The closure of UK tax offices in derelict cities undermines equalization program

Last October’s decision to close the HM Revenue & Customs tax office in the poor town of Butl in north-west England was nothing more than a hammer blow to Nadym Patel’s newspaper business.

After two difficult years in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, the decision meant that more than 1,000 jobs were relocated to nearby Liverpool. Patel said customs at his New Strand mall fell 50 percent in a few days, with profitable cigarette sales down nearly two-thirds.

“We stopped selling sandwiches because no one comes for lunch or cigarettes anymore,” he said. “You can really feel the footsteps falling. Every day I wonder what the future holds. “

The opposition Labor Party says the closure of Bootle’s tax office – part of a national restructuring by HMRC – is in line with the promise of a “leveling” in the 2019 Conservative Manifesto, aimed at a more even redistribution of wealth, especially in the North of England and the Midlands.

Under the HMRC plan, which dates back to 2015, 170 smaller, aging tax offices in towns and cities are closing, consolidating most of its 65,000 in 13 regional centers in major cities such as Liverpool, Birmingham and Manchester.

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Restructuring has continued since Boris Johnson became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in July 2019, although his Conservative Party secured a landslide election victory later that year, sparked by a mass exodus of Labor voters in parts of the country. leveling.

Johnson promised to breathe economic life into what he called the “abandoned” cities of the United Kingdom. But during his tenure, more than 7,700 jobs at HMRC have moved to regional centers in already thriving cities, according to data from the Union of Public and Commercial Services.

Affected areas include the English cities of Shipley (924 HMRC jobs lost), Stockton-on-Tees (375), Preston (335) and Grimsby (117), as well as the cities of Sunderland (243) and Wrexham (249) in Wales.

Further closures are expected over the next two years in Cumbernauld and Dundee in Scotland and Nottingham, Peterley and Salford in England.

Lisa Nandi, secretary for shadowing, said the move had “deprived” cities of thousands of good, skilled jobs. “Rising levels is starting to look like nothing more than a scam, giving us small pots of money to decorate our main streets while taking away the good jobs that keep them going,” she said.

Union spokesman Dave Gibbons says an alternative office block can be found at Bootle © Colin McPherson / FT

“You’d think that in the context of ‘leveling off’, the government might want to re-evaluate,” said Peter Dowd, a Bootle Labor MP under the now-free Triad office block. “But they just went on and on.”

HMRC said in a statement that the strategy would help the government’s “modernization plans” and is part of promoting growth and job opportunities in each region.

The Triad building itself – a dark block from the 1970s – will not be complained about by HMRC officials, according to Dave Gibbons, a local PCS spokesman. But he said a modern alternative could be found in Bootle.

The Triad office block in Bootle, which was used by HMRC © Colin McPherson / FT

When HMRC’s third Bootle office closes this October, it will leave Liverpool, a culturally vibrant city with countless £ 3.3 billion worth of attractions a year for the economy, home to 4,000 tax officials.

Bootle, which has the top 1% of the most needy neighborhoods in the UK, has no such attractions. Ironically, the city of Merseyside was revived in the 1960s and 1970s by relocating government offices to the area. “It’s as if they pushed a switch and sent it in reverse,” Dowd said.

Bootle includes neighborhoods that are among the most needy in the UK © Colin McPherson / FT

There was also no review of HMRC’s restructuring after the government announced plans to relocate civil servants from London to the northern cities in 2020.

Last year, Michael Gove, while still a cabinet minister overseeing politics, said the commitment would include moving 22,000 civil servant jobs from London by 2030 as part of an equalization program.

Gove, who has since become a level secretary, said plans to open large offices outside London, including a financial center in Darlington and a new base for the Foreign Office in East Kilbride, would ensure that policies are “developed and delivered by the people.” extracted from local communities “.

In reality, however, civil service jobs in London are being created much faster than elsewhere in the last two years, with an increase in the number of experts on Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Since the Tories took power in 2010, there has been a net increase of 15,401 civil servants in London and a net decrease of 58,005 elsewhere in the UK, according to official figures.

Bootle MP Peter Dowd: “It doesn’t matter that jobs move ‘only on the road’, as the government likes to say. Having 2,000 people in one place, five days a week, was a significant amount of money for the local economy. ”© Colin McPherson / FT

Martin Kelsey, secretary of HMRC’s PCS staff group, said the tax closure program was “incompatible” with Gove’s vision.

“Gove is making this big, spectacular statement, but the reality of what we are doing at HMRC is very different. “We have seen thousands of experienced staff leave since 2015 because of people who cannot travel to these regional centers,” he added.

The Equalization, Housing and Communities Department declined to comment.

HMRC offered Bootle employees a chance to find other jobs in the civil service. There is also support for the cost of travel to work for staff moving to Liverpool and the opportunity to work from home two days a week. It says Liverpool’s center provides “safe and modern workspaces”.

Trade at Strand Mall fell sharply after HMRC relocated staff from the city © Colin McPherson / FT

Bootle suffered another blow last March when the Santander banking group, another major local employer, announced its retirement. The city’s application for a £ 17m grant for reimbursement from the new government’s equalization fund was also rejected.

Dowd said it was a small consolation that HMRC jobs had moved just four miles to Liverpool. “It doesn’t matter that jobs move ‘only on the road,’ as the government likes to say. Having 2,000 people in one place, five days a week, was a significant amount of money for the local economy. “

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