HMRC is currently in the second phase of ‘Building our Future’ (BOF). This is the misleading name applied to what it publicly calls a ‘national conversation’ with its staff, and what a leaked document admits is a propaganda exercise aimed at selling cuts and side-lining the union.
But while the department claim they are being ‘open and honest’ about what the future will bring, one thing they’re definitely trying to play down is the cost of these events.
For the first phase of BOF, Lin Homer tells us that “More than 54,000 of us gathered to talk and share ideas at nearly 700 events.” Since these events involved taking staff out of the office for two hours, on work time, to a hotel or conference venue that must have been quite a cost. Coaches were laid on, or if that wasn’t feasible then travel costs were reimbursed.
However, Lin Homer insisted that the cost was “£3.64 per person.” Which seems an incredibly optimistic estimate for all of the above.
So, we decided to use the Freedom of Information Act and ask the question directly:
HMRC is currently running a series of ‘Building our Future’ presentations for its staff. Could you please provide details of how much this exercise will cost in total and a breakdown of where those costs arise? In particular, I am interested in: the salary costs of paid time off work for both attendees and hosts/facilitators, the cost of room hire, the cost of coach hire, the cost of travel expenses for staff who make their own way there, and the cost of printing the associated materials. However, please also include any additional outlay which may have arisen not listed here.
As you might expect, HMRC’s response wasn’t to provide an honest answer, but to evade the question:
I can confirm that HMRC holds information within the scope of your request. We estimate that the time to search, retrieve and extract all of the information relevant to your request would exceed the FOIA cost limit to deal with it. This is because the information you have requested is not all held centrally. The fees limit, which is specified in regulations, equates to one person spending 3½ working days locating and extracting all of the information within scope of the request. Consequently, under section 12(1) of the FOIA, HMRC is not obliged to comply with your request and we will not be processing it further.
We appealed this decision and asked for a review of the decision. However, it was reiterated that the cost to fully answer this was prohibitive as a lot of the information was held locally at different sites (for example the cost of coach hire and travel expenses).
However the review did make one assertion that we thought unusual:
I can confirm that attendance at the events by staff was not paid time off.
This is a strange assertion, since no member of HMRC staff took leave or their own time to attend the events. We were all taken there on the clock and spent three hours of work’s time listening to HMRC’s propaganda.
On the basis of this, however, we came to the conclusion that we weren’t going to get a straight answer and decided to produce our own estimate of the cost. Our calculation is detailed below.
Cost of room hire
54,000 staff at £3.64 per person: £196,560
Coach hire and travel expenses
1 coach for 1 day (3 events): £500 – 700 events: £349,500
AA – £14,903 – £6.82ph | 5,014 staff: £34,195.48ph
AO – £18,009 – £8.24ph | 25,235 staff: £207,936.40ph
O – £23,010 – £10.53ph | 14,405 staff: £151,684.65ph
HO – £28,780 – £13.17ph | 8,450 staff: £111,286.50ph
SO – £35,232 – £16.13ph | 3,416 staff: £55,100.08ph
G7 – £47,218 – £21.61ph | 2,481 staff: £53,614.41ph
G6 – £58,149 – £26.62ph | 1,075 staff: £28,616.50ph
60,076 staff = £642,434.02ph
54,000 staff (89.88%) for three hours = £1,732,259
Cost of printing
Cheapest quote obtained by PCS for 54,000 40 page A4 colour booklets: £16,500
Based on our estimated figures, the total cost for Building our Future phase 1 is £2,294,819.
This amount has been reached using data in the public domain where possible and taking HMRC at their word.
Where we have had to extrapolate data, we have used the lowest available figure. For example, the salary costs are based on the minimum salary for each pay band, so will in fact be higher based on many staff being higher up their band’s pay scale. We have also excluded the Senior Civil Service, despite their attending these events as well.
The estimate also excludes any revenue that would have been generated by staff if they were doing their actual job during the three hours of the event.
What it is important to remember is that this was only the first Building our Future event. The second phase is now ongoing, with more venue, printing, travel and salary costs adding to the total. Nor will this be the last, as HMRC plan to have at least two phases per year, as it is ‘an ongoing conversation.’ This would equate to almost a full day per person each year, or 0.5% of payroll, compared to the 0.2% of payroll that trade union facility time cost last year and the 0.1% target imposed by the Cabinet Office for this year. Side-lining the trade unions appears to cost more than simply engaging with and talking to us!
We therefore invite HMRC to correct our estimated figure, using the actual figures, and to meet with the commitment made by David Gauke MP on 9 July 2014 that “The final costs will be published online as part of the Government’s commitment to transparency.”
We are waiting.
 HMRC intranet – ‘Message from Lin Homer: The next phase of Building our Future’
 HMRC intranet – Hotseat answer: ‘Cost of Building our Future events’
 The figure of £500 a day was quoted for the coach taking staff from The Triad, Bootle, to events at The Park Hotel. This estimate assumes that only one coach was used per event, when in reality coaches came from different parts of Liverpool carrying staff for each event. Hire costs would also vary considerably in more expensive parts of the country, making this a very significant under-estimate.
 HMRC intranet – ‘2014 pay award for staff in grades AA to 6‘