HM Revenue & Customs’ plans to privatise the in-house security teams that will protect its new regional hubs risks compromising the safety of staff, a union has warned.
The department has given facilities management firm Mitie the contract to handle security at its new buildings, but PCS claims the move dismisses its “very real concerns” about staff protection and risks associated with the introduction of a private sector operator.
HMRC’s plans form part of its hubs programme, which will see the consolidation of its operations from around 170 regional buildings at present to 13 centres by 2022. They are: Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast, Leeds, Newcastle, Liverpool, Manchester, Nottingham, Birmingham, Cardiff, Bristol, Stratford in east London and Croydon in south London.
HMRC currently operates what it describes as a “mixed model” for the security of its sites, with external personnel looking after 49 sites already and HMRC staff responsible for others.
PCS said the tax-collection agency’s decision to privatise the work of the security staff it currently employed and hand Mitie sole responsibility for the future estate had been taken without visiting the new sites to review security requirements.
Croydon is the only one of the new HMRC hubs that is currently operational, although staff have already moved into a new “transitionary hub” at Canary Wharf in east London, which will be used until the new Stratford base is fitted out.
The department is planning to open its Bristol hub later this year. Earlier this month it took possession of the New Waverley building in Edinburgh, which will be the first hub in Scotland to become operational.
PCS said it remained “totally opposed” HMRC’s plans to use outsourced security staff at the new hubs and that existing security guards were willing to undergo any additional training senior managers believed was necessary for them to work in the new buildings.
The union said HMRC’s argument that security needed to be privatised because of new service requirements for its regional centres and specialist sites was undermined by evidence to date.
“The fact is that the first new regional centre to open in Croydon isn’t operating to the requirements set out in management’s new service standards,” the union said.
“HMRC has also confirmed that the new security contract will not be ready in time for the opening of the department’s next regional centre in Bristol, with a further ‘interim solution’ being sought.”
It added: “We will be discussing HMRC’s announcement with affected members and we will continue the campaign to reverse this dangerous decision.”
An HMRC spokesperson said staff safety and security was of “paramount importance” and that the organisation was “confident” Mitie would ensure it remained so.
“As HMRC began its transition to the future estate, there was an opportunity for us to critically review how we should deliver our security service in regional centres,” they said.
“Regional centres will be large strategic sites which require a different approach to security, taking account of a range of modern-day risks and threats.
“We have developed a security standard that will underpin the service in our regional centres and help us to deliver a consistent service.
“Our security service must be capable of evolving and adapting to changing risks and by using a specialist supplier our service will benefit from developments and innovation in the industry and increased flexibility.”
HMRC said it was “committed” to supporting current security teams find new roles as the organisation moved to its new hubs model.
It emerged last week that HMRC has delayed the planned closure of its International House office in Ealing, west London, which is part of its hubs drive.
Staff staged five days of strike action earlier this year over the proposals, under which they would be required to relocate to Stratford – on the other side of London – or face redundancy.
PCS said the threat of further strike action had prompted management to delay the poroposed June 2020 closure of the office for six months, ahead of additional negotiations and one-to-one talks between workers and management.