The hon. Gentleman makes a very fair point. The relationships among other local service providers are equally important—the local authority and the local police in Oldham know what is going on in the community. Those localised conversations can no longer take place because the facility is not in the town as it used to be. It is ridiculous that Phoenix House, where HMRC was based in Oldham, is right outside the Oldham Central stop of the Metrolink tram line that takes just 18 minutes to get to Manchester city centre. It would have been very easy to make Phoenix House the new regional hub if there was a desire to do that, but the truth was that it was not even on the list for consideration because it was assumed that the regional hubs had to be in the city centre, at the expense of the town. That is shameless.
The Government tell us that times are hard, austerity bites and we have to live within our means, so surely there is a greater onus on them to maximise every bit of public investment where there is capital or revenue, and to provide proper scrutiny of where the investment goes, to make sure that the money is spent in the most efficient way for the taxpayer. The Government themselves have said that they did not do that. At best, that is approaching bad administration. The very basic things that I would expect a Government to do when spending public money—ensuring that it has the best effect—have not taken place.
What does that mean for a town such as Oldham? The loss of 2,000 staff by the local authority, on top of staff losses at the county court, the magistrates court, the police service and a range of other public institutions in the town, means that there are fewer people going out at lunchtime to buy a sandwich and supporting the local retail environment. There are fewer people going out shopping and using the bars and restaurants after work. There is less footfall in the town generally of people supporting the local economy. None of that was taken into account. We ask what was the local economic impact assessment; the answer is “there wasn’t one”.
If the Government are serious about having a stronger Britain after Brexit, about ensuring that public money is used to the best effect and about ensuring that our towns can be as strong as our cities, it is important to have a new approach. That new approach has to be to ensure that central Government decisions take into account the economic decisions at a local level. We also need to ensure that there is joined-up government. Government Departments that do not talk to one another are doing estate reorganisations in HMRC, the Department for Work and Pensions, local authorities and sub-regional government. No one has asked the basic question, “If we’re being forced to reduce staff and to reconfigure office accommodation, would it make sense to come together in Oldham and share office provision in that town, to support the local economy?” The conversation is not taking place.
It is too late for Oldham. That callous, reckless decision has been made; it has not provided value for money to the taxpayer and it has kicked Oldham when it was already struggling to get up from the ground. But there is still a chance to do the right thing for the towns that have not yet seen their office closed. I urge the Government to do the right thing.