24-hour strike by tax office staff

Mark SerwotkaThe deadline for filing tax returns has been delayed as thousands of tax office workers stage a 24-hour strike in a row over privatisation.

Members of the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) across the UK will mount picket lines to protest at plans to trial the use of private firms at two centres.
HM Revenue and Customs has decided not to issue penalty fines to anyone missing Tuesday's deadline for self-assessment returns. Anyone filing their returns on February 1 or 2 will also not be fined.

The industrial action is in opposition to the appointment of two private companies, Sitel and Teleperformance, to run call-handling trials in HMRC tax credit contact centres in Lillyhall in Cumbria and Bathgate in Scotland.
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The year-long trials are due to start next month and the union is warning they risk paving the way for privatisation in the department, and come at a time when tens of thousands of civil service jobs are being cut.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: "Our members in tax offices want to do a good job and provide the best possible advice and help to taxpayers, but there are fewer of them working in fewer offices as a result of misguided and damaging cuts.
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24-hour strike by tax office staff

Most recently HM Revenue & Customs let Vodafone off the hook - for quite a sum. Vodafone paid out just £1.25 billion despite an original tax bill being closer to £8 billion (HMRC has always refused to reveal how much it thought the Vodafone final bill was). The episode was made even more shaming and painful because Vodafone was given several years to come good with the cash owed - even though it was sitting on a substantial cash pile at the time.

The Exchequer is estimated to have lost around £10 million to Goldman Sachs recently through an 'error' made by HMRC. The episode relates to an employee benefit trust run by Goldman allowing employees to take non-repayable loans that had no National Insurance contributions tied to them. HMRC did claw back the full amount from more than 20 businesses - but not Goldman. HMRC remains cagey about the details of the deal. Little HMRC accountability or transparency.

Huge problems with QinetiQ, the former Defence Evaluation and Research Agency, or DERA. A lack of clarity on contractual arrangements at the outset didn't help, allowing private equity company Carlyle to hammer the price down (why would you start negotiations when you didn't know the company's true value?). The Ministry of Defence behaved, it was said, like "an innocent at a table of card-sharps". Estimated cost to the taxpayer - £90 million. Huge sums were later made by QinetiQ management when the company listed.

The TaxPayers' Alliances estimates £2.7bn worth of taxpayer cash was wasted with a super-expensive 'National Programme for IT in the NHS'. The Department of Health, in the end, had very little to show for it as a consequence. Another example of poor management and a seemingly ingrained inability to provide taxpayers' with value for money.


"BT is paid £9 million to implement systems at each NHS site, even though the same systems have been purchased for under £2 million by NHS organisations outside the Programme", the Commons Public Accounts Committee noted.

Contentious. The Office for National Statistics estimated this has declined 3.4% since 1997, "with inputs increasing by 38%." The Centre for Economics and Business Research estimate that this inefficiency costs the taxpayer £58.4 billion a year.

Given the above record, are there any deals that the taxpayer has actually won out on? Not many, but the one successful project was the roll out of new Jobcentre Plus offices. It came in £314 million under budget, claims the Taxpayers' Alliance. A small cheer.

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"Instead of making even more cuts and throwing public money at private companies, ministers should be investing in their staff and tackling the billions in tax avoided and evaded by the super-rich."

An HMRC spokesman said: "HMRC is not privatising existing HMRC contact centre jobs but we are determined to improve the service we provide to our customers. This means considering a variety of options including drawing on the knowledge and experience of external contact centre operators. Industrial action is unwarranted and unnecessary.

"We are doing everything possible to maintain contact centre services to the public and will continue talking to the unions to address their concerns."

HMRC's acting director general for personal tax, Stephen Banyard, said: "We've always been very clear that we want the returns - not the penalties. For that reason, we don't want anyone who can't get through for help and advice on 31 January to be disadvantaged in any way."

© 2012 Press Associationby Labour. He indicated the Government would look at those arrangements although it had no plans to change them.
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