Posts Tagged ‘HMRC staffing’


Why closing down HMRC’s network won’t save money either

November 22, 2015

A correspondent draws my attention to another reason why closing down HMRC’s network offices to concentrate in 13 regional centres is a bad bad bad idea.  It may not save the money anyway.

As I already suggested, it seems unlikely that HMRC can achieve spectacular savings in rent by announcing its preferred locations and only *then* negotiating for new premises.  I know office space isn’t exactly at a premium outside of London but are there really modern buildings which can house thousands of staff to be had for the asking?  There are unlikely to be so many suitable premises in each location that HMRC can sit back and expect a reverse premium for their willingness to move in: is it not much more likely that landlords will have seen them coming and hold out for substantial rents, as high or higher than the sum of the small office spaces being given up?

My correspondent, however, also suggests it is worth a look at the costs and patterns of employment.  In Wales, Scotland and for much of England it seems there are jobs being moved from areas of high unemployment to areas of low unemployment.  The current prediction is that 90% of the affected staff can move with their jobs to the new locations.  However around 70% of HMRC’s staff are in junior grades and – my correspondent suggests – 70% of those junior grades are part-timers on fewer than 20 hours a week.  Junior staff who are in part time work tend to be mainly women, mainly because they have other responsibilities.  This is a demographic unlikely to be able to commute for an extra hour each way every day. It’s a plan put together by people in London, for whom and hour and a half commute each way is a regrettable fact of life if you want to live somewhere bigger than a rabbit hutch.  Outside of London, however, the work/life balance is different.

So how will that work out? If someone is offered a post in one of the new HMRC Regional Centres an accepts it, will HMRC have to pay the excess travel costs, at least for the first year or so, as is usual in the Civil Service?

If the office space is expensive and employment costs increase, then how will there be savings?

The only savings I can see come from, well, shafting the employees.  If someone refuses a transfer to an office an hour and a half away, will they then  be considered to have made themselves voluntarily unemployed?  With the civil service pay cap and the abolition of pay progression, any new employee taken on to replace them would be on the lowest point on the scale and likely to stay there.  So you exchange one employee on a decent salary and one person on jobseekers allowance for one new employee on a lower salary and one former employee on… nothing at all.  Ka ching?


Only connect

June 25, 2012

Today the PCS – the Public and Commercial Services union – in HMRC – is on strike (or, as Sky news helpfully has it, “Jimmy Carr inspires thousands to walk out“)  The strike is in protest at cuts in HMRC staffing and to what they call “creeping privatisation” including two trials of using commercial services to replace HMRC call centre staff.  At the same time there is a lot of political noise about abolishing various benefits such as housing benefit for the under 25s.  The thinking around this is presumably that they can always go home to Mummy and Daddy, can’t they – an astonishing display of privileged thinking from the people who have never had an actual proper job in their lives.

Twitter, as ever, summed it up in 140 characters: ” Cutting housing benefit to under 25s might save you £2bn.  Well done.  Collecting the tax will save you £76 bn.  Happy to help.”

Only connect.

Meanwhile, here is the response I sent last week to the consultation on “possible changes to income tax rules on interest” – yes, I responded to all the ones that closed on Friday, I just didn’t have time to blog about it last week!  But there is a connection to today’s action, in that this is yet another consultation document that has a sloppy impact assessment that doesn’t make any compelling case for change, which is of course the point of doing the thing in the first place.  There’s an inbuilt cost to businesses and the rest of us in making any change to tax law at all – the cost of people having to learn about the changes and implement any changes to their own systems when they could otherwise be spending their time making widgets and earning profits.  So it’s one of the basic tenets of better regulation that you only make changes when the benefits justify the costs.

Is the current crop of consultations a bit woolly on the whole cost/benefit analysis side because they’re just going through the motions of consultation, or have they genuinely not got the resources any more to do the basic analysis work that ought to underpin any changes to legislation?


