On an extremely superficial reading, HMRC’s business plan offers some relief to staff after years of cuts. But what it in fact offers is a blueprint for more job losses and casualisation, masked by a marginal increase in staff numbers.
It’s this marginal increase which might give you a moment’s pause. The department has lost 34,667 staff since 2005, with 14,200 of those job losses during the tenure of the coalition government. Yet the business plan tells us there will be a rise from 56,500 staff in 2014/15 to 58,900 in 2015/16. 2,400 extra staff isn’t much against so many losses in prior years, but surely it’s better than nothing?
However, as part of this plan the department states that it will “deliver on our staffing level targets through a combination of internal and external recruitment, exit schemes, redeployment and cross-government working.” They will recruit when they “need specialist skills that we either don’t have in the department, or don’t have in the right locations,” which means “increasing capacity where needed and reducing surplus accommodation by 35,000m² elsewhere.”
In other words, while the staffing levels of the department will nominally rise, HMRC will continue to get rid of staff and close offices. The numbers will be made up primarily by people brought in on temporary, unsocial contracts, under the new terms and conditions. This allows the employer to simply replace staff so that the workforce is more malleable and disposable.
It is also worth noting that in 2015/16, Enforcement and Compliance expects staffing levels to flatten out, Personal Tax expects a decrease of 1,141 from 17,466 to 16,325, Benefits and Credits expect an increase of just 598 from 5,274 to 5,872, and Business Tax expects just 19 more staff to grow from 4,442 to 4,461. This means a net fall in staff doing front line tax work despite significant recruitment exercises – particularly in Personal Tax – and only underlines that this business plan isn’t about permanent, stable jobs but about casualisation.
If it gets away with this, HMRC will be able to if not meet its targets at least mask the enormous staffing shortfalls that have come with ten years of cuts. Political pressure from MPs may drop as a result, while the workforce is still left in a weaker position with all of the detriments that entails; increased workload, leave restrictions, more flipping between different work and continued job insecurity.
The Group Executive Committee has written to HMRC asking for full discussions about their plans for the coming year. In those talks, they need to be making clear demands for permanent jobs, to secure and retain more social working patterns, and for no further job cuts (whether those jobs are filled by casuals or not) or office closures.
The union also needs to revive a campaign on jobs and staffing, which to be blunt has been stagnant since at least September. This is incumbent on the GEC, of course, but also on all branches where they can campaign on local issues related to the wider national picture.
In Bootle Taxes Branch, we continue to press management for an end to the use of claimants to do tax work, as agreed at our AGM. We also plan to recruit and organise any new staff who come into our offices as a result of the new recruitment, as all workers are in a stronger position when we stand together.
New jobs in HMRC are always welcome, but we cannot kid ourselves that we have been delivered good news. Beyond the headline we face more cuts, closures and casualisation, and of course we shouldn’t forget that the department needed no ministerial coercion to enthusiastically pursue union busting tactics against PCS. As tempting as it might be to hope, there is no quick end to this dispute.