Many will already be aware of HMRC's somewhat less than inspiring reaction to the whistle-blowing activity which exposed the 2010 deal to "forgive and forget" the interest on a significant avoidance strategy allegedly undertaken by investment banker Goldman Sachs. Invoking anti-terrorism legislation to access the phone records of employees and their relatives... not good.
One might suggest that, if protecting the public's interest were truly at the heart of HMRC's executives' endeavours, they must have meant instead to investigate the HMRC employee who agreed the deal, rather than the person who brought it to the attention of the Public Accounts Committee. (To be clear, I don't suspect Mr. Hartnett of anything untoward either: compromise is implicit in negotiations, which are absolutely not enjoyed solely by multi-nationals. But surely HMRC's greater concern must have been with the alleged loss of £20 million, not the potential loss of face? No?)
A simple clerical error, then. Such mistakes abound. Slip of the pen, slip of the tongue.
For instance, in a statement recently given to the Public Accounts Committee about whistle-blowing, Lin Homer, HMRC's Chief Executive, said "we worked very hard to balance that pressure [on the whistle-blower] and create an environment in which he felt able to continue". (page 22)
But later, the Chair of the PAC refers to "an exchange of endless e-mails" between the Chief Executive and other senior HMRC officers, "trying to prevent him returning to his place of work". (page 24)
"Able to continue", "Unable to continue": it's an easy mistake to make. The rest of that section of the oral evidence report makes for interesting, and frankly unpalatable, reading, from a tax perspective. So much, er, "flannel", in PAC parlance, so little time.