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HM Revenue and Customs

Oral Answers to Questions — Treasury – in the House of Commons at 10:30 am on 10th May 2007.

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Photo of Andrew George Andrew George Liberal Democrat, St Ives 10:30 am, 10th May 2007

What plans he has for the provision of Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs offices in rural areas.

Photo of John Healey John Healey The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

As the hon. Gentleman knows, HMRC is carrying out a series of regional reviews of all its office accommodation. It has more than it needs at present, and far more than it will need in the future. Every review will involve detailed consideration and an impact assessment of any proposed closure, and that will take account of the impact on staff, local areas and the local community.

Photo of Andrew George Andrew George Liberal Democrat, St Ives

I am grateful to the Financial Secretary for that response, but I am sure that the whole House will be interested in any calculations and assessments that Ministers have made of the impact of staff reductions on recoverable tax. Given his remarks, will he emphasise the extent to which the Government will satisfy concerns in constituencies such as mine, which includes west Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, that the true socio-economic impacts should be taken into account, and the local community should be fully and properly consulted before final proposals are brought forward?

Photo of John Healey John Healey The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

I can give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. If there are proposals to close offices in Cornwall as part of the review, which is unlikely to kick off in full until next year, full consultation will take place among staff, with local communities also involved, and there will be a full impact assessment on the local economy and the local area. We will take into account the responses that we get during the consultation. That is an important part of the process, and the hon. Gentleman might like to look at our revised proposals for central London, which were heavily influenced by the responses during the consultation period.

Photo of Bob Laxton Bob Laxton Labour, Derby North

May I tell my hon. Friend that there is already anger and concern in my constituency and the whole of Derby about the prospect of 430 staff being moved down the road to Nottingham—well over an hour's journey? That does not make financial or economic sense, and it certainly does not make environmental sense. It is already clear that the move should not take place. In relation to that specific case, will he consider not going ahead with the proposed moves?

Photo of John Healey John Healey The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

No decision on the closure of any offices will be made before Ministers have looked carefully at the results of the consultation and the assessments, and we will do that in the case of my hon. Friend's area. The representations that he and other Members have made will be among the matters that we will consider. At present, however, HMRC has about 40 per cent. more office accommodation than it needs, and taxpayers expect us to use their money in the most efficient way to deliver good services.

Photo of Hywel Williams Hywel Williams Shadow PC Spokesperson (Education), Shadow PC Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Health)

What assurance can the Minister give about the continuation of the Welsh language helpline, which for many years has been run from Porthmadog in my constituency? It may now be moved to Cardiff, where all employers report intense difficulties in recruiting Welsh speakers in the first place. Can the Minister reassure us that the line will continue to be run properly, from Porthmadog?

Photo of John Healey John Healey The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

Concerns and questions about the Welsh language helpline will be considered as part of the review of the office and the location of services in the hon. Gentleman's area, but I can tell him this. We have given a clear commitment that in each and every case, an inquiry centre where taxpayers seek face-to-face advice will remain in its current location or, if necessary, move to another location in the same locality.