[Mr. Martin Caton in the Chair] — HMRC (Office Closures)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:46 am on 11th March 2009.

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Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Financial Secretary (HM Treasury) (also in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) 10:46 am, 11th March 2009

I think that the circumstances of 103 members of staff at Great Yarmouth are being looked at. HMRC is considering how best to accommodate those who cannot move with their existing business while continuing to do appropriate work. A range of options and support is being offered including, for example, redeployment to another business stream in HMRC within reasonable daily travelling distance, assisted home moves for staff to fill posts elsewhere in the Department, a public sector release scheme that offers grants to staff leaving for other front-line public sector jobs and, where available, moves to other Departments.

In January, HMRC signed an agreement with the Department for Work and Pensions. For reasons that we all understand, Jobcentre Plus needs to recruit additional staff. Until a solution can be found, work will continue to be fed back to staff in this position. HMRC is phasing the closure of buildings by partial vacations, which will help to achieve some financial savings, and to accommodate in the interim those staff who cannot move for the types of reason set out by my hon. Friend. The work of reviewing the position of each member of staff will be complete by the end of the month, and it should then be possible to be much clearer about the likely time scale for individual offices to remain open, given our determination to minimise, or preferably avoid, compulsory redundancies. Staff at Great Yarmouth have been told that the office will close by spring next year, but it is pretty clear—he drew attention to some of the reasons—that a number of staff will continue to work in the Great Yarmouth office well after that. As I said, however, details should become clearer next month.

I understand the strength of the concerns expressed by my hon. Friend and others, but I would like to set out the context of the work force change programme. We have long challenged—I know that my hon. Friend supports this—all Departments to increase their effectiveness while making significant efficiency savings. In HMRC, as elsewhere, that can be done only by making radical changes. That was a key reason behind the merger of the two former Departments—Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise—in 2005. The merger was designed to create efficiencies by cutting out the duplication of function and effort. Was that an easy change to make? James Duddridge criticised the way in which that merger has worked out. It is true that these are difficult changes to bring about, but if our aim is to have the most efficient possible delivery of public service, that is the sort of change that we must be willing to make and we must ensure that it succeeds. We are now enabling the combined organisation to reduce the size of its office network. HMRC recognised from the start that it would have to set itself up on national business lines to achieve the benefits of integration and to be in a position to respond more quickly and effectively to changing demands.

The old Inland Revenue was a geographically-based regional organisation, and it was clear from the start that that was not an appropriate way of organising HMRC, which inherited two separate office networks comprising nearly 600 office buildings across the UK. The former Inland Revenue's network of small local offices had developed historically to meet the needs of local employers and taxpayers. Originally, most local offices had a local customer base, but even before the merger that had largely ceased to be the case. The old idea of a local tax office simply serving the local community has long been obsolete.

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John Freeman
Posted on 13 Mar 2009 8:22 am (Report this annotation)

"The old idea of a local tax office simply serving the local community has long been obsolete..."

Well, this just sums up this government's attitude to taxpayers. Everything has to be big and remote, because big and remote is better. Utter rubbish! Extrapolating from this ridiculous argument, government might as well wrap up all local councils and county councils, because they're too close to the citizens. Imagine the savings!

Commercial companies have long realized a lack of personal touch has damaged their rapport with customers (which government now calls us, constantly, too). Local offices for government services are vital and these closures are clearly a disgrace.

The race to drive everything online has been a disaster, with countless IT projects over budget and not yet implemented. Now that IS a waste of taxpayer's money...