HMRC has outlined plans to potentially bring private sector providers for a “building capacity” 12 month trial in HMRC call centres from January 2012. A tendering exercise inviting private sector companies to bid for this work is currently underway and our understanding is that HMRC will award the contract to successful bidders in mid November. If the trial progresses then private sector providers will be based at two sites with about 100 of their own staff to work alongside HMRC staff to handle calls from as early as January 2012.
PCS has expressed absolute opposition to the trials. We believe that it would pave the way for further opportunities for the private sector to get a foothold in HMRC, and could further weaken the argument against the use of the private sector in other areas of the civil service in the future.
We firmly believe that there are clear and viable alternatives to the use of the private sector to handle increased workloads. This could include, for instance, the utilisation of volunteers from CustOps sites which are co-located with contact centres to help during peak times. In addition, over 1,000 Temporary and Fixed Term (TFTA’s) staff have been employed effectively to increase productivity. We believe TFTA staff could be made permanent and used to help deliver further improvements to service delivery.
The R&Cgroup executive committee (GEC) met on 5/6 October to confirm its absolute opposition to the pending trial in HMRC’s contact centres. We believe this is part of an ideologically motivated exercise to allow big business in to the civil service. PCS has formally written to the employer expressing our total opposition.
The feedback we have from members, reps and branches overwhelmingly expresses firm opposition to the trial and support for industrial action if that is what is required to halt the privatisation trial. Members know that if the private sector is given a toe hold in HMRC this will inevitably open up further opportunities in HMRC for the private sector and ultimately threaten jobs and job security
PUBLIC SERVICES DELIVERED BY THE PUBLIC SECTOR
HMRC claim that there are valuable lessons to learn from the private sector about managing peak call handling times more effectively as it seeks achieve the departments’ target of meeting the ‘industry standard’ of handling 90% of calls.
There is in fact no evidence that private sector providers deliver public services more effectively.
On the contrary, the effect of private sector service provision in the public sector over the course of the last decade has been to drive down terms and conditions and to scale back service delivery. This means less value for money for the tax payer.
Members will rightly ask why HMRC is intending to bring in the private sector at a time when HMRC plans to cut 10,000 staff across the department when they could utilise their skills and knowledge to tackle call handling times, at no extra cost to the department.
In addition, allowing private sector companies access to tax and customer data raises alarming concerns about confidentiality and risks valuable information being passed on to third parties for profit.
We have challenged the department to abandon plans for both the tendering exercise and the subsequent trial and instead employ permanent staff to cover increased workloads. We want additional assurances that public service provision across HMRC will be delivered by HMRC employees now and in the future.
Unless the tendering exercise and subsequent trial is stopped, then we will be in a formal dispute situation. Any industrial response will initially involve members in Personal Tax, in the contact centre directorate and customer operations.
If the government is allowed to get away with attacking our pensions and driving down wages and conditions, then a cheaper workforce is a more attractive option for the private sector.
Therefore it is vital that members continue to ensure they are doing all they can to help build support for the national action on 30 November. The possibility of 3 million workers taking action together on 30 November will be placing a huge strain on the government and its cuts package. Members can help leaflet their workplace and get involved in organising local activities, as well as building links with other workers in other unions. It is the responsibility of all members to ask non members to join our union today.
We still need members to feed in their views on the contents of this briefing, what it means in your workplace and any other questions or thoughts you have. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org using a personal email account and provide us with details about your branch and the business stream you work in.
Members should expect further communications from your GEC, both in relation to action on 30 November and the action we may have to ask members to take to defend PCS members’ jobs from the threat of privatisation.
PETER LOCKHART LYNDA PRIESTLEY
GROUP SECRETARY GROUP PRESIDENT