HM Revenue and Customs is to go on cutting the number of administrative staff it employs as it becomes more "diamond-shaped", the tax authority's chief executive has said, while acknowledging a "lively debate" among frontline workers over the department's restructuring plans.
The tax authority's headcount has fallen from 96,000 in 2005 to under 60,000 by 2014, with the number of full-time equivalents working for HMRC set to fall further to 52,000 by April next year.
Lin Homer on Wednesday told MPs on the Public Accounts Committee that HMRC was seeking to reduce the number of sites it occupied around the country in favour of a smaller number of "big, effective" bases employing fewer staff at the lowest Administrative Assistant (AA) grade.
Interview: Ruth Owen, HMRC's director general of personal tax
Job cuts possible as HMRC to open talks on future of 200 staff
Interview: Lin Homer
The tax authority now has offices at fewer than 200 sites across the UK, down from almost 600 when it was formed through the merger of the Inland Revenue and Her Majesty's Customs and Excise a decade ago.
"Our broad strategic approach is we believe it strengthens our organisation to have a number of big, effective organisational bases throughout the country," she said.
"So, at its height, I think HMRC had in excess of 650 offices, and I don't aspire to even maintain the 150 or so that I've currently got. I think it makes sense for us to continue reducing."
Homer said HMRC would seek to "strengthen the career opportunities" available to some administrative staff at the bigger "centres of excellence". But she acknowledged that the department would continue to cut numbers at the lowest grades.
"I would want to be clear that the most basic of our jobs, in common with all big departments, the numbers are reducing," Homer said.
"So we traditionally were a very classic pyramid-shaped organisation – lots of people at our most junior administrative grade. Many departments are turning diamond-shaped, and it is [down to] the impact of technology.
"One of the things that we think is very important for us to do as an employer is to create chances for those most junior staff to learn new skills so that the opportunity for promotion is there.
"It's a lively debate with my frontline staff which I have whenever I blog. But I'm very proud of the fact that we have managed to create a significant number of promotion opportunities for our AA roles... because that is the grade that we will need less of. We have promoted 2,000 AAs into AO [Administrative Officer] jobs."
Civil Service World revealed last month that HMRC had begun a formal, 90-day consultation process with unions over the future of around 200 staff at administrative level, with the process potentially leading to compulsory redundancies.
While HMRC remains the third-largest of the government departments, it has cut its workforce by 20% since 2010, according to figures analysed by the National Audit Office spending watchdog.
The NAO's latest assessment of HMRC performance – published in July – found that the authority had increased its total tax take by 6.3% on 2012-13 levels.