Champion of change at HMRC

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Mark Young has spent 19 years working at HMRC. His biggest success? Making the taxman work better for accountants. 

Over the past 19 years, Mark Young has been a tax adviser, project manager, forensic accountant and advisory accountant. His work has changed a lot but his employer has stayed the same. Young, who celebrated 25 years of AAT membership at an AAT achievement ceremony in 2016, was one of the first accountants to be hired by the Inland Revenue in the mid-1990s, when it was going through major change. And he grasped the opportunity afforded by a completely new role to shape the Taxman’s approach for years to come.

Where it all began

Young entered accountancy at an early age: “It appealed from the point of view of job security, and the qualification and the salary looked quite appealing as well.” He decided to get qualified with AAT, and enjoyed it. He completed the qualifications aged 18 and started working at a small firm. By 23, he was ACCA-qualified, and then he took the ICAEW course as well. After working at a couple of firms, he spotted a job ad for an accountancy role at the Inland Revenue. The role was a blueprint for what was to come. Self-assessment had just launched, and various tax cases had established the importance of accountancy principles as the basis for determining taxable profits. That changed the approach, and the Inland Revenue didn’t have any accountants to tell it what those principles were. Young was brought in to cover the London area. “I was the second person to come into the role,” he says. “There are now over 140 people doing it.”

Always improving

Young noticed quite early on that Revenue staff didn’t really understand how accountants prepared accounts and tax returns. Having worked in practice, he was well placed to change that. One of his early initiatives was to get Revenue staff to talk to accountants in practice to understand how they worked. That way, the Revenue could become more collaborative and advisory. “Returns and accounts used to either be wrong or right, and there was only one response – open an inquiry,” Young says. “Now, it’s more about understanding why something has gone wrong.”

Young’s ideas caught the attention of head office, and he was invited to implement them nationally. After the Inland Revenue became HMRC, some of Young’s ideas were formalised as part of a wider tax-agent strategy. Young also developed another part of that strategy: how HMRC supports accountants prior to returns being submitted. This involved observing both accountants and tax inspectors, and noting where their priorities diverged. Part of the solution was to create toolkits on common problem areas. Eventually 20 were made. “It’s one of the things I’m most proud of,” says Young. “Those toolkits are still in use now.”

Onwards and upwards

With that project behind him, Young was put through HMRC’s talent pool programme, which involved regular leadership training and mentorship. One mentor, a member of the senior executive committee, asked Young to undertake a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis. As a result, Young realised that he wanted another change. So he moved into forensic accounting in HMRC’s criminal investigations department. “It’s an entirely different approach,” he says. “It’s more like police work. It’s all about intelligence; it’s less about accounting standards.”

Recently, Young changed roles again. He is now an advisory accountant in the HMRC Solicitor’s Office, offering advice to policymakers and lawyers, and overseeing the advice that HMRC accountants provide. “Some of the concepts that you’re looking at are quite abstract, because you’re looking at something new. So you have to apply your knowledge of accountancy and determine how it will work in the real world. You do almost feel that the buck stops with you. It’s a lot of responsibility,” he says. For Young, he’s in the right place at the right time again – a pattern throughout his career: “With FRS 102 and 105, all of the old accounting standards have been ripped up and chucked in the bin. I’m here at the front end of it, which is exactly where I need to be.”

Mark Rowland is a journalist and former editor of Accounting Technician and 20 magazine.

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