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HMRC unveils plans for 13 regional centres

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12th Nov 2015
Editor in Chief AccountingWEB
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HMRC set off a flurry of news headlines this morning by unveiling its plans to close 137 local offices over the next 12 years and to reorganise its teams into 13 regional centres. This follows the closure of 281 walk-in enquiry centres over the past 18 months.

The formal announcement alerted the general public to what accountants and HMRC staff have known for some time: that to meet ambitious cost and performance targets, HMRC is cutting back on frontline staff and prioritising digital interactions with taxpayers and their advisers. Now at its halfway point, the modernisation programme has been backed with investment in online services, data analytics, new compliance techniques and new ways of working, the department said.

HMRC chief executive Lin Homer explained that the changes will enable HMRC to “do more with less” - including the impact of £100m in savings on property costs by 2025.

“HMRC has too many expensive, isolated and outdated offices. This makes it difficult for us to collaborate, modernise our ways of working, and make the changes we need to transform our service to customers and clamp down further on the minority who try to cheat the system,” she said.”

“The new regional centres will bring our staff together in more modern and cost-effective buildings in areas with lower rents. They will also make a big contribution to the cities where they are based, providing high quality, skilled jobs and supporting the government’s commitment for a national recovery that benefits all parts of the UK.”

HMRC is still on the lookout for specific properties that will meet its criteria for “large, modern regional centres” that have the digital infrastructure and training facilities to support the new organisational alignment, but indicated that they will be located in the following cities:

    ●   North East – Newcastle

    ●   North West – Manchester and Liverpool (Queen's Dock building pictured above)

    ●   Yorkshire and the Humber – Leeds

    ●   East Midlands – Nottingham

    ●   West Midlands – Birmingham

    ●   Wales – Cardiff

    ●   Northern Ireland – Belfast

    ●   Scotland – Glasgow and Edinburgh

    ●   South West – Bristol

    ●   London, South East and East of England – Stratford and Croydon.

The regional centres will be supported by four specialist sites concentrating on IT work and liaising with other government agencies and departments. These include existing facilities in Telford, Worthing, Dover and at the Scottish Crime Campus in Gartcosh.

The main HMRC trade union, PCS, noted that the latest closures and consequent job losses are the latest episode in a programme that has seen 11,000 full-time equivalent staff posts cut since 2010 that have crippled the department’s ability to cope, as evidenced in the latest report on this subject from the Public Accounts Committee last week.

“It has been abundantly clear for years that the department has cut too many staff and that services are suffering,” said PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka. “The department needs major investment backed by a real political commitment to tackle tax evasion and avoidance as an alternative to more damaging spending cuts.”

AccountingWEB members have a long tradition of criticising HMRC’s cost-cutting and rationalisation. The VAT Doctor, a former Revenue employee, commented earlier this morning that practitioners should not be too surprised about the regional reorganisation: “It mirrors what happened with the large accountancy firms, who also used to be everywhere and who are now in regional hubs. 

“The large firms also use regional hubs and sometimes overseas ones to prepare tax returns and CT comps and so it would be a bit odd if the profession moaned about this too much. I really fear for the public service element though.”

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Replies (28)

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ghm
By TaxTeddy
13th Nov 2015 08:32

A missed opportunity

Surely they could have considered improving telephone call handling - by setting up in Mumbai.

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Replying to Geoff56:
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By Ken of Chester le Street
16th Nov 2015 12:24

A missed opportunity

That has to be an ironic comment!

 

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By DHarris
13th Nov 2015 11:51

Never learn

HMRC closed most of the tax enquiry centres and small tax offices before having digital capability.

 

They replaced their COP system with RTI another off the shelf software purchase no doubt and now they take 10 months to process repayments

 

HMRC will never learn what staff surveys always told them, the further you move from your customers the worse the service becomes -why not move to a foreign call centre at least it might have appropriate staffing levels!

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By Eric_Timms
13th Nov 2015 11:54

HMRC new regional centres

I don't suppose that it will improve the average taxpayer telephone call answer time of 45 minutes!

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By stratty
13th Nov 2015 11:56

Bad idea

In my opinion the initial closure of contact at local offices and the move to centralisation over ten years ago was the start of the current decline in service levels at HMRC.

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By jline199
13th Nov 2015 12:02

Accounts Offices

With both Shipley and Cumbernauld Accounts Offices earmarked for closure, how do they intend to cover that aspect?

I cannot see that is clear at all.

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By Cloudcounter
13th Nov 2015 12:10

Been there, done that?

Didn't they have the idea of super sized tax offices, starting with Centre 1 all those years ago?

It seemed to me that it was so awful that they didn't bother with Centre 2 onwards.

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By Stoanulus
13th Nov 2015 12:15

Liverpool Building

It is highly amusing that you refer to a 'Queen's Dock' building in Liverpool of which you show a picture as being the address for the new Liverpool one.

