The appointment of Dave Hartnett, the former head of operations at HM Revenue & Customs, to a part-time job at the accountants Deloitte has drawn adverse comments, as indeed it deserved. Mr Hartnett was last in the headlines for agreeing a so-called “sweetheart” tax deal with Goldman Sachs. The arrangement was declared legal, but it left the impression that, while “little guys” must pay tax as decreed by the Revenue, “big guys” can negotiate their terms.
The Government’s advisory committee on such appointments has set what seem quite lax conditions on Mr Hartnett’s work for Deloitte. In principle, though, the conditions hardly matter. It is the idea of the gamekeeper turned poacher – and for much bigger bucks than he could have earned in government – that leaves a sour taste with the tax-paying classes.
In many ways, though, it is invidious to single out Mr Hartnett. He has done no more than tread a well-worn path. There are certain Civil Service positions – in the upper echelons of the tax inspectorate, defence and diplomacy – which equip their holders to command big rewards elsewhere. Generous public sector pension provision allows such individuals to enjoy the best of both worlds.
Nor is a revolving door between public and private sectors in itself undesirable. There are good arguments for greater mobility of staff, especially at more junior levels, than at present. The chief objection to the career pattern of Mr Hartnett and others is that – unlike in the US, where people routinely move in and out of government – these post-retirement consultancies are risk-free and it is less the individual’s ability that justifies such high fees, but the knowledge and contacts acquired in government.
It would be hard to ban such moves altogether, though tighter rules and stricter enforcement would be an advance. Perhaps, though, the Government should be more protective of expertise acquired during public service and demand a hefty recruitment fee from private business to ensure that the bounty is shared.