Why closing all* the HMRC offices is a bad, bad, bad idea

November 18, 2015

*all but 13

HMRC announced last Thursday that their “modernisation” programme now requires them to close all their “expensive, isolated and outdated offices” and bring their remaining staff together in 13 “regional centres”.

This is a bad idea for so many, many reasons.  Here are a few of them.

  • HMRC as a national network used to have a mix of people who worked locally (who would notice a new business starting up or a conspicuous show of unexplained wealth) and people who were moved around the country for promotion (so the standards of service were national).  In the new plan, whole swathes of the country will have no physical HMRC presence.
  • Regional centres where someone spends their whole career have the potential to develop into fiefdoms with their own customs and practices – a national system becomes a postcode lottery.
  • A national system with regular staff mobility has an in-built anti-corruption apparatus**. A static regional team will need another bureaucracy of inspection and quality standard-setting.
  • As the PCS points out, there was no public consultation or parliamentary discussion of the plans. HMRC is a non-ministerial department but that doesn’t mean it can behave like a private company and arrange its affairs to suit itself rather than the public it services.  Obviously we need a tax administration fit for a twenty first century tax system… but who decided this was it?

There are also a couple of missed opportunities in the announcement

  • “The new regional centres will bring our staff together in more modern and cost-effective buildings in areas with lower rents”  I spent the last two or three years of my HMRC career living in Sheffield and working in London.  Because 90% of what almost any HMRC employee does can be done on a computer, and the computer could be located anywhere.  If HMRC invested in a decent network of secure laptops they could let large numbers of their staff work from home: do staff need to be concentrated in accounts factories to do their jobs?
  • The locations have been announced.  The buildings to be used in each location … haven’t.  Good luck with negotiating those “lower rents”, then!


**see for example Christopher Hood The Art of the State (p162) on the “gaming machine model of organisational design in traditional tax bureaucracy”


  1. The Stoke-on-Trent office is being moved to Manchester I believe. Probably because Manchester is much cheaper than Stoke! Really?

    • Well I’m sure the announcement will make it *much* easier for HMRC to negotiate a good deal!

  2. It was interesting to see Commons speaker John Bercow say (Hansard 17 Nov): “I confess that I am sympathetic to the view that has been expressed … that the announcement about HMRC closures is of a kind that might reasonably be expected to be made to the House.”

  3. […] Tax simplification and Better Regulation « Why closing all* the HMRC offices is a bad, bad, bad idea […]

  4. […] What is more, those thirteen new bunkers do themselves have massive inherent design flaws built into them. Wendy Bradley, whose tax blog I do not reference enough, detailed some of these a few days ago, saying: […]

  5. […] plan to close down its local network and move to massive regional centres is a bad idea (see here, here and here for […]

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