The FDA’s new president, Vicky Johnson, has been a civil servant at HMRC (and previously the Inland Revenue) since 1986, but originally had rather different career plans. She initially had ambitions to be a pharmacist and went to university to study chemistry. However, after two years, she decided that chemistry and her “were never going to gel”. She left university and, via a stint at Marks and Spencer, found a job as a trainee at a Liverpool stockbroker, where, in a firm where all five partners were male, she knew it would be very difficult to fulfil her potential.
Having heard a friend talking about applying for the civil service through the open competition, Vicky decided to apply as well and, after passing the test in October, started work at the Inland Revenue in Manchester in June 1986, spending her first year learning the ropes of a non-computerised system for processing tax returns and coding queries. Vicky quickly realised she had found the right career for her: “I loved it – it wasn’t the path I thought I would ever take, but it was absolutely the right one”.
Vicky continues to find the intricacies of the tax system fascinating and is now a grade 6 in the Individuals Policy Directorate. Her team designed and wrote the guidance and had the legislation drafted for the Job Retention Scheme, with members of her team operating a helpline and working on calculators and online guidance. Vicky says it has been a very interesting project to work on, but there were enormous pressures involved: “We’ve proved we can turn around this huge project in such a short space of time without any disasters, but a huge amount of work went into it”.
Although a member of the Inland Revenue Staff Federation “from day one”, it was only when Vicky became eligible for FDA membership in 2004 that she started to be much more involved in trade union activity, becoming Association of Revenue and Customs (ARC – FDA’s HMRC section) Centre Secretary for the West Midlands in 2006 and joining ARC’s Committee in 2015. The following year, Vicky decided that it was time for ARC to have another female President and successfully stood for election. This marked a very busy time for Vicky who was living in London during the week with her family still based in Birmingham.
After serving a term as an FDA Vice President under her predecessor Fiona Eadie, Vicky put herself forward as a nominee for FDA President. The election process was one of many things disrupted and delayed by the pandemic, with Vicky being elected President on 3 August. Just two days later, she was chairing her first (virtual) meeting of the Executive Committee. She says it is an “unusual but very interesting time” to be taking over, with most people still operating remotely and Birmingham, where she is based, currently under additional restrictions.
Vicky is immensely proud of the way her union has responded to the events of 2020. “The FDA has done a brilliant job,” she says, “particularly in terms of online learning and training.” She is looking forward to helping the FDA build on that success during her term in office, and whilst it is difficult to predict what the next few months will bring, she wants to see the union capitalise on the high profile it has built up as the voice of public servants during the pandemic. She hopes her time as President will also see real progress on issues such as the compensation scheme, pay and pension reform.
Away from tax and trade unionism, Vicky has a husband, five children, a grandson and elderly parents to keep her busy. When time allows, she enjoys reading, crosswords, playing the piano and “a glass of fizz”. She has also recently taken up playing bridge, playing regularly online during lockdown: “As I told Women into Leadership earlier this year - it turns out bridge is as fascinating as tax. Who knew?”
Interview by Scott Dobson