny Alexander actually said, perhaps it should just be with the misleading impression the 2250 posts will go to people newly-recruited into HMRC, and that 1000 jobs are presently being advertised.

As we know, the 2250 posts will be going to staff HMRC would otherwise have been seeking to make redundant; and although there are 1000 jobs being advertised this month, they are not being advertised externally, only across the Civil Service in line with new recruitment rules, and in the main with a requirement for HMRC experience which will in effect exclude potential candidates from other government departments. So any jobseekers flocking to their local Jobcentre on the back of Danny Alexander’s speech will inevitably be disappointed.

So how did the media manage to distort some fairly plain facts? From the Guardian through The Independent to The Daily Mail and The Telegraph; and the BBC, Sky and Channel 4 websites, all of them had the same take on the Danny Alexander speech [credit to The Guardian though for seeing through it, that same day].

The thrust of his speech was mentioned in an exclusive interview with Danny Alexander which appeared in The Independent on Sunday, and reference to “2250 tax inspectors” appeared on the BBC’s website on Sunday morning before he had even spoken, all of which points to a press release containing something subtly different from the text of what Mr Alexander was due to say that afternoon. Try searching for it on the Lib Dems’ website though. You may find it to be somewhat elusive.

Which all goes to show, I think, that the Coalition is being served by media advisors who are every bit as clever as Alastair Campbell.

Steve MacFarlane

ARC Committee

Gareth Hills, ARC’s Defeat the Deficit Campaign Manager adds:

Steve is absolutely right to say this is nothing more than a rehash of last year’s message. Other priorities means that ARC’s Defeat the Deficit Campaign is currently on the back burner, but this shows that our central message remains a valid one – and is one that seems to have gained a degree of political consensus with all parties understanding the need to crack down on avoidance and evasion, something we welcome.

Unfortunately, though, there is no similar consensus on a solution – one ARC has already provided in its budget submission calling for an investment into HMRC resource of just £260m to secure additional revenue of £6bn.

It’s time for the Government to reconsider that, and it’s certainly time for the Government to move from cheap political point scoring to serious politics – to move from the economics and politics of the playground to the economics and politics of sense, to solutions that the country, and the financial crisis, demand and deserve.

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