Peter Dowd (Bootle) (Lab): On 12 November, HMRC made its “Building our Future: location strategy” announcement. As far as I am concerned, that is the precursor to the end of 50 years of my constituency’s links with the civil service as a major public employer. More than 2,500 hard-working, committed, loyal and productive staff at four sites will be affected by the announcement, of whom almost 700 are my constituents. Many of them are my friends, and many of them work in specialist and complex areas of investigation and administration. Regrettably, I found out about the detail—I use the word “detail” very loosely—in a very short letter from the chief executive. It was sent at 2.14 pm on 12 November, which was when Parliament was in recess. It said:
“I am writing to let you know that HMRC has today announced the next step in our ten-year modernisation programme to create a tax authority fit for the future, committing to high quality jobs and the creation of 13 new regional centres serving every region and nation in the UK.”
vMembers should consider how it feels to tell that to the hundreds of people who will lose their jobs, and to the thousands who will be moved out of my town centre. It seems that every Tom, Dick and Harry knew about the change before I did, and that is disrespectful not to me, but to the thousands of people in my constituency who are affected.
On reading the letter, it almost felt as if I should be grateful to HMRC for continuing to employ people anywhere to collect tax, and as if the service was expanding rather than contracting. I do not know how it managed to do that, but it did.
As I understand it, almost 170 offices will be closing, and they will be replaced by 13 regional centres and four specialist sites over the next five years, although some existing sites will remain open for longer. By 2021, HMRC will be operating out of just 35 locations. For staff in Bootle, the news is particularly shocking.
Litherland House is expected to close in 2018-19, followed by the Triad tax office and St John’s House in 2019-20. Comben House will also close. Those closures will have a significant and, in many cases, devastating impact on large numbers of people, staff and families. The implication in the letter is that staff should be grateful for having a job, even if it has a major effect on their lives, which is an absolute disgrace.
Many staff will face additional costs, with car parking charges and so on, and a detrimental effect on their family lives. They will have to travel to a regional centre, the location of which they have not yet been told. HMRC has announced that it will move to these regional centres, but it will not say where those centres will be. It will be devastating news wherever it is if it is not in the centre of my town. Many questions must be asked, but before I ask some of them, let me just quote Accountancy Live, which is a web-based professional site. It says:
Tax advisers and professional bodies are sceptical about whether HMRC’s plans to close 137 offices…cut real estate costs and save £100m, will deliver improvements in customer service levels, amid concerns that the changes could stretch the tax department to breaking point.”
Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (SNP): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the cuts will put HMRC under even more pressure at a time when more resources are needed to militate against the ongoing problems that both HMRC and Concentrix are causing? Numerous constituents have contacted me, suffering from the inadequacies of both departments, and I am sure that those problems will only be exacerbated by the cuts.
Let me put a few questions to the Minister. When will the locations of the new regional centres be announced? Has an equality impact assessment been carried out on all the areas affected, particularly the four sites in my constituency? When did HMRC establish which sites were to close, and why was the decision not subject to consultation with Members of Parliament, trade unions, the Treasury Committee, and the Public Accounts Committee? Will the impact of additional costs be factored into the departmental deals, as there has been a pay freeze for God knows how long? What level of community or local business consultation has taken place ahead of the announcements? As far as I am concerned, absolutely none has taken place. Have the following losses to HMRC been taken into account? What about redundancies, income tax, local business tax, increase in jobseeker’s allowance, income support claims, national insurance contributions? The list goes on.
In my constituency specifically, what will happen to the 136 benefits and credits staff currently based at the Triad? When Litherland House closes, how will the other Bootle offices accommodate the staff? What will be the cost of the temporary building adjustments needed until 2020? What will be the cost of altering the software in order to move profiles around sites during the transition period? The questions go on, but we have had not one answer. I demand answers to those questions.
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