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HMRC set off a flurry of news headlines this morning by unveiling its plans to close 137 local offices over the next 12 years and to reorganise its teams into 13 regional centres. This follows the closure of 281 walk-in enquiry centres over the past 18 months.
The formal announcement alerted the general public to what accountants and HMRC staff have known for some time: that to meet ambitious cost and performance targets, HMRC is cutting back on frontline staff and prioritising digital interactions with taxpayers and their advisers. Now at its halfway point, the modernisation programme has been backed with investment in online services, data analytics, new compliance techniques and new ways of working, the department said.
HMRC chief executive Lin Homer explained that the changes will enable HMRC to “do more with less” - including the impact of £100m in savings on property costs by 2025.
“HMRC has too many expensive, isolated and outdated offices. This makes it difficult for us to collaborate, modernise our ways of working, and make the changes we need to transform our service to customers and clamp down further on the minority who try to cheat the system,” she said.”
“The new regional centres will bring our staff together in more modern and cost-effective buildings in areas with lower rents. They will also make a big contribution to the cities where they are based, providing high quality, skilled jobs and supporting the government’s commitment for a national recovery that benefits all parts of the UK.”
HMRC is still on the lookout for specific properties that will meet its criteria for “large, modern regional centres” that have the digital infrastructure and training facilities to support the new organisational alignment, but indicated that they will be located in the following cities:
● North East – Newcastle
● North West – Manchester and Liverpool (Queen's Dock building pictured above)
● Yorkshire and the Humber – Leeds
● East Midlands – Nottingham
● West Midlands – Birmingham
● Wales – Cardiff
● Northern Ireland – Belfast
● Scotland – Glasgow and Edinburgh
● South West – Bristol
● London, South East and East of England – Stratford and Croydon.
The regional centres will be supported by four specialist sites concentrating on IT work and liaising with other government agencies and departments. These include existing facilities in Telford, Worthing, Dover and at the Scottish Crime Campus in Gartcosh.
The main HMRC trade union, PCS, noted that the latest closures and consequent job losses are the latest episode in a programme that has seen 11,000 full-time equivalent staff posts cut since 2010 that have crippled the department’s ability to cope, as evidenced in the latest report on this subject from the Public Accounts Committee last week.
“It has been abundantly clear for years that the department has cut too many staff and that services are suffering,” said PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka. “The department needs major investment backed by a real political commitment to tackle tax evasion and avoidance as an alternative to more damaging spending cuts.”
AccountingWEB members have a long tradition of criticising HMRC’s cost-cutting and rationalisation. The VAT Doctor, a former Revenue employee, commented earlier this morning that practitioners should not be too surprised about the regional reorganisation: “It mirrors what happened with the large accountancy firms, who also used to be everywhere and who are now in regional hubs.
“The large firms also use regional hubs and sometimes overseas ones to prepare tax returns and CT comps and so it would be a bit odd if the profession moaned about this too much. I really fear for the public service element though.”