The PCS trade union has claimed that HMRC has lost an estimated 17,000 years’ worth of staff experience in the last year alone through redundancy and departures ahead of moves to concentrate officials in 13 new regional centres.
Responding to an update on HMRC’s transformation plans published yesterday, which said “very close to” 90% of staff will be able to transfer to the regional centres, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka told CSW this was “a fallacy”.
He called on the programme to consolidate 170 existing offices into regional hubs, which forms part of the biggest organisational transformation in Europe, to be halted.
Failure to do so could lead to recruitment crisis, he warned.
“HMRC’s claim that 90% of staff will be able to move to the new regional hub offices is already proving to be a fallacy. The department’s own figures show that it has lost 17,000 years’ worth of experience in the last year alone as a result of the office closures," he said in a statement sent to CSW.
“With wages continuing to stagnate, HMRC is finding it difficult to retain new staff, making it harder to deliver its core functions. This government needs to accept that HMRC’s transformation programme should to be halted as it will leave us with a tax authority not fit for purpose.”
The 17,000 figure has been calculated by PCS using HMRC's length of service data for staff who have left over the last year, with the combined figure totalling 17,319.
The move to regional centres was instigated in response to HMRC’s private finance initiative office deal, known as the STEPS contract, which covers two-thirds of its estate and is due to end in March 2021.
HMRC said that the current set up created isolated pockets of employees doing a narrow range of work, making it difficult for people to move jobs or build a career. The new hubs will bring together teams to make it easier for staff to collaborate and work flexibly.
However, Serwotka said the agency should reconsider the plans amid the additional workload that the department now faced as a result of Brexit. Flailing to do so would be “nothing short of reckless”, he added.
“Of the ten ports which see the most freight tonnage coming into the country, half of them will be located a significant distance from a regional centre, diminishing HMRC’s ability to readily monitor what goods are coming into the country. With only twelve weeks to go until Brexit, there is still no practical solution to the fact that under the department’s transformation plans, in Northern Ireland, the UK’s only land border with the EU will be at least forty miles from the nearest HMRC office.”
Responding to Serwotka’s comments, an HMRC spokesperson told CSW: “Our regional centres are in locations where the majority of our employees are already based – the impact on our people was key to our location decisions. We want to keep as many people as we can and still expect around 90% of our 2015 workforce across the UK will either work in a regional centre or see out their career in an existing HMRC office.
“We have been clear that, if someone can move to a regional centre, transitional site or specialist site, and has the skills HMRC needs or is able to develop them – there will be a role for them. The moves to regional centres will be phased, with some offices remaining open for longer as stepping stone sites and transitional sites remaining open for up to ten years.”
Preston to action
In addition to the 13 regional centres – which are to be based in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast, Leeds, Newcastle, Liverpool, Manchester, Nottingham, Birmingham, Cardiff, Bristol, Stratford and Croydon – the update confirmed HMRC will retain eight transitional sites “to minimise any business disruption and to keep our people working locally for longer in locations where we recognise that significant numbers will not be able to move”.
This is an increase from the seven transitional sites that HMRC said it would retain in its 2017/18 annual report. The additional site is in Preston, where the department will maintain a presence until at least 2025. “This is to keep our people working on tax credits in Preston for longer,” an HMRC spokesperson said.
The other transitional sites are: East Kilbride (Queensway House to 2025-26); Washington (Waterview Park to 2024-25); Manchester (Trinity Bridge House to 2027-28); Ipswich (Haven House to 2027-28 and St Clare House to 2023-24); Reading (Sapphire Plaza to 2024-25); Canary Wharf (10 South Colonnade, until Stratford regional centre opens); and Portsmouth (Lynx House to 2025 to 2026).