This is why HMRC is supporting thousands of jobs at Wellington Place in Leeds

YOU never forget a great teacher because they open the door to a lifetime of opportunity.

Thursday, 5th August 2021, 7:49 am
Angela MacDonald Picture: Simon Hulme

Angela MacDonald will always be grateful to Mr Turner of St Margaret's school in Horsforth, near Leeds, who spotted her leadership potential at a very early age.

He changed the course of Ms MacDonald's life by encouraging her to apply for an assisted place at Leeds Girls High School.

"He put a lot of effort in supporting me and encouraging me to take the entrance exam.'' she recalled. "Seeing young people develop must be the most rewarding thing about being a teacher."

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Angela MacDonald Picture: Simon Hulme

Mr Turner's confidence in his pupil's ability was not misplaced. Today, Ms MacDonald is ensuring tax is collected to support services we take for granted.

She became HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) Deputy Chief Executive and Second Permanent Secretary in August 2020, which gives her overall responsibility for HMRC staff who deliver customer service and compliance and enforcement activity across all taxes.

She is proud to show off HMRC's vast new centre in Wellington Place, Leeds, which offers proof that you don't have to head to London to build a high ranking career in the civil service.

HMRC now has 3,850 staff in Leeds. Over recent years, the Government has been quietly establishing a major hub in Leeds; there were around 4,200 civil servants based in the city in November 2015 , today that figure stands at 4,679.

Ms MacDonald, who was born in Hull and grew up in Horsforth and Cookridge, near Leeds, has taken a slightly unconventional path to her current role. At 18, she gained an army scholarship to go to Sandhurst, but found that military life was not for her.

"I learned that I hated running and couldn't read a map,'' she said. "But it did teach me about how to be a leader of other people."

She returned to York and got a job at General Accident where she started at the very bottom of the organisation, photocopying and working on customer service.

"The fact that I started in a customer service role means that I can understand the experiences that my teams are having,' she said.

"There are real people at the end of this process and not just statistics. It's important that we demystify the process and tell the customer what they need to know. We want to make a real difference."

After 20 years at General Accident - which later became Aviva - Ms MacDonald joined the DWP, where she found a role which resonated with her own life experiences.

"I came to Leeds to do the redesign of child maintenance,'' she said. "My own parents divorced when I was 11. I had experience of what it was like to be in a separated family.

"It fitted my skillsets and it was a topic I really cared about. We completely redesigned the experience of what it was like to need to come to the Government to ask for help with child support.

"I felt we really changed the service instead of it just being about chasing absent parents for money.

"It's now a really modern digital service. We can never make the experience of family separation easier, but if we can help with the process of sorting the money out that does make a difference."

She believes in a civil service with a human face, which acts with empathy in testing situations.

"As a civil servant you can be involved in any topic - some topics really press my buttons, which was why I spent quite a while in the DWP,'' she said.

"We have always been an organisation with operations around the regions.

"When deciding the place for a regional base, we look at making the most of where the talent will be in the future. We chose Leeds because of its great universities and transport connections. It's a great, modern office which is very easy to commute to."

The fact the base in Leeds is a new office means it can, for example, be adapted to include facilities to support people of all faiths and also be adapted for people with disabilities. There is even a place for guide dogs to take a stroll.

So why did Ms MacDonald take the departmental leap from the DWP to HMRC?

She said: "I wanted to progress my career and wanted to work with a boss I really respected - Sir Jon Thompson (the former Chief Executive of HM Revenue and Customs) Like Mr Turner, Jon really supported me."

HMRC's hub in Wellington Place stands in the heart of a new business district, which is also home to some of the biggest corporate names.

"We play an important role in the regional economy,'' she said. "We recently held a meeting here of regional civic leaders to discuss how we work together as a community.

"We like to consider how we can support a citizen holistically and also consider how we remove barriers to ensure a wide variety of people from different backgrounds come to work with us.

"I also believe in supporting future leaders because we must always consider those who will follow us."

"During the height of the pandemic, millions of families didn't have to worry about paying for their food because of the furlough scheme and the support for the self-employed. We also have 65,000 staff and they are looking for reassurance, support, kindness and empathy.

"We have lost colleagues to COVID-19 like everyone else. I couldn't be more proud of what people have done. Our offices have been open with social distancing throughout the pandemic for people who couldn't work from home."

She believes hybrid working is here to stay and HMRC has changed staff contracts to reflect the new world of work.

"The size of the HMRC operation in the future depends on Government policy,'' she added.

"We adapt to meet the Government's needs. Here in Leeds we offer a diversity of roles across every profession. You really can make a difference to what matters to you, as I realised when I helped to shape child support, which is such a personal issue for me. The civil service covers pretty much every discipline and every subject."

Ms MacDonald hopes her experiences will encourage others who might never have considered a career in public service.

"I'm the only permanent secretary with lifelong operational experience. I'm proud to be a doer.

“I've shown that people from every background can reach the very top levels of the civil service and play a role in running the country”

Angela MacDonald

Date of birth: 14 May 1970

First job: Saturday job on the tills at Morrisons in Horsforth

Last book read: Matt Haig The Midnight Library

Favourite film: Grease

Favourite holiday destination: Crete

Thing she is most proud of: When I see a colleague progress who I have helped and supported to have the confidence to fulfil their potential