Possible changes to income tax rules on interest: consultation response

Dear Tony

This is an individual response to the consultation and will also be published over the next couple of days (with commentary) on my blog,
I cannot see that the case is made for any changes to take place.  Although the impact assessment shows a 200m exchequer impact on the possible withdrawal of an exemption for intra-group Eurobonds, the remainder of the proposals are said to lead to “improved rules on the taxation of interest and interest-like returns” but what the “improvement” represents is not clear and there is no quantification of any impact on individuals, businesses or HMRC.  There is no cost/benefit analysis which would justify the change, and no compelling case for change is made elsewhere in the document.
It also seems to me that this is a consultation which would have benefited from a step back and look at the whole interest question in the round – the consultation is said to cover “the income tax rules on the taxation of interest and interest-like returns” but not to cover proposed “changes to the procedures for the collection of income tax deducted at source by companies, local authorities and individuals”.  Why not?  Wouldn’t it have been sensible to have looked at the taxation of interest – all interest – at once and made much more radical simplification?


May the fourth be with you

May 4, 2012

(When nine hundred years old we are, still funny that will be!)

I’m walking a fine line with this blog: as a former HMRC employee, I’m not allowed to write my memoirs for two years, and I’m not ever – of course – allowed to breach the Official Secrets Act by revealing anything I happen to know about what happens in HMRC that isn’t in the public domain.

However I do, of course, retain the rights of any citizen to comment on anything which IS in the public domain – like the consultations I’m responding to, and the quality standards which apply when government departments publish impact assessments and tax impact assessments.  That’s why I tend to be over-generous with my links to publicly available sources, just to make it clear I’m staying on the right side of the line.

So let’s have a look today at some non-HMRC publications.

First of all, what about this article in Taxation magazine?  (It’s behind a paywall I’m afraid so those of you who aren’t accountants or HRMC employees – there ARE people reading this who aren’t accountants or HMRC employees, right?  Right?? – won’t be able to see it, sorry.)  Essentially it’s an account of someone being pursued for a failure to include some pension income in his tax return and, when it was pointed out that the income was *on the return*, apparently being told that the entry was in a box on the return that wasn’t part of the return!  That’s some catch, that catch 22!

The article concludes that HMRC staffing levels have been cut too far too fast, and we shouldn’t blame the staff but the management.

Then there’s this, from Accountancy Age

In my opinion the widespread problems which currently plague HMRC are the result of a combination of weak leadership – from an executive committee without adequate expertise – and political interference from a Government which not only continually shifts the goalposts but also makes unreasonable demands, expecting performance to improve while costs are cut.

And then there is the ARC (Association of Revenue and Customs) forum on the FDA (union) website to which I have access as a life member but which is definitely inaccessible to non-members, sorry.  You’ll have to take my word for it, then, when I tell you the current discussions include a fairly exasperated explanation that the people working 50 hours a week – and their managers – are acting illegally if they haven’t signed the European Working Time Directive opt-out letter, and that they actually shouldn’t agree to do this in the first place.

So I don’t think I’m on the wrong side of the line in concluding that HMRC is overworked and understaffed and not strategically well-managed.

Why is this posted under the heading of “May the Fourth Be With You”?  Remember the climax of original Star Wars?  Obi Wan folds up his light sabre and lets Darth Vader cut him down, knowing that his legacy will continue if Luke and the others escape, and that he himself will survive in glowy Jedi heaven.

I was very taken by the discussion on Question Time last night and the assertion that public sector strikes would somehow be suicidal for the unions.  But I can’t help wondering whether, if the tax workers folded up their metaphorical light sabres and let us see what the country would look like without them, they would be unexpectedly triumphant out of left field, or live on in memory only, albeit in glowy moral superiority, like Obi Wan.

Let’s not try it.  Countries where the tax system is corrupt or inept aren’t places where I’d want to live.  So let’s not become one, by accident, design or underinvestment.