HM Revenue and Customs has today briefed its staff across the country on a wide-ranging programme of office closures – with the tax authority unveiling plans to cut its network of 170 offices to just 13 regional centres.
CSW reported in September that staff were due to be given details this month on plans to move the "overwhelming majority" of staff to a number of larger regional hubs over the next decade. A series of transitional sites will remain in place to help staff struggling with relocation – but HMRC has not ruled out job losses.
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A briefing seen by CSW on Thursday shows the scale of the changes planned by the tax authority, with 43 office closures in the London, South East and East of England region alone, and 1,000 staff set to move out of HMRC's headquarters in the capital. The tax authority has vowed to minimise redundancies, but the Public and Commercial Services union has warned that the plans "pose a significant threat to the operation of HMRC, its service to the public and the working lives of staff".
The key, region-by-region announcements made by HMRC today are:
- North East England: HMRC will open a regional centre at its existing Newcastle site in 2018-19, staffed by 6,000-6,300 full-time officials focusing on operational delivery and digital work. Five offices in the region will close between 2018-21, with a transitional site kept in place at Waterview Park in Washington.
- North West England: Two regional centres will open in Liverpool and Manchester in 2018-20. Liverpool will be home to between 2,800 and 3,100 full-time staff, while Manchester will employ up to 5,900 officials – meaning total employment across the two centres will be around 9,000. Manchester will maintain a "diverse mix" of jobs and there will be an expansion of enforcement and compliance and digital work at the site. Twenty offices in the region will be closed between 2017-21 – but some will transfer over to the Department for Work and Pensions to work on Universal Credit.
- Yorkshire and Humberside: A regional centre will open in Leeds, employing 4,100-4,400 full-time staff focused on operational delivery and digital work. Twelve other offices in Yorkshire and Humberside will close, with some staff moving to other HMRC offices ahead of the regional centre being established.
- East Midlands: Five offices in the East Midlands will close between 2016-21 as HMRC opens a regional centre in Nottingham. That will accommodate up to 2,600 full-time staff, focusing on "high-grade" corporate services roles and an expanded enforcement and compliance team. Five offices across the region will close between 2016-17 and 2020-21.
- West Midlands: Birmingham will host HMRC's regional centre for the West Midlands. Set to open in 2019-20, it will employ between 3,100 and 3,400 full-time staff working on operational delivery, compliance, debt management, tax professional and corporate services work. A specialist site in Telford will be retained to focus on digital work, but 16 offices in the region will close. Princess House in Northampton will remain open until 2020-21.
- South West: Bristol will be home to "one of the very first" regional centres, according to the briefing, with the hub set to open in 2017-18. Eleven offices in the region will close. The Bristol site will employ between 1,400 and 1,700 full-time officials, working on "highly-specialist tax roles". Business tax and enforcement and compliance work will be expanded.
- London, South East and the East of England: Eight offices will close in London, 20 offices will go in the South East, and 15 offices are set to be vacated in the East of England.
- HMRC's headquarters will continue to be based on Parliament Street, Westminster, but the tax authority expects around 1,000 members of staff to move to other locations – with other government departments using the space vacated by the tax authority. The briefing cites high central London office rents as a key reason for its downsizing in the capital.
- Two regional centres will be opened in London. A Croydon centre is set to open in 2016-17 and CSW understands that HMRC's preferred location for the second site is Stratford, which would open in 2019-20. Those two sites will accommodate up to 8,100 full-time staff. According to the briefing, Croydon will be a "multi-disciplinary" site mainly employing tax professionals who will be expected to work closely with the Westminster team. Stratford is intended to be "multi-disciplinary", but would also focus on IT and digital roles.
- Transitional sites will be kept open in Portsmouth, Ipswich and Reading, with the last closure expected in 2027-28.
- Scotland: Two new regional centres will be established in Glasgow and Edinburgh in 2019-20, employing up to 6,300 full-time staff between them. HMRC will retain a presence at the Scottish Crime operations site in Gartcosh, but 12 offices across the country will be closed between 2017-18 and 2020-21. HMRC plans to retain East Kilbride as a transitional site until 2025-26, subject to agreeing suitable terms with landlords and contractors.
