Revenue Scotland boss under fire after questioning

Eleanor Emberson, head of Revenue Scotland. 'Picture:  Neil Hanna
Eleanor Emberson, head of Revenue Scotland. 'Picture: Neil Hanna
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THE HEAD of Scotland’s new under fire tax service has told MSPs she doesn’t have an “accounting qualification” as she faced a grilling over staff and IT fears.

Eleanor Emberson, head of revenue at Revenue Scotland, insisted that the new system will be up and running by the start of April when Scotland takes control of collecting stamp duty replacement and landfill tax.

But Holyrood’s Public Audit committee questioned why they “should believe you” during a stormy evidence session today - after she previously failed to tell MSPs about a watchdogs concerns.

Committee convenor Hugh Henry said the new land and buildings transactions tax, to be collected by Revenue Scotland along with landfill tax will involve “very complicated finance systems” being set up.

He added: “Can you tell me what accounting qualifications you have what revenue experience you have?”

Ms Emberson said: “I don’t have an accounting qualification. I have undertaken two of the exams within the ICAS (Institute of Chartered Accountants in Scotland) tax professional qualification that they’ve introduced. I passed both of those.”

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Alyson Stafford, Director General Finance, Scottish Government told the committee she was qualified as a chartered accountant.

John Swinney has unveiled tax for a new system when they land and buildings transactions tax is introduced in April.

But an Audit Scotland report this month said costs for the new devolved taxes had increased by £1.1 million to £4.3m, along with delays in getting the IT system and staff in place to collect and administer the taxes.

Ms Emberson told MSPs that she should have built her team faster , but insisted that the IT systems are “fully on track” and being tested while all the key staff will be in place.

The civil servant had previously told MSPs on the finance committee in October that there was “nothing negative” to report about progress on setting up Revenue Scotland - despite knowing that the Audit Scotland report was poised to be published.

Liberal Democrat Tavish Scott said: “You didn’t feel obliged to tell the finance committee anything else that might be of interest to them at that time - in front of a Parliamentary committee of this Parliament?”

Ms Emberson said she had highlighted a number of areas of “amber” risks.

“I thought I gave them a fair picture,” she said.

But Mr Scott hit out: “You think a fair picture is saying there’s nothing negative I need to report - you think that’s a fair picture?”

Revenue Scotland boss may have ‘misled Parliament’

He added: “We have Audit Scotland come to us every couple of weeks and they don’t say these things lightly. You’re a senior civil servant basically saying they’re wrong.

“Why should we believe you?”

But she added: “You can believe me on staffing because I’m telling you now the numbers of staff we have in place. You can believe me on IT because I’ve told you that we have a system in testing and I’ve seen it.”

She added: “You can be sure that we’re on track to deliver for April 1 and you can be sure I’m on top of it all working out if there’s any actions I need to take.”

Contingency plans drawn up will hundreds of “pen and paper” transactions every day at Register of Scotland if the IT systems don’t work.

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