This modern building was built to become the VAT headquarters but, as London staff do not want to move North of Watford, it was only partly occupied until Inland Revenue staff moved into it as well.

The entire HMRC staff left the building because it was thought to be sinking (it is built over water on stilts) and a few cracks appeared.The building was sold and is virtually completed in its repairs and conversion into hundreds of 1, 2 and 3 bedroom flats. The building is now called 'The Keel'.

It is unlikely that the 3,000+ Liverpool staff can all move into one flat so your picture is rather unfortunate. Hopefully future new buildings will actually be an improvement on those currently used.

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By Eddystone
13th Nov 2015 12:27

Close local offices ?  Thought they did that years ago.  I really have no idea where our nearest one is now, possibly Wolverhampton which is 60 miles away.

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By cyrynpen
13th Nov 2015 12:30

I find it worrying that they're closing their Welsh language centre. 

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By Ian McTernan CTA
13th Nov 2015 12:39

Lost Contact

In pushing everything into these super centers they are losing all contact with their 'customer base' (LOL).

For the older generation or those that want to deal with matters face to face, all these changes mean they are left out in the cold.

I feel sorry for people working in HMRC who have to deal with these constant changes as well as constant changes of direction and terrible computer systems that don't even talk to each other.

Maybe one day someone from HMRC management will be able to explain why it isn't possible to extract figures from HMRC Tax Returns rather than having to complete another form to report for income to the Tax credits people who then make a complete mess of it and then end up demanding £5,000 or more back from people who hardly earn that much in some years.

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By jamiea4f
13th Nov 2015 12:59

A classic example of...

Listening to your customers and then doing completely the opposite.  I may be thick but I don't understand how shutting down what few "local" tax offices they have and reorganising them into ones that will be miles from most people will solve their "can't answer phone call" problem.  Surely if they had MORE local centres people may be willing to go there with queries rather than waiting 37* minutes for an answer which may or may not arrive?  It all smacks of making them harder to contact rather than easier when people get accelerated payment notices etc.

 

 

(*37 minutes=Government estimate.  Actual times may vary considerably..)

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PJ
By paulgrca.net
13th Nov 2015 13:01

South West - Bristol!

Just 120 miles away! 190 Miles if you happen to be in Penzance.

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By trevv69
13th Nov 2015 13:23

East - Stratford!!
If it were Norwich it would be bad enough, but once again London sucks the life out of the East of England.

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By ianthetaxman
13th Nov 2015 14:12

I remember when....

When I worked for HMRC in the 1990s the office contained two local tax offices (i believe there had been just one large office originally, but this had then been broken down in to more manageable 'sub offices' over time, and was then down to just the two), a collectors office and an enquiry centre that people could call in to.  it was situated just off one of the main roads in the city centre, and there was (limited) parking in the immediate area.

We had a day out at the Darlington office, which was adopting a new and modern method of working, and pretty soon, our office had merged in to one tax office, although we kept the other services.  The place was renovated (ah the delights of security overtime...) and we moved away from allocations of work to dealing with post as it came in to the general 'pool'.

Jump forward in time to few years later after I'd left HMRC to work in a firm of accountants and I could still ring up people I knew could help sort things out for clients.

Jumping further forward to today, and the building is still used by HMRC but is no longer open to the public.  Somewhere between this and the last step, things radically changed.  About ten years ago I had to call in to what was still the enquiry office, to be met by obstinate and disillusioned employees that didn't come across as the face and image of a modern HMRC.  

Sounds like they are returning to the old days - big central offices (like Centre 1 as someone else has commented, or The Triad) - but, the problem of slow turnaround times and a poor telephone service will still exist in the short to mid term, and probably get worse before it gets better.  The digital revolution will come to HMRC in time, but probably kicking and screaming all the way, causing trouble as it goes.

This isn't a rant or a 'it was different back then, young people these days, eh?' wander down memory lane - more of an observation on how HMRC changes but not always for the better.

 

 

    

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By RPTAS
13th Nov 2015 14:32

Tax Office

An organisation is judged by its clients by the the way it is perceived by the clients.

Need I say more!

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By mbee1
13th Nov 2015 14:35

When I joined HMRC from school in the 70's Centre 1 hadn't been open very long and was going to be the first of a newly centralised system of about a dozen offices throughout the country.  Centre 2 was on the cards and was at Shipley and I remember having an afternoon out to go and visit the Shipley offices to see what it was all about.

Needless to say this never took off.  Then IWG(C) came in (Inspectors Work & Grading (Committee)) where smaller offices would close if there wasn't the technical work for Inspectors.  I worked in one of those offices that closed (Matlock) because it covered a lot of rural Derbyshire where there were lots of farms but not a lot of technical corporation tax.  

What comes around goes around but let's hope they spend to put the technology in place and , more importantly, it works!!

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Replying to MichaelH:
David Ross
By davidross
15th Nov 2015 11:00

Exactly what I remember from when I joined Inland Revenue, 1975

There were to be 13 regional centres and I expected to be shifted from Bournemouth to Portsmouth. I understand it never happened because Ricky Tomlinson and his friends ran the longest ever building dispute in Bootle. This allowed enough time for the powers that be to realise what a [***]-up Centre 1 was (same computer type as the DVLA, also notorious in the 1970s)

Later a re-think brought about PLANET - also 13 centres I think - the Tax Man seems to have a fascination with that unlucky number!

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By AndrewV12
13th Nov 2015 14:40

I had a feeling this topic would pop up today

Stratford will be my regional  centre, why close down the Chelmsford, Norwich, Colchester ....branches.

 

Does this mean if I have to have a meeting with HMRC I have to travel to Stratford, I hope not, I have a feeling these new centres are created to target tax evasion and those that participate in it, unsure how the rest us who do not promote or use tax evasion schemes will get on.  

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paddle steamer
By DJKL
13th Nov 2015 17:06

So then, which bright spark thought  that thirteen centres was a good number to reassure the public, Dan Brown perhaps? 

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By carolelmcarre
13th Nov 2015 23:56

Blue Sky Thinking - out of the Box No?

Well well well.  I applaud the strategic thinking.  What do you do if your service is in a complete mess, you can't afford to pay enough staff to turn it around, (by being a) sufficiently staffed up with b) staff who are highly trained (ie know the answers to queries which are not absolutely basic, and c) backed up with systems and websites which adequately cover the needs of 80% of your (compulsory) clients), and you can't walk away from the service, government is breathing down your neck demanding better 'outcomes' in financial terms, and you are being asked to make even more cuts.

OK - so here's what you do:-  (every threat is an opportunity, turn that frown up side down)

Cut back even further on staff and premises (indicating that it will in future take even longer to get the phone answered, although there may be some upside if the new centres contain staff who have been more adequately trained - this will save some money and who knows might even save some time answering phone calls because,you get someone else to do your work for free, and hopefully even create competition amongst different individuals and firms to be accredited and trained.

If the proposed accreditation and classification of agents takes place that is what I think will happen.  Tier 1 agents (having undergone voluntarily training courses etc and having been promised a better telephone access to HMRC advice) will probably attract minimal or no review of their work - so essentially HMRC will not bother checking their work at all in detail, effectively getting the work for free. Strike 1 for less costs.

Tier 2 will get a slightly more onerous review of work, but again the majority of their work will be unchecked - again HMRC is proposing a risk based approach to their current system of numerical reviews.  Tier 2 agents will also get faster responses by phone - so I am guessing there will be less things to query and more reliance on agent's work. Strike 2 for less costs.

The only problem with this is, who are the agents working for?  HMRC - who get a free, standardised service or clients, who have to pay and are entitled to expect that their interests are a paramount concern.

Then there are the tier 3 and 4 agents, who will receive a sub standard (can it be worse?) service from HMRC, and whose work will attract significant review. Strike 3 for a isk based assessment and targeting of the newer slimlined resource.

 

Genius No?  Anyone agree?   

 

 

 

 

 

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By SE_Confused
14th Nov 2015 11:06

carre, you nailed it!

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Chris M
By mr. mischief
15th Nov 2015 07:35

nuts

5 or 6 years ago HMRC opened a centre at Lilyhall near Workington, 7 miles away from me.  With great fanfare about "supporting the local community, enabling a great service by using local staff" blah blah blah.

Now it is being closed.  With all the same management-speak drivel to justify exactly the opposite decision.

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By johnjenkins
16th Nov 2015 10:13

Well I think

it's a great idea and I want more of these brilliant ideas to come out of HMRC. The reasoning is simple. Give an organisation like HMRC a bit more rope and the inevitable will happen. The quicker the better.

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By jline199
17th Nov 2015 15:00

Should we be surprised?

See :-

http://goo.gl/TDkYVi

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By The VAT Doctor
19th Nov 2015 10:08

New staff needed

Let's be honest, what HMRC needs is a different type of workforce for a modern age. Their offices AND staff are stuck in the 70's. I talked recently to an officer from the City where I was at an LVO and was staggered that she is still there, as I left about 30 years ago!

A new workforce can handle and process data better, be more focused on tax and not the retirement cheque or that 4pm (at the latest) finish time. In order to do this, HMRC needs to start again with new better offices better technology. Nothing will get rid of old wood faster than asking them to travel.

This MIGHT work for HMRC, but only with proper handling ad focus.  It might also be the biggest disaster ever!!

Will be fun seeing what happens.

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By johnjenkins
19th Nov 2015 10:33

Any organisation

that is cutting costs, getting rid of trained staff, then hoping to increase the take has got to be bonkers. Unless, of course, HMRC know something we don't.

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By Rowland Rat
22nd Nov 2015 13:24

Customers

I know it is only semantics, but it irks me how taxpayers are referred to as 'customers'. In any normal customer relationship, a supply of goods or services can be expected in return for monetary outlay. I am not sure that can be said to be the case with HMRC.

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