Tax office closures are ‘devastating’ says union

Members of the PCS union at  HM Revenue and Customs centre at Emerald Court during an earlier dispute.
Members of the PCS union at HM Revenue and Customs centre at Emerald Court during an earlier dispute.

Union officials have hit out at the closure of tax offices – including one in Peterlee – saying they will be calling for Parliament to scrutinise the plans which will affect thousands of North East jobs.

Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has announced that all six tax offices in the region will close as part of a 10-year modernisation plan.

Operations will then move to a single North East base in Longbenton outside Newcastle, starting from 2018-19 with remaining offices closing by 2024-25.

The plans will affect 500 employees at Emerald Court in Peterlee, which will close by 2020-21, and 3,249 workers at sites in Sunderland, Washington, Middlesbrough and Stockton.

And although HMRC says many staff will relocate to Newcastle, it will do whatever it can do minimise the need for redundancies.

It says 6,300 staff will eventually be based in Longbenton, however, the site already employs 5,700 people, making a difference of just 600.

Assistant group secretary Gordon Rowntree, of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), told the Mail the union plans to put pressure on MPs to call for further consultation.

“The news of the tax office closures have been devastating,” he said.

“One of the things the PCS will be doing is we are going to be demanding thorough research to take place over the impact this will have on such a critical public service, looking at how they plan to take 107 offices nationwide and whittling them down just 17.

“It’s such a massive decision that they’ve taken about a public service with no parliamentary scrutiny whatsoever. We will be demanding that Parliament looks at this properly.

“We really believe that this case should have gone through Parliament first and we will be calling for an internal HMRC-wide consultation as well as looking at the socioeconomic impact, where people cannot move to the Newcastle site, and we’ll be putting pressure on MPs and Northern Powerhouse Minister James Wharton.

“The Sunderland offices may be within a reasonable travelling distance of Newcastle, that may not be the case for those who already commute from further afield, like Hartlepool. Their jobs are really under threat, but the impact of these threats will vary by location.

“Over the next few months, we will be putting together a campaign plan and we want to make sure that people get straight information about what exactly is happening going forward.”

HMRC has called the move the next step in its ten-year modernisation programme to create a tax authority “fit for the future”, saying it supports the Government’s commitment to building a ‘Northern Powerhouse’, with the north having around 40%of HMRC staff located there by 2020-21.

Chief executive Lin Homer said: “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.

“The new regional centre in Newcastle will bring our staff together in a modern and cost-effective building. It will also make a big contribution to the economy of the North East, providing high-quality, skilled jobs and supporting the Government’s commitment to a national recovery that benefits all parts of the UK.”