Former Suffolk chief executive Lin Homer has come through Whitehall controversies to become a Dame

Dame Lin Homer.

Dame Lin Homer. - Credit: PA

By their very nature civil servants – even those at the top of the tree – tend to be anonymous figures.

However former Suffolk County Council chief executive Lin Homer seems to have been a magnet for headlines over the last ten years.

That has not prevented her from having a hugely-successful Whitehall career, which culminated in her becoming Dame Lin when she was awarded a DCB (Dame Commander of the Order of the Bath) in the New Year’s Honours list.

But while she works in Whitehall as chief executive of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, Dame Lin continues to live in south Suffolk – and feels very much at home in the county where she was brought up and went to school.

It was in 1998 that Lin Homer first became a well-known figure in the county. After 15 years at Hertfordshire County Council, rising to become a corporate director, she was appointed chief executive of Suffolk County Council.

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Not only was she the first female chief executive of the county, she was also the first to be appointed from outside. Her predecessors had both been internal appointments.

But she was not a stranger to the county – she was born in north Norfolk, but her family moved to the Beccles area when she was a child and she went to school in that town before leaving the county to go to university in London.

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She remembers: “When I was first appointed to Suffolk I think someone mentioned I was Norfolk-born but I don’t think that was a major problem!

“When I came in to Suffolk there was a bit of feeling for change. Chris Mole was the Labour council leader and Ros Scott (now Baroness Scott) was leader of the LibDem group (who were in coalition). “I know there was a bit of controversy when the allowances for councillors were about doubled. But there were traditions that were respected – I know I had pictures of all my predecessors on the walls of my office!”

Despite occasional controversies the county was seen as well-run and one of the highlights for Dame Lin came towards the end of her time in 2002.

She said: “We had a big team who worked on the Queen’s Jubilee visit when she went to Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds and other places in the county. That was a very good day for a big team.”

Dame Lin left Suffolk in 2002 to become chief executive of Birmingham City Council, the largest local authority in the country.

While she was in the midlands, there was controversy after a vote-rigging scandal involving Labour candidates hit the headlines. She left Birmingham to become Director-General of the Immigration Directorate in Whitehall and later became the first chief executive of the UK Border Agency.

In 2011 she became permanent secretary at the Department for Transport and a year later took up her current role as chief executive of HMRC.

Controversy has dogged her Whitehall career. The Home Affairs Select Committee criticised her handling of immigration issues and during her time at the Department for Transport there was chaos when the West Coast franchise was first denied to Virgin trains and then handed back to them after concerns about the figures in the bids.

At HMRC she has had to deal with complaints that taxpayers have found it very difficult to get in contact with the organisation.

However despite all these she still enjoys her job in Whitehall: “I have had lots of fun, and some frustrations, but that is the nature of things.”

There have been clear differences between Dame Lin’s roles in local and national government.

She said: “When I was in Suffolk I would pop into Sainsbury’s and people would come up to me and ask me about things that directly affect their lives.

“And I was always meeting wonderful people doing public service – the cleaners making a difference or the headteacher who would pick up rubbish or tell a pupil that their shirt was on the wrong way around as we walked across the pavement.”

Despite the controversies of her recent jobs, she has never shirked from her work.

“I always feel you have to be prepared to tell the taxi driver what you do. Believe me when you say ‘I’m in charge of immigration’ you hear some strong opinions!

“And the fact is that taxation makes the world go around. They might be controversial jobs but they have to be done.”

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