Senior Treasury tax adviser whistleblower frogmarched from the civil service

Treasury whistleblower ‘frogmarched from the civil service’, tribunal hears

A senior Treasury tax adviser was “frogmarched from the civil service” after 18 years of service after blowing the whistle on colleagues who changed a key piece of policy advice ahead of last year’s budget, it is claimed.

By Victoria Ward
10:00PM BST 23 May 2012

David Owen said he was adhering to ministers’ wishes by including detail of a tax break for small businesses in his proposals.

However, his advice was subsequently amended by senior colleagues who allegedly breached civil service code by “killing off the policy wholesale”, Central London Employment Tribunal heard.

After raising the issue, Mr Owen, 48, former head of National Insurance policy at the Treasury, claims he was unfairly dismissed over unrelated matters.

Simeon Spencer, Mr Owen’s solicitor, said that by flagging up the discrepancy, the civil servant had embarrassed colleagues, causing “red faces and ruffled feathers” at a senior level.

“Our client blew the whistle on senior civil servants breaching civil service code over advice to the minister on the 2011 budget,” he said outside the hearing.

“It was advice on a policy central to the budget because it was about jobs and growth. That advice was changed for reasons we do not know and against our client’s views and without consulting him.

“The next thing we know, and in a matter of days, 18 years of good service went out of the window and he was effectively frogmarched out of the civil service.”

Mr Owen was “surprised” when told by senior mandarins that the policy, which would have provided relief on National Insurance contributions for small businesses outside London and the South East, had been abandoned,despite believing it to have the Chancellor, George Osborne’s support.

“I emailed the office of the relevant minister, the Exchequer Secretary,assuming he must have sanctioned this plan,” he said. “It emerged that this was not the case.”

Mr Owen reported the alleged breach of civil service code to the management but claims that “out of the blue” he was subsequently summoned to a disciplinary hearing.

Three days later he was sacked because of an “irretrievable breakdown of trust and confidence”.

An appeal was upheld by Sir Nicholas Macpherson, permanent secretary to the Treasury, who is expected to give evidence during the two week hearing.

Conrad Hallin, for Mr Owen, described the dispute over the policy amendment as “a very murky picture indeed” and said his client’s advice had been changed by senior civil servants without his knowledge or consent.

He told the tribunal panel: “They wanted this policy not to be presented as a real option. This was expressly against the minister’s wishes.”

However, Jacqueline McGeehan, Mr Owen’s former line manager, claimed that David Gauke, the junior Treasury minister and Exchequer Secretary, was “not keen” on the proposal and planned to advice the Chancellor against it.

When Mr Owen was made aware of this, he wrote to the minister’s office and suggested that in his view, to kill it would be inappropriate.

She told the tribunal that Mr Owen did not communicate well with colleagues, often taking a rebellious or antagonistic stance, and admitted they had a “challenging” relationship.

The hearing continues.

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