Clause 8

Part of National Insurance Contributions Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:00 am on 9th December 2010.

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Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Shadow Minister (Treasury) 9:00 am, 9th December 2010

Indeed. There are already worries that the target of 400,000 applications may be quite ambitious, especially given that we have had only 1,000 applications to date. If the current trajectory were to continue, it would mean only about 80,000 applications over the course of the scheme, which would be woefully short of the ambitions that Ministers have enunciated, so it is an important matter. There are no costs associated with the amendment, so I can see no reason to resist it, and it would give a clear target for all those involved in the administration of the scheme to focus on.

New clause 5, with which the amendment has been grouped, relates to the staffing dedicated to the task in hand and would ensure that those

“dedicated to the administration of Part 2 of” the Bill

“are additional employees and not taken from other tasks necessary for the continuation of the other functions of HMRC.”

During the evidence session, I recall hearing that HMRC’s national insurance complement has 3,000 or so staff, and 240 of them—I may be wrong on the figures, but it was roughly that proportion—would be set aside for undertaking the national insurance holiday. I calculated that that was some 6%. My maths is not that acute this morning, but to set aside 6% of the current national insurance team is quite a chunk of the work force. My anxiety is, therefore, that redeploying those individuals  may have an adverse affect on other elements of national insurance processing activities for either employers or employees.

In the evidence session, officials were upbeat about that impact, as I would expect them to be; most senior managers tend, quite successfully, to gloss over the impact of redeploying staff. Those on the front line, however, know full well that one could not magic away that number of staff without having an effect on some other part of the national insurance system. I must, therefore, press the Minister to tell the Committee in more detail from which tasks those staff will be drawn. Will a particular unit of activity in the national insurance team be closed down, diminished or halved, or will the pool of 240 staff be accumulated by skimming a couple of dozen here or there from different tasks across the organisation?

The new clause sets out our anxieties about the adverse effect on the administration of other national insurance processing tasks and seeks, therefore, to ensure that the scheme will be administered by additional employees. That is an important task and could merit the assurance that there will be additional staff, so as not to diminish the work of the rest of HMRC.

More generally, we have already had a few doubts. I do not want to use the word “sophistry”, but I suspect that there is anxiety in the trade unions representing HMRC staff and others, who feel that although there have been reductions in the head count across HMRC in many different ways, announcements have proclaimed that extra investment or extra head count will be dedicated to particular tasks, without making it clear from where the resources will be found. For the sake of clarity, openness and honesty, it is important that the Minister tells us from what other tasks those staff will be drawn. If he can assure us that they will be additional staff, that would be satisfactory. That is the purpose of new clause 5.