Some 38,000 tax officials are to be forced to become long term commuters to keep their jobs under a huge re-organisation which the National Audit Office says could even hit the collection of taxes.
A damning report by the NAO this week says the planned closure of 170 local tax offices and their replacement by 13 super regional offices could mean a major disruption to services. The government is assuming as many as 5000 people will quit their jobs rather than commute long distances often on overcrowded trains and roads.
The scheme – which is being used as a blueprint for other Whitehall services – has had to be put back by five years because HMRC are finding it difficult to implement.
The first two big offices will open in Croydon, south London and Bristol and HMRC has already signed 25 year leases with no break clauses.
The report says: “Most offices that HMRC is closing are within 50 miles by road of their respective regional centre, except in the South West, the East and the South East, where HMRC’s existing offices are more dispersed. About 100 full-time equivalent staff are based in offices in the South West that are over 100 miles from Bristol regional centre. The longest distance between an HMRC office due to close and the nearest regional centre is 174 miles, from Redruth in Cornwall to Bristol regional centre.
In Scotland, HMRC expects a high proportion of staff exits from its offices in Aberdeen, and to a lesser extent Dundee, as their work moves to Edinburgh regional centre.”
There will be no local tax offices in East Anglia with staff in Norwich being expected to commute to Croydon or Canary Wharf. The closure of offices on the South Coast will mean people will have to commute using the unreliable and strike prone Southern railway.
The problem is less acute in the Midlands, North West and Wales, where local offices will be nearer to new regional centres.
The PCS union is demanding Parliament and the public are consulted before the plans go ahead.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “With costs rising and the cracks beginning to show, it is now imperative that HMRC halts these plans and allows MPs and the public to have their say.
“Cutting thousands of HMRC staff in recent years has hit the services it provides to the public, yet the department and this Tory government are ploughing ahead with poorly thought through plans that would mean thousands more job cuts.”