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MPs 'living in a parallel universe'

09 June 2008 / Mike Truman
Categories: News
Ire as Government insists HMRC job cuts will improve services

The Government has effectively rejected calls to reconsider plans for staff cutbacks at HMRC, citing the need for 'greater efficiency' as justification for redundancies.

This has led to heated suggestions that ministers live in a 'Matrix-like fantasy' and are attempting to introduce 'assembly-line working practices'.

In its long-awaited response to Taxation's online petition, which closed on 1 April, the Government has insisted that the Revenue 'will be both a more efficient and a more customer-focused organisation' once a programme of job losses is completed by 2011.

Last autumn, Taxation launched its Stop the Staff Cuts campaign, with the aim at saving jobs at HMRC. As part of its push, the magazine opened a petition on the prime minister's website.

The document collected 843 signatures after noting that redundancies had 'already had a serious impact on service to taxpayers and their agents, and the loss of experienced staff has surely contributed to the high-profile mistakes made by the [Revenue] recently. The priority now must be to restore morale in the department and the level of service it provides.'

However, these concerns, which were shared by organisations including the TUC and the Public & Commercial Services Union (PCS) gained no sympathy from the Government, which has insisted that its decision to merge the Inland Revenue and HM Customs & Excise to form HMRC 'was taken in the interests of greater efficiency'.

'By bringing teams together, eliminating duplication and rethinking the way in which its services are delivered, HMRC will be both a more efficient and a more customer-focused organisation,' reads the official response.

It goes on: 'Specific quality monitoring measures have been agreed with the Treasury to check on how HMRC is performing and make sure the changes are not delivered at the expense of efficiency and standards of customer service. A programme has recently been set up specifically to improve the level of service to taxpayers' agents.'

These remarks sparked forthright reactions from Taxation editor Mike Truman and the PCS (whose members joined thousands of public service workers on 9 June in a rally to lobby Parliament over fair pay and the future of public services).

Mike accused the Government of 'living in some parallel universe, where service to taxpayers and their agents has not been harmed by the cuts in staff numbers and the move towards a call-centre culture.

He added: 'Our readers, living in the real world rather than this Matrix-like fantasy, know that the service they receive is significantly poorer than it used to be.

'The recent concentration on improving services to agents is very welcome, and it may well be true that the merger can deliver efficiency savings in due course - but it cannot deliver staff cuts at this speed and of this depth without harming customer service.

'If the Government really is measuring service quality and thinks that it has not been adversely affected, it is either measuring the wrong things or ignoring the results of its measurements. The cuts should stop until levels of satisfaction with the service received have been restored,' Mike concluded.

His sentiment was echoed by PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka.

He said: 'Far from making the department more efficient and more focussed on the public, crude Government cuts have actually done the opposite.

'What we are seeing is a reduction in face-to-face advice with the closure of hundreds of offices, the loss of skills and knowledge through target-driven job cuts, in addition to the introduction of assembly-line working practices that de-skill staff.

'The Government has got to recognise that if the public and business are to have confidence in the tax system, [HMRC] needs adequate staff located in the communities they serve.'

Categories: News
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