Fears for future of Belfast jobs as HMRC cancels its £75m tax credit contract with Concentrix
The loss of a major Government call centre contract handled by workers in Belfast has been branded a "blow" to the city amid fears jobs could be lost.
US company Concentrix, which employs more than 1,800 staff in Belfast, was previously awarded a £75m contract with HMRC to reduce fraud and error in the tax credits system.
But that will not be extended when it comes up for renewal in May 2017, it has been announced.
When asked if jobs were at risk as a result of the loss of such a large contract, a spokesman for Concentrix replied: "We remain committed to Belfast and believe it is an excellent base for our operations in the UK and beyond."
MP Gavin Robinson criticised the company for allegedly failing to inform workers about the contract loss before the news appeared in the media.
The DUP man said: "With 1,800 people employed in Belfast by Concentrix, with Concentrix redeveloping on to one location in the city of Belfast, can I ask you to reflect how appalling it was that members of staff - many of whom are my constituents - found out this news last night by a tweet by the BBC?
"(This was) as opposed to any communication from Concentrix or indeed any statement to this House (Stormont)."
A spokesman for the Government said it had decided not to renew the contract with Concentrix, which has been accused of wrongly withdrawing tax credits from claimants, because its work was not up to scratch. An inquiry into the issue has been ruled out.
DUP MLA for South Belfast Christopher Stalford admitted it was dispiriting that HMRC had decided to not renew the deal, but also stressed that the development should not be seen a verdict on the firm.
"I think that it's important that we shouldn't panic," he added.
"But it's obviously a blow for the company, given their track record and strong, highly professional workforce."
A spokesman for Concentrix in Belfast, which is headed by senior vice-president Philip Cassidy, said: "We have operated professionally at all times and within the guidance set by HMRC. The HMRC statement not to renew the contract attacks our credibility and the commitment of our staff, who have performed determinedly, despite the issues with HMRC policies and procedures.
"To be clear, we have answered significantly more calls than planned with HMRC. Throughout the contract we have not been incentivised to make wrong decisions for claimants and in-fact would be penalised heavily for failure to adhere to HMRC policies and procedures.
"Through the term of the contract, we are pleased to have saved the taxpayer nearly £300m in authentic confirmed tax fraud and error which otherwise would have cost the taxpayer money."
SDLP MP Mark Durkan insisted that Concentrix should not be used as a scapegoat, adding that HMRC were responsible for drawing up the pay-by-results agreement.
"We should remember that the HMRC is not an innocent agent - it designed this contract, it specced customer hostility and suspicion in it, and of course it was HMRC that was providing the names that were targeted by Concentrix," he said. "This is against a backdrop where the Government has persisted in running down the capacity and the character of HMRC."