On Thursday 28th April Peter spoke in Westminster in the debate on HMRC: Building our Future Plan.
This is a very important issue for Bootle constituency given the HMRC offices in Bootle are included in the re-organisation. Peter is campaigning to keep these offices open and based in Bootle. Read Peter’s speech in full.
The hon. Gentleman’s point is spot on, and in future we must try forensically to consider those connections.
I previously used the word “pusillanimous” to describe the Government’s past actions, and given the circumstances I thought that was a reasonable way of describing their approach to this issue. This issue affects the lives of thousands of dedicated civil servants up and down the country, but the Government’s claim that it has nothing to do with them rings hollow. On one hand the Government feel that the operation and reorganisation of HMRC is its business, and that they should not interfere as a matter of principle—in other words, senior civil servants and the board can just get on and do what they want, and the Government will remain silent. That is disingenuous at the very least. In short, the Government are ducking their responsibilities again.
On the other hand, like a medieval baron, the Government want to interfere in all sorts of matters that take their fancy. Only yesterday they decided that their attempts to interfere in the running of trade unions was a mistake, which led to a retreat to save the Prime Minister’s bacon and get trade union support in the referendum. The Government also feel able to interfere in the organisation of schools, how they are run, and who will or will not run them at a very local level—almost school by school. However, on a major issue to do with tax raising revenue in this country, they are silent because that is for someone else to deal with. That is not acceptable. The “nothing to do with us” old chestnut will not wash.
These proposals directly affect my constituency. HMRC has been sited in Bootle since the 1960s. There are a number of offices, with other Departments in situ employing more than 3,000 staff. That number is falling day by day. In 2005, HMRC employed 105,000 members of staff, but that number continues to fall. The so-called Building Our Future programme—a misnomer if ever there was one—seeks to close almost 160 HMRC offices and relocate them. A more accurate description would be “Demolishing our Future”.
Apparently, HMRC has criteria by which it chooses which offices are to close, but no account is taken of the impact of those closures on local communities like mine, which have thousands of jobs dependent on the service, the wider impact on the community’s social cohesion, or the effect on the many local businesses that serve those offices. I had a meeting with senior HMRC staff, for which I thank them. However, the criteria that they indicated had been used to inform the closure decisions did not on the whole stand up to much scrutiny for the offices in my constituency.
Let me give some examples. The HMRC staff talked about transport links needing to be available and robust. The Bootle office is three miles from Liverpool city centre where the new office is to be sited—I am not sure whether that site is even available yet. Bootle has excellent bus links across the city region. Indeed, there is a main bus interchange literally 200 yards from one of the main offices, and just a few hundred yards from another one. Both main sites are similarly close to five stations on the Northern and Ormskirk lines. Those stations have excellent cross-city region links, and are no more than 10 to 15 minutes ride from Lime Street station in the city centre, where apparently the office is to go. We are close to the city centre, yet the Government are saying that transport links are essential and therefore the office must be in the city centre.
No discussions have been held with the passenger transport authority in Merseyside, or with the Cheshire or Welsh transport authorities. I mention the Cheshire and Welsh authorities simply because if a substantial part of the decision is based on transport links—among other things that I do not have time to touch on now—the fact that we have not even discussed those links with the area’s transport authorities throws into doubt the robustness of the plan. Consultants were paid a huge amount for this plan, and we should get our money back from them because they pinched it from the taxpayer