HMRC IT chief Mark Dearnley walked away from his £185,000-a-year job because the private sector paid better, MPs heard yesterday.
Speaking at a Commons public accounts committee hearing on Wednesday, Jon Thompson, chief executive of the UK tax body, was asked why Dearnley quit his role, which involved overseeing the agency's escape from its £800m-a-year Aspire IT contract.
"We made Mr Dearnley a very attractive offer, which would have made him one of the highest-paid director generals in the civil service and significantly more than me in my role as chief executive," said Thompson.
"But he decided to take another role. The market had spoken."
The committee was told Dearnley had done a good job in overseeing HMRC's risky transition from the £10bn Capgemini-run Aspire project. Under the replacement programme, HMRC hopes to make better use of taxpayers' money by handing out technology supply contracts to 400 smaller businesses and save £200m per year by 2021.
It is also bringing 300 Capgemini and Fujitsu staff in-house via its privately owned, HMRC-run limited company.
Asked if Dearnley's departure will have a negative impact, Thompson said it would not. He said HMRC has appointed Mike Potter as acting chief digital and information officer, who worked closely with Dearnley. However, he said the fear of other key individuals leaving to go to the private sector was a "constant worry."
In its annual report last month, the Infrastructure and Projects Authority rated the £600m Aspire replacement project as Amber/Red, meaning the programme is at high risk of failure.
Dearnley announced he was stepping down after his three-year contract ended last month. His departure coincided with that of former Government Digital Service head Stephen Foreshew-Cain – leading some commentators to describe it as a "day of the digital long knives."
However, it seems Dearnley's reasons for going were more straight-forward.
HMRC recently advertised for a director to lead its IT transformation and cloud strategy with an annual salary of £140,000. ®