- Northern Ireland: Belfast will host HMRC's regional centre in Northern Ireland, with 1,300 to 1,600 full-time officials expected to work at the site. Londonderry will be retained as a transitional site until 2020-21, but nine offices are set to close in 2017-18. There will be an expansion of business tax work, and HMRC expects the Belfast site to include "a mix of operational delivery profession and tax professional roles".
- Wales: A new regional centre will be opened in Cardiff by 2019-20, staffed by up to 3,800 full-timers. Four other offices around the country will be closed, "probably" in 2019-20. HMRC plans to keep its Wrexham office open until 2020-21. The centre will again provide a mix of operational delivery and tax roles, and HMRC expects there will also be expansion of its compliance work in Wales.
The precise location of many of the regional hubs are still to be decided, with the HMRC document saying the tax authority will need to negotiate terms with landlords and contractors in a number of cases.
The briefing repeatedly stresses the department's "long-term commitment" to a presence in all major regions of the UK, and says the new centres will provide "stable, high-quality jobs" with a strong focus on career development. It promises that all regional centres will be in "modern office buildings with good travel and transport links", and pledges "one-to-one" support throughout the move to the new buildings.
PCS has already called for "full parliamentary scrutiny" of the HMRC closure programme, saying a "visible, local HMRC presence is essential to maintaining confidence in our tax system". The union also criticises the timing of the announcement during a parliamentary recess.
General secretary Mark Serwotka said: "No one should be in any doubt that, if implemented, these proposals would be absolutely devastating for HMRC and the people who work there.
"Closing this many offices would pose a significant threat to the operation of HMRC, its service to the public and the working lives of staff, and the need for parliamentary scrutiny of the plans is undeniable and urgent."
Tony Wallace of the ARC union – which represents senior officials working at HMRC – welcomed the fact that the tax authority had committed to "find solutions to allow people to carry on working" for HMRC, but called for a focus on career development and transitional support to help specialist staff relocate.
"There should be facilities in there for people to build a career from the ground up all the way to the senior civil service. That facility has to be there for people," he told CSW.
"But we can't lose sight of the fact that we're a national organisation and ARC certainly has members from Inverness all the way down to the South Coast of England. When you consolidate the estate into the size that it's reducing down into, it's going to be very difficult for those people to move the length and breadth of the country.
He added: "When you're looking at specialist jobs, if people have got to pay to move house than HMRC should be looking at that. If there are IT solutions available to be people then that should be looked at as well, to allow people to work from a distance. Extra travelling should be paid for by the department."
HMRC's chief people officer William Hague wrote to staff in September outlining the rationale for the closure programme – part of a wider reform process dubbed "Building Our Future". He pledged that the tax authority would aim to hold onto its existing staff "where possible".
"These changes are one of the biggest building blocks of our transformation, as we simply can't transform the way that we serve the public without fundamentally changing how and where we work," Hague said.
"That's because the way that we're currently organised, across 170 offices, simply doesn't make business or financial sense. It makes it hard for us to collaborate, develop people, or respond to operational priorities – and has created a position where we have isolated pockets of colleagues who have limited career opportunities.
"The only way that we can change this is by rationalising our estate. Our estate contracts are structured in such a way that we need to act now. The alternative would involve us being forced to keep deteriorating buildings that we can do little about."
HMRC's headcount has already fallen significantly over the past decade – from 96,000 in 2005 to under 60,000 by 2014. The number of full-time equivalents working for the tax authority is expected to fall further to 52,000 by April 2016.
A statement issued by HMRC on Thursday afternoon said it expected 90% of the current workforce to "either work in a regional centre or see out their career in an HMRC office".
"Everyone working for HMRC will have the opportunity to discuss their personal circumstances with their manager ahead of any office closures or moves, so they can let them know about any issues that need to be taken into account when making decisions," the statement said.
"People will be told around a year in advance when they are moving to another office. If it’s a case of moving into a new regional centre, we’ll set out a clear timetable as soon as commercial negotiations have finished.
"This does mean that by 2020 to 2021, we plan to close 137 offices. What we are planning is no reflection on the hard work and dedication shown by the people working in them who can be proud of their achievements."
Correction 12/11: This article has been amended to correct a figure for North West England employment. The two regional centres in Liverpool and Manchester will employ a combined total of 9,000 full-time staff. The original article ascribed this figure to Manchester alone. Apologies for the error – Matt