HMRC has today announced that it will roll out the Needs Enhanced Support (NES) service nationwide by the end of May 2014, resulting in the closure of all 281 Face to Face Enquiry Centres by the end of June 2014.
PCS is fundamentally opposed to this decision. We believe that our Enquiry Centres provide a vital public service, which allows taxpayers to access free, expert advice from highly skilled HMRC staff. We fundamentally disagree with HMRC’s view that the new NES service provides a better service by diverting taxpayers from a free, face-to-face appointment to costly, under-staffed telephone lines. We are also extremely concerned about the implications of this decision on the 1,300 people currently working in Face to Face who are now faced with extremely difficult decisions about their future in HMRC.
We would like to make clear to our members that there has been no negotiation or consultation with PCS over this decision and we have not been allowed to examine or influence HMRC’s rationale or plans in advance of this announcement today. We believe that this is because the department’s plans do not stand up to scrutiny.
HMRC has been running down the Enquiry Centre service for a number of years HMRC themselves acknowledge that footfall in our Enquiry Centres has reduced by more than 50% between 2005 and 2013, however they fail to acknowledge that this is entirely a result of their own cuts to this vital public service, which has included reducing Enquiry Centre opening hours and relocating Enquiry Centres from existing HMRC offices to other premises, where they are much more difficult for the taxpaying public to access.
Despite HMRC’s protestations that no decision was taken until after the pilot concluded in December 2013, it has been clear to PCS negotiations, members and the general public that the exercise has been deeply flawed. To date the employer has refused to share the findings of the pilot with us and members will no doubt draw their own conclusions for the reasons for this. Throughout the pilot, HMRC repeatedly changed the pilot scope to deliver the appropriate findings which would justify this decision: they expanded the geographical scope from a defined pilot area in the North East and Yorkshire & Humber to all customers accessing our telephone lines anywhere in the UK, they abandoned the very “drivers of need” that they claimed defined NES customers and offered the new service to anyone who needed help, and they revised their projections when the number of taxpayers accessing the new service failed to reach the expected demand.
PCS is fundamentally opposed to job cuts in HMRC. We believe that office closures and job cuts on the scale currently planned will undermine HMRC’s ability to deliver against its core objectives which are to collect taxes to close the Tax Gap and to provide a vital service to the taxpaying public.
MB 02/14 advised members that we had written to HMRC requesting urgent dialogue on the emerging staffing crisis in HMRC with the aim of achieving a jobs and staffing agreement which would protect our members and the services that they provide. At the time of writing this briefing we have not received a response from the department. The GEC will meet again next week to receive an update from negotiators and to consider whether a ballot of members is necessary to force HMRC to meet members’ demands and it is looking increasingly likely that action will be necessary to wrestle concessions from an employer who is growing increasingly hostile towards both staff and their Trade Union.
We understand that our members working in Face to Face will now have very difficult decisions to make about their future in HMRC. We had agreed with HMRC that all members should have the opportunity of a formal 1-2-1 to better understand that options available to them and to help them to make an informed decision about jobs in the new service, a Voluntary Exit and/or redeployment. HMRC’s unilateral decision to withdraw from this agreement, to deny members a 1-2-1 and to attempt to pressure them into making decisions about their future in HMRC without the information that they need on applying for jobs and VE shows their contempt for our members and their clear intention to pressure members into applying for VE as part of their job cutting strategy. PCS strongly advises members NOT to apply for VE until further notice and we ask all members to read the briefing that we have issued today on VE.
We would also encourage all affected members who feel unable to make a decision because of the lack of information from HMRC about redeployment prospects to write to the Chief People Officer at (William.W.Hague@hmrc.gsi.gov.uk), copying in their local PCS representative so that we can collate and raise members concerns in negotiations.
We will be meeting with HMRC following the announcements to discuss members’ reaction to this devastating news and to press for the information that our members need to make informed decisions about their future.
Further information for all members about PCS’ jobs and staffing campaign will be issued next week after your Group Executive Committee meets.
If you support our alternative vision for HMRC and our campaign demands we urge you to get involved. If you are not yet a member of PCS we urge you to join us today – but to also talk to work colleagues about joining the union and the aims of our staffing campaign.
We would urge you to talk to friends and family about the loss of this vital public service and to contact your MP to express your concerns.
This is the fight of our lives – get involved and play your part.
Vicki Searle – Assistant Secretary
Sharon Leslie – Group Secretary
John Davidson – Assistant Secretary