HMRC plans to close 137 of its 170 offices, consolidating its workforce around digital processes and more online interactions with taxpayers, in a move unions described as “devastating”.
The strategy, part of a ten-year modernisation programme, will take advantage of the fact that online processes are now well-established, as well as a window in HMRC’s estates contract that won’t appear again for at least another 15 years, HMRC said.
It will see staff brought together in 13 regional centres, located in city centres where possible, as well as four specialist sites for work with IT suppliers or other government agencies or departments. The agency said it plans to scale back its staffing levels at its 100 Parliament Street headquarters.
The new centres are to range in size from 1,200 to 1,700 full-time equivalent employees up to 5,700 to 6,300 staff. HMRC said its 58,000 full-time equivalent employees currently work in 170 offices, some dating from the 1960s or 1970s, each employing 6,000 down to less than 10 staff.
HMRC said the change is meant to help staff collaborate, while meeting government cost-cutting requirements.
“More and more people are managing their financial affairs online and the public expects the same high standards of service from HMRC as they do from banks and retailers,” HMRC said. “These changes mean we’ll be able to deliver better public services at lower cost to the taxpayer, meeting the government’s challenge for all departments to do more with less.”
The regional centres are to be based in Newcastle, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Nottingham, Birmingham, Cardiff, Belfast, Bristol, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Stratford and Croydon, with specialist sites in Telford, Worthing, Dover and at the Scottish Crime Campus in Gartcosh.
The agency said it plans to maintain five transitional sites to allow some staff to continue working in their current locations for 10 to 12 years, and a number of other sites that are to continue operating in place in the short term. The phased approach means 90 percent of current staff are expected to either work in a regional centre or complete their careers in an existing office.
As part of the transition HMRC said it is planning to invest more in digital processes and skills that can reduce the need for human labour, including new online services and the use of data analytics.
The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) said the strategy threatens HMRC’s ability to deliver its services, and called for a public consultation.
“HMRC is currently not planning to subject these proposals to parliamentary scrutiny or public consultation, and we have yet to see any assessment of the impact on staff with disabilities or caring responsibilities, or the socio-economic and environmental effects of such a large-scale closure programme,” PCS stated.
Earlier this month the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee criticised HMRC in a report on its customer service record.
Amongst HMRC’s recent moves to cut costs and increase revenues are its adoption of Google Apps for collaboration and an arrangement under which it will be able to sell taxpayers’ data to private firms.
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