There is, this evening, a decided sense of ‘there but for the grace of God go I’ following the resignation of Paul Gray, HMRC’s Chairman.
Like many of my colleagues, I’m pretty horrified by the security breach which was announced by Alastair Darling earlier this afternoon, and the notion that someone should simply download that amount of sensitive information and just stick it in the post is almost too bizarre to comprehend. However, it has been done, and the Government appears to have dealt with it reasonably well, taking measured steps to protect the public and to prevent panic.
There will be calls for the Chancellor and his junior ministers to resign, no less, and whilst their positions are already vulnerable following the Northern Rock fiasco, this should not be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, if only because the camel’s spine failed at the point where it became apparent that taxpayer monies were far from secure, as we had been promised. A breach of security protocol by a junior officer such as this, in clear contravention not only of established guidance but of sheer common sense, should not be pinned upon Ministers, but should be dealt with through our internal disciplinary procedures.
No, my sympathies are with Paul Gray. I don’t know him at all well, having only read various statements from him in recent years, but he has a reputation for being the person sent in to fire-fight when something has gone badly wrong. He was the senior officer sent to turn around the Tax Credit Office and, whilst it might not be perfect now, it is far better than it was when he took over.
His resignation was, in my view, extraordinarily honourable. Yet, by doing the decent thing, he may yet have created a rather different problem for this Government. If it is appropriate for the head of a Government Department to accept responsibility for the actions of those answerable to him, what obligation does that place on the Minister? Those who have commented thus far on the BBC News website seem mostly to acknowledge that Gray has acted with honour, and there are many who will contrast that with the approach of the Chancellor, finding the latter wanting.
As an individual with ‘form’ in this area of civic morality and ethics, you might expect me to call for consistency, yet I am hesitant. At least we have been given an example that might inform politicians in the future, be they from Labour, the Conservatives or any other political grouping responsible for representing and serving the public. The public should at least be grateful for that...
Two brief comments - the one which went in the post actually got there, and, secondly, I still think the Tax Credit Office is an absolute disaster - it still gets 42% of its payments wrong, causing hardship and misery for millions.
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