The Public and Commercial Services Union (PSC) has called on the government to halt HMRC’s transformation project because the loss of experience caused by office closures will leave the Revenue “not fit for purpose”.
The trade union has responded to HMRC’s progress report, which outlines the tax authority's ambitions to move around 90% of its staff to 13 regional centres, resulting in the closure of 170 of its local offices by 2022.
The PSC claimed HMRC has lost staff over the previous year whose length of service is equivalent to a remarkable 17,000 years’ worth of experience.
Speaking to Civil Service World, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka used this calculation to pour scorn on HMRC’s transformation project: “HMRC’s claim that 90% of staff will be able to move to the new regional hub offices is already proving to be a fallacy,” he said.
“With wages continuing to stagnate, HMRC is finding it difficult to retain new staff, making it harder to deliver its core functions.”
And if the Brexit withdrawal plans go awry, the prospect of a no-deal Brexit has the potential to inflict further disruption on stretched tax officials.
Last month we reported news of HMRC leaning on PwC to administer Brexit-related grants so that the department can meet the deadline for a new customs arrangement. And HMRC’s recently knighted chief Jon Thompson even conceded last October that HMRC would need 5,300 extra civil servants to cope with a no-deal scenario
The PSC’s Serwotka expects HMRC’s regional offices to further hinder their Brexit preparations. He said the tax authority's ability to monitor what goods are coming into the country will diminish, with half the new regional centres being located at a significant distance from the UK's ports.
“There is still no practical solution to the fact that under the department’s transformation plans, in Northern Ireland, the UK’s only land border with the EU will be at least forty miles from the nearest HMRC office,” he added.
The loss of experienced staff will do little to assuage AccountingWEB members from criticising HMRC’s poor service. This accountant bugbear was described in this week’s Practice Talk by Linda Frier as her firm’s “biggest frustration”.
However, HMRC said the move to consolidate teams into 13 regional centres instead of isolated pockets of colleagues spread across 170 offices will make it easier for staff members to collaborate, move jobs and build a career.
An HMRC spokesperson said: “Our regional centres are in locations where the majority of our employees are already based – the impact on our people was key to our location decisions. We want to keep as many people as we can and still expect around 90% of our 2015 workforce across the UK will either work in a regional centre or see out their career in an existing HMRC office.
“We have been clear that, if someone can move to a regional centre, transitional site or specialist site, and has the skills HMRC needs or is able to develop them - there will be a role for them. The moves to regional centres will be phased with some offices remaining open for longer as stepping stone sites and transitional sites remaining open for up to ten years.”
HMRC has already cut the ribbon on a regional centre in Croyden and a transitional site in Canary Wharf and will open two further regional centre locations in Bristol and Belfast this year.
About Richard Hattersley
Richard is AccountingWEB's practice correspondent. If you have any comments or suggestions for us get in touch.