Earlier this year, the Benefits & Credits section of HMRC ran an “adding capacity” trial which saw the private company Transactis used to handle tax credits error and fraud work. Following on from this, the department has now issued notice that it is continuing outsourcing such work on a larger scale and possibly a more permanent basis.
The usual caveats have been issued. As this is about adding capacity, “there is no threat to existing jobs.” This is about using a private sector “partner” to do additional work on top of what current staff already do. And so on.
However, as we noted ahead of the now-finished trial:
[Y]ou 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.
The Group Executive Committee have also stated that “At a time when thousands of FTA members face an uncertain future in HMRC and many other members have real concerns over job security, such a move should be unthinkable.“
Which is of course the aim of privatisation. As the number of secure, permanent staff shrinks, so does our bargaining power. Meanwhile, new staff have temporary contracts through private companies which makes their position a lot more vulnerable and the prospect of fighting for better a lot scarier.
Thus there will be less disruption and resistance whilst pay and conditions are eroded and taxpayers’ money is funnelled into the profit of private companies.
This is why PCS has a policy of opposition to privatisation. It is also why at Conference this year Bootle Taxes Branch delegates successfully moved a policy of absolute non-cooperation with outsourcing exercises and resistance aimed at the companies vying for contracts as well as at HMRC.
Unfortunately, at the time of conference the Benefits & Credits trial had been going for two months and was only scheduled to last for three in total. During this time, the policy was not implemented and no visible resistance to the trial was offered; the result being that it was allowed to run its course unhindered and now as we have seen the same directorate is considering outsourcing on a much larger scale.
That the latest bulletin from the GEC on this subject referenced Conference policy suggests that this will not be the case again. We hope, therefore, that future outsourcing and privatisation will be more robustly resisted by the union.
If it is not, the potential disastrous consequences for our members’ jobs and for the services they provide cannot be understated.