He will take on the new role which was created in response to Edward Troup’s announcement in September that he would be retiring as chair of HMRC at the end of the year .
Harra’s appointment means that HMRC will continue to have a tax professional as one of its two permanent secretaries.
His appointment comes as no surprise to tax professionals. “It was so obvious he was going to get it,” said Frank Haskew, head of the ICAEW Tax Faculty. “But we certainly welcome it: he knows his stuff and he is someone you can do business with.”
He said that when he first met Jim Harra, he thought he would go far. “He had a knack of telling you how it is but it was also clear he cared about your concerns and how HMRC could improve. That’s really important when you are dealing with stakeholders whose members are at the sharp end when things go wrong. HMRC has picked a good ambassador.”
The profession was also pleased that HMRC had gone for continuity and appointed a senior tax specialist to the post.
“His experience within HMRC at board and EXCOM level is unrivalled and he is experienced in both the media and political spheres,” said Paul Aplin, ICAEW deputy president and tax partner in A C Mole.
“I have known Jim for 10 years and look forward to working with him in his new role.”
A career civil servant, Harra joined the Inland Revenue as an inspector of taxes in 1984. In January 2009, he was appointed director of corporation tax and VAT with responsibility for optimising their design and delivery. In March 2011, he was promoted to director of personal tax customer operations and seven months later to director personal tax operations.
He became director general business tax in April 2012 and took up his current dual role in October 2016.
He said that he was looking forward to his new appointment. “The work we are doing in the department to create a tax system that makes it easier for taxpayers to get things right, and to prepare for the UK leaving the EU, is vitally important and touches every life in the country.
“I am proud to have been given the opportunity to help lead this important work.”
In his new role he will be working in tandem with Jon Thompson, HMRC’s permanent secretary, who has been in post since April 2016.
An accountant by training, Thompson worked in the private sector before joining the civil service in 2004. He worked in various Whitehall departments, including a stint at the Treasury where he headed up the Government Finance Profession for three years, leading the accountancy community across government.
Thompson said he was delighted with Harra’s appointment. “There are some enormous and important challenges ahead for HMRC: our transformation programme to make us a world class, digital-first tax authority; our focus on supporting the hones majority and clamping down on the dishonest minority; and our work to rise to the challenges of exiting the EU – particularly customs and the border.
“Jim knows HMRC and its customers well and will bring his usual dedication, knowledge and professionalism to the role."
He added that he looked forward to working with him to tackle the challenges.