In his own words:
I’m pleased to be able to tell you about a trial, starting in February that we hope will have a big impact on reducing error and fraud levels. It involves selecting a private sector partner to deliver more error and fraud interventions, using HMRC powers and guidance.
The point of this trial is to test the effectiveness of a private sector partner in delivering extra tax credits interventions that builds on the work we do already; this is about adding to, not replacing what we do.
I want to stress that this trial is not about replacing existing HMRC jobs, but about supplementing the excellent performance that our error and fraud staff deliver, and that we will continue to ask them to deliver. As I say, it is about adding to what we already do, to drive error and fraud down.
We have improved operational performance significantly and will continue to do so, but we are determined to do everything we can to drive down tax credits error and fraud, which currently costs taxpayers around £2.3 billion each year. This trial is about finding a way to deliver even more interventions to address the risk our own staff tells us is there.
As with the so-called “building capacity trial” in Bathgate and Lilyhall, the department is at great pains to deny privatisation. They’re not replacing existing jobs, only adding to them.
The problem, as we’ve said before, is that you don’t literally need to sack a civil servant and stick a private sector worker in their seat to replace jobs. Continued staff and estate reductions, whilst using private providers to increase capacity, mean that this happens naturally as long as private companies are brought in. Whatever assurances are offered, privatisation remains the intent and the result.
Our question now is what we do about it. The Group Executive Committee has pointed out that the Tax Justice For All yielded public sector jobs (albeit temporary ones) in the very places where the private sector trials are now finishing up. Clearly, the department did not feel confident to further privatise there given the opposition it faced.
But they do feel confident to do so elsewhere, specifically in Benefits and Credits. This may simply be out of a hope that our B&C members are less combative than PT Ops members. But it could also be that, whilst the support for the TJFA campaign demonstrated members’ opposition to privatisation, the subsequent Enabling Agreement hinted that giving the union a seat at the table would keep it compliant.
If this is the case, we must hope that HMRC’s assessment of the situation is wrong and that the GEC will engage in robust opposition to this and all future exercises in outsourcing.