[UPDATED 17:59 16/10/14] The following update covers several developments since the beginning of this month. Please offer any feedback on the decisions taken by the Group Executive Committee to our branch secretary or via your local reps.
Schedule of talks confirmed with HMRC
The GEC have unanimously accepted an offer of “detailed talks without any preconditions” from the employer.
Due to the refusal of HMRC to engage in talks whilst industrial action was ongoing, the GEC has agreed to temporarily suspend the current campaign of industrial action. This means that action short of strike action including the overtime ban under the R&C Group mandate has now been suspended until midnight on Tuesday 4th November. This is separate to the one day strike action which occurred on 15 October, which was part of the civil service wide dispute over pay, pensions, jobs and terms and conditions.
The GEC have agreed a number of actions which are intended to capitalise on their recent media release launching a new report on the Tax Gap. With less than eight months to the General Election, GEC Liaison Officers will soon be contacting Branches with proposals to make Tax Justice a central feature of the union’s political activity, including our Make Your Vote Count Campaign, in local constituencies.
Workforce management announcement
HMRC has confirmed that it will close another 14 offices in the UK and cut more than 1,000 jobs.
The timing of the announcement means that it has come during talks designed to resolve our dispute with HMRC, when PCS has suspended action.
The GEC have stated that this is ‘regrettable’ and state that they ‘left the employer in no doubt about the damage this could do to level of trust which will be required to reach an agreement on jobs and staffing.’ However, they have also said that they are ‘hopeful that serious engagement with the employer will provide the machinery and confidence necessary to ensure that member’s interests are protected when dealing with the practical outcomes of the announcement.’
The offices affected are:
- Barnsley, Joseph Locke House (28 staff)
- Barnstaple, Regent House (26 staff)
- Bishop’s Stortford, Anglia House (27 staff)
- Carmarthen, Crown Buildings (30 staff)
- Colwyn Bay, Government Buildings (42 staff)
- Glenrothes, Saltire House (54 staff)
- Immingham (0 staff, two already taken redundancy)
- Irvine, Marress House (28 staff)
- King’s Lynn, Vancouver House (31 staff)
- Merthyr Tydfil, Government Buildings (37 staff)
- Newry, Custom House (102 staff)
- Pembroke Dock (2 staff)
- St Leonards-on-Sea, Ocean House (62 staff)
- Stevenage, Southgate House (33 staff)
The confirmation, which comes on the same day HM Revenue and Customs says £34 billion in tax was uncollected last year, follows a consultation in the summer. PCS made a submission to the consultation which was drawn up and shared with the Branches involved. The submission is included below, along with a Q&A produced by the GEC in response to the latest developments.
The closure of the 14 offices puts 450 jobs at risk and other announcements today threaten a further 690 low-paid administrative assistant jobs in the personal taxes division.
Also, regional post rooms in Cumbernauld, Shipley and Newcastle will close, threatening 46 low-paid jobs, and 40 people in Wellesley House, Stockport, who are outside of reasonable daily travel of other HMRC locations will be invited to apply for a voluntary exit because HMRC has to vacate the building by the end of March 2015.
Continuing with its plan to cut thousands more jobs by 2016, HMRC is currently spending £4 million a month on overtime. It is closing scores of offices – including all 281 walk-in tax advice centres – as it moves towards a proposal to operate from just 14 large sites in the UK by 2025.
The announcement sparked a spontaneous walkout by staff in Merthyr Tydfil.
Bootle Taxes Branch offers its solidarity to affected staff, and will provide members with more information on the GEC response as it becomes available.
PCS submission to the consultation
PCS is opposed in principle to the closure of sites where there is detriment to our members and to the services that they provide. Our analysis of all 14 proposals indicates that closure of any and all of the sites involved in this exercise would result in a detriment to both staff and customers because:
- There are no readily available redeployment options within reasonable distance of the current site, leaving staff facing redundancy.
- The majority of staff employed in these sites have a wealth of experience which enables them to deliver strong performance. Those sites with Compliance presences have demonstrated that they bring in yield that more covers what they cost.
- The majority of sites involved in this consultation are located in areas where there is a recognised need to support and develop local economies.
- The presence of a HMRC office in communities has a positive impact on promoting compliance and maintaining an understanding of the needs of a dispersed and diverse customer base.
In the recent debate on HMRC’s plans for Scotland, the Minister indicated that the plans to close sites like Irvine and Glenrothes would ‘bring those staff into larger workplaces’. We believe that that statement ignores the reality that would face members in such sites as closure would leave staff wanting to remain in the Civil Service with few, if any, redeployment options within HMRC itself or in the wider civil service. Decisions to close these sites will leave many experienced and effective staff facing redundancy.
Branches have had input into the impact assessment process and have supported members through the 121 process and we attach some examples of the detailed submissions prepared by members to expand on the issues. The data gathered will demonstrate that for many of the staff in these sites, the reality is that there are no alternative HMRC sites within reasonable daily travel, and even for sites such as Barnsley, relative proximity to an alternative site in may not in itself indicate readily available redeployment options unless HMRC is prepared to adopt a more flexible approach to offering solutions across lines of business.
The equality data shows that these proposals will impact disproportionally on staff with protected characteristics, potentially creating further barriers to redeployment for those who want to retain a career in the civil service. Of course, there are specific issues relating to Newry which the Branch have expanded on in their submission, in this you will see that they have highlighted a concern about the data gathering process.
We see these proposals as the start of the implementation of a business model which would lead to the loss of HMRC presences in all but the largest cities. In our view this approach is flawed and needs to be tested as a part of the discussion that HMRC had opened under the ‘Building Our Future’ banner.
PCS believes that this future vision ignores the real business benefits that come from having a wider network of presences able to better reflect and understand the diverse communities that they serve. In determining where presences are located, there is also a need to recognise the political and socio-economic factors that should be considered by the second largest employer in the Civil Service as a part of its workforce planning.
Our Branches have highlighted that fact that many of these proposals would remove points of presence from towns where the removal of civil service jobs will have a negative impact on already fragile economies and we urge HMRC to consider these issues carefully. For instance Barnsley, one of the sites being considered for closure, was identified in 2013 as having the second highest rate of youth unemployment in the UK and previous proposals to close St Leonards were overturned following a campaign by the former MP which highlighted the impact that the loss of jobs would have in an area with significant levels of deprivation. Barnsley, like Merthyr Tydfil, is a former mining community currently reflecting on events since the large scale loss of mining jobs 30 years ago. A decision to withdraw civil service jobs at this point in time, in the run up to the General Election, underlines an apparent abandonment of principles which have guided past deployment decisions.
In our view, this risks undermining local economies in need of support and could create a longer term pressure on recruitment and retention in areas where there is greater competition for staff. The future shape of HMRC could ultimately offer poor overall value for the taxpayer.
We believe that there needs to be a wider public debate on HMRCs plans as evidence from our members and customer groups suggests that there are compelling reasons why the approach that is being adopted will fail to meet the needs of staff, customers and government.
While that debate takes place, PCS believes that these proposals should be withdrawn as they represent the start of a process aimed at radically reshaping HMRC which cannot be considered in isolation.
HMRC Location Strategy Announcement 16th October – Q&A for PCS members
Q. Why are HMRC doing this?
A. The cuts can be traced directly back to the spending plans of the coalition government. We would prefer HMRC to work with us to identify savings elsewhere and to recognise that cutting compliance staff, for example, is counter-productive as it is known to reduce yield. Sadly, until very recently, HMRC have been unwilling to meaningfully engage with us which has inhibited our ability to influence their plans.
Q. Does this mean that all staff at these sites will lose their jobs?
A. Not necessarily as HMRC are obliged to avoid redundancies where possible. Indeed, they have recently confirmed their intention to meet this obligation and we will be working closely with the department to explore all redeployment opportunities across HMRC and other civil service departments including non-departmental public bodies.
Q. What has the union done to resist these closures?
A. Opposition to office closures has been a significant element of our jobs and staffing campaign which has seen members take industrial action throughout the summer. On behalf of the Group Executive Committee, we also made a submission to the formal consultation in August which made a robust case for the retention of a network of local HMRC offices for multiple reasons.
Q. Why are they announcing these cuts now when they are meant to be engaged in talks with the union over jobs and staffing?
A. The timing is extremely regrettable and we have made this point directly to them. The consultation over the summer was always likely to lead to an autumn announcement but we have nevertheless left the employer in no doubt about the damage this could do to level of trust which will be required to reach an agreement on jobs and staffing.
Q. Why don’t PCS walk away from the talks in protest?
A. The talks are due to conclude in early November and we will make a judgement then on the value of any proposals from the employer to settle the dispute. We have retained the right to reject any offer and reinstitute the campaign of industrial action if sufficient progress is not made. Ultimately, the value of any offer will be judged against a robust assessment of our ability to significantly escalate our campaign, on a local or departmental basis, over the next six months. GEC Liaison Officers are currently gathering this evidence in conjunction with branches.
Q. What practical support can affected members expect from the union?
A. We are already working with our Parliamentary Group to oppose the office closures and will be helping local branches seek support from constituency MPs in the affected locations. If we are unable to avoid all of the closures, we will be making sure that HMRC mitigate the impact by retraining and redeploying displaced staff. Our bottom-line is that we want to prevent any member of staff who wishes to remain in employment from being made redundant.
Q. What happens next?
A. We have senior representatives on site at all the affected location on Thursday 16th October. We’ll take note of the general and specific concerns of members and ensure that these are reflected in our on-going discussions with the employer. We will ensure that the spirit and the terms of the Cabinet Office Protocol for Handling Surplus Staff is followed at all times. Where members decide to launch local campaigns against office closures, we will assist and co-ordinate those campaigns to maximise their effectiveness in a manner which is consistent with the demands of the PCS National Campaign.
Q. Can the union really make a difference?
A. If members come together in sufficient numbers we can achieve anything. In HMRC alone the local Branch working with the GEC has recently prevented the dismissal of 39 Fixed Term Appointees in Dundee. We have had similar success in preserving a presence at Wingfield House in Portsmouth. Elsewhere, members in departments as diverse as Land Registry, Disclosure and Barring Service and HM Passport Office have scored notable recent victories on pay, privatisation and staffing by fighting solid campaigns which involved members and which were tailored to specific circumstances.
Q. What can members do to help?
A. There are dozens of ways ordinary members can contribute to PCS campaigns. These include talking to non-member colleagues about joining the union; volunteering to help circulate union material; arranging to meet local politicians and/or other unions (alone or in groups) to discuss your concerns; joining the local committee and contributing your ideas at meetings. Speak to your Branch Secretary in the first instance or contact the Group Office by email R&CGroup@pcs.org.uk