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I agree. There is a strong argument that the value of the local offices in communities such as Livingston and Cumbernauld is significant. It is much easier for people to get to work there rather than commuting, which of course adds to the environmental damage. It is much better to have a shorter commute to work. The PCS union has also criticised the move and called into question HMRC’s rationale, as has my hon. Friend Chris Stephens, who may have more to say on these things later.
All of this comes at a time when the head of HMRC says that the authority may need to hire an extra 5,000 staff to deal with the logjam at the border because of Brexit. This is a time of growing complexity, and investment in staff and expertise is crucial. Without that expertise, the UK Government are leaving themselves open to a further loss of tax revenue and further potential evasion and avoidance as we head into Brexit.
It is only right that people should pay the taxes that they owe, but HMRC’s botched implementation of the loan charge is nothing short of a disgrace, leaving many people facing the prospect of bankruptcy. The UK Government must, of course, pursue vigorously the organisations that have facilitated those loans, and they must work constructively with those who are seeking a responsible and reasonable repayment plan—one that recoups the unpaid tax while avoiding the unacceptable risk of bankruptcy and homelessness. If HMRC cannot deliver that, an independent arbitration mechanism should be used.
This is not some kind of academic argument. This issue has implications for the real world, for the money available to our public services and for the growing gap between rich and poor. The shadow Chancellor set out the limitations of HMRC’s estimate of the tax gap at some £35 billion. There is a real implication here for all our constituencies when we see cuts coming down the line. Paying tax is a duty. It is the price of a fair society, not a burden to be avoided. Those who seek to avoid and evade their responsibilities, and those who facilitate their behaviour, need a strong message from the UK Government. The Government must explain why they are failing to stop the siphoning away of money that could be paying to educate children and care for the elderly. The SNP is committed to clamping down on tax avoidance and evasion, but we do not yet have the full economic levers to do so as they are still held by the Treasury and HMRC. My hon. Friend Kirsty Blackman has pointed out on many occasions that small countries are much better and more efficient at gathering tax, so I suggest that if the UK Government will not act, they should devolve the powers to Scotland and let us get on with the job of building a fairer society.