Workers slam tax office closures in Peterlee, Sunderland and Washington

HMRC, Waterside House, Hylton Riverside, Sunderland.
HMRC, Waterside House, Hylton Riverside, Sunderland.
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Union officials have hit out at the closure of Wearside tax offices which will affect thousands of jobs.

Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) announced yesterday that six tax offices in the North East will close as part of a ten-year modernisation plan.

HM Revenue and Customs, Waterside Park, Washington.

HM Revenue and Customs, Waterside Park, Washington.

The closures will run from 2018-19 to 2024-25 as operations ultimately move to a single regional base in Longbenton.

The closures will affect 2,150 staff currently based at Waterview Park, in Washington, 380 workers at Waterside House, on Sunderland Enterprise Park, and 500 employees at Emerald Court, in Peterlee.

Waterside House is earmarked for closure in 2019-20 and Emerald Court in 2020-21.

Waterview Park will become a transitional centre, taking in some staff from those offices scheduled to close earlier, before it shuts itself in 2024-25.

The news of the tax office closures have been devastating. 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

Gordon Rowntree, Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS)

HMRC announced it is phasing in the moves over ten years to allow staff time to make choices for their future and reduce the number of possible redundancies.

It says 6,300 staff will eventually be based in Longbenton, however, the Tyneside 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 Echo 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. “The PCS will 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.

Sharon Hodgson MP outside Washington Job Centre, Pennine House, Washington on Friday.

Sharon Hodgson MP outside Washington Job Centre, Pennine House, Washington on Friday.

“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.”

MP Sharon Hodgson, whose Washington and Sunderland West encompasses the Waterview Park site – which employs more staff than all the other sites put together – said: “The recent announcements will be deeply concerning to those who work at Waterview Park, and it is vital that whatever happens their interests are taken firmly into account as these plans develop.

“Whilst the overall proposals to modernise the service that HMRC provides may be necessary, particularly as large scale tax-evasion remains a huge problem in this country, the Government must make sure that these new regional centres will be given the right tools to do the job, and that the staff currently doing such great work for HMRC across the North East are made aware at every stage of the process of what is going on, and what their options are.

“I have been assured that this move will not mean large- scale job losses, but I will be pressing HMRC to make sure that this is the case and that if any jobs are lost in this move, those workers will be fully supported.”

HMRC has called the move the next step in its ten-year modernisation programme to create a tax authority “fit for the future”.

Chief executive Lin Homer said: “HMRC is committed to modern, regional centres serving every region and nation in the UK, with skilled and varied jobs and development opportunities, while also ensuring jobs are spread throughout the UK and not concentrated in the capital.

“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.”

Other North East tax offices facing closure are Russell Street and Eustace House, in Middlesbrough, and George Stephenson House, in Stockton – which together employ 719